Challenges in Rural Re-Entry: Mental Health Providers’ Perspectives on Interprofessional Relationships With Criminal Justice Professionals

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Criminal justice professionals like probation and parole officers draw from psychologists, social workers, and other mental health treatment providers to improve offender outcomes. The value of mental health interventions for offenders has been well documented in the literature. However, the values, roles and responsibilities, and goals for offender outcomes may differ for these professional groups. Probation and parole officers prioritize safety through the specific mechanisms of deterrence, control, punishment, and restoration. Officers meet these goals by some combination of law enforcement and case management roles. Mental health treatment providers, in contrast, are concerned with the individual offender’s perspectives, values, and needs, and reducing symptoms or behaviors associated with criminal activity. Providers’ roles are often defined by their background and training. However, in rural areas where specialized providers are less available, professional roles may become blurred. Given the differences between the criminal justice and mental health professions, the quality of these interprofessional relationships is an area ripe for study. This qualitative study examines the experiences of mental health professionals providing services to offenders in a rural area of south-central Appalachia. Participants (N= 38) include professionals from the fields of psychology, psychiatry, counseling, and social work. Services provided by these individuals include, but are not restricted to, forensic evaluation, adult and juvenile offender treatment (i.e., sex offender treatment, anger management, substance abuse treatment, and domestic violence counseling), prosocial psychoeducation, and traditional psychotherapy with offenders. Providers from multiple agencies participated in individual or focus group interviews and completed a pre-interview questionnaire about their training background, services provided, and caseload. This exploratory study uses thematic analysis to identify important themes and subthemes related to the following aims: to identify characteristics of interprofessional interactions and partnerships between rural community treatment providers and agents of the criminal justice system, as perceived by treatment providers, to examine if interprofessional partnerships reflect best practice competencies identified in healthcare research (i.e., values and ethics, roles and responsibilities, interprofessional communication, and teams and teamwork), and to establish the impact of interprofessional partnerships on offenders’ success in rural communities. Future directions, including the examination of perceptions of probation and parole officers and other risk management agents, will be discussed.


Johnson City, TN

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