Volume 5, Issue 1 • Spring 2016

Table of Contents

Editor's Note

Trauma-Informed Collaborations Among Juvenile Justice and Other Child-Serving Systems: An Update

Looking Forward: A Research and Policy Agenda for Creating Trauma-Informed Juvenile Justice Systems

Psychosocial Interventions for Traumatized Youth in the Juvenile Justice System: Research, Evidence Base, and Clinical/Legal Challenges

Acute and Chronic Effects of Substance Use as Predictors of Criminal Offense Types Among Juvenile Offenders

Examining the Influence of Ethnic/Racial Socialization on Aggressive Behaviors Among Juvenile Offenders

Assessing Probation Officers' Knowledge of Offenders with Intellectual Disabilities: A Pilot Study

Gender and Adolescents’ Risk for Recidivism in Truancy Court

Assessing Probation Officers’ Knowledge of Offenders With Intellectual Disabilities: A Pilot Study

Valerie E. D. Russell, Department of Leadership and Professional Studies, Florida International University; Paige N. Dunlap, Department of Human Development and Services, North Carolina A&T University.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Valerie E. D. Russell, 11200 SW 8th Street, ZEB 238B, Miami, Florida 33319. E-mail: verussel@fiu.edu

Keywords: assessment, community-based corrections, correctional intervention, intensive supervised probation

Abstract

The prevalence of offenders with intellectual disabilities (ID) is increasing. Studies have shown that although most probation officers will have offenders with ID on their caseload, these officers have received minimal training to effectively interact with this population. Additionally, no studies have assessed probation officers’ knowledge of people with ID. This study has two aims: to pilot test the Probation Officer Knowledge of Intellectual Disabilities Assessment, and to evaluate the instrument’s reliability and validity. Test-retest, internal consistency, item-total correlation, Cronbach’s alpha, item difficulty, and construct validity were assessed for the instrument. Descriptive statistics and reliability coefficients analysis were conducted. The successful development of knowledge domains established content validity of the newly developed assessment. However, the instrument yielded poor reliability coefficient results. To date, no assessments were identified that offered support for training staff working with offenders with ID. The criminal justice system can use content domains on this newly developed instrument to evaluate training needs and determine effective interventions. As this was the first investigation into probation officers’ knowledge of people with ID, the possibilities of continuing this research are vast.

Introduction

The prevalence of the U.S. incarcerated population with intellectual disabilities (ID)1 is between 4% and 10% (Scheyett, Vaughn, Taylor, & Parish, 2008), according to most estimates. Although offenders with ID compose a small percentage of offenders within the criminal justice system, the number far exceeds the 1% to 3% prevalence of people with ID found in the general population (Russell, 2012). Moreover, youth with ID have encompassed a large sector of the juvenile delinquent population since the late 1960s (Brier, 1989). Reports show that more than 50% of juvenile offenders had evidence of an ID (Berman,1974; Podboy & Mallory, 1978; Larson, 1988; Katsiyannis, Ryan, Zhang, & Spann, 2008). Waldie and Spreen (1993) suggest that youth with ID possess personality characteristics such as poor impulse control and problem-solving ability, social perception problems, and poor judgment that make them prone to delinquent activity.

The National Center for State Courts conducted a controlled investigation with large representative samples and a comprehensive assessment of ID and delinquency (Dunivant, 1982). According to these studies, 36% of incarcerated juveniles were found to be more than twice as likely to commit a delinquent offense than their non-­ID peers. When such variables as socioeconomic status, family size, and family intactness were controlled, these results remained essentially unchanged (Dunivant, 1982). This seems to show that the link between ID and juvenile delinquency strongly suggests that youth with ID face additional vulnerability during the arrest and adjudication process.

This hypothesis that ID is related to juvenile delinquency was also tested with a sample of 1,005 public school and 687 adjudicated juvenile delinquent youth (ages 12 to 17) who reported on their participation in delinquent behaviors (Larson, 1988). The results indicated that proportionately more adjudicated delinquent youth than public school youth had ID. Although this adds support to the literature suggesting there is an overrepresentation of people with ID within the criminal justice system (Lindsay, 2002; Scheyett, et al., 2008), the data showed no differences in delinquent behaviors engaged in by either sample group. Based on these findings, authors proposed that the greater proportion of youth with ID among adjudicated juvenile delinquents may be explained more by the way they are treated within the juvenile justice system than by differences in their delinquent behaviors (Shandra & Hogan, 2012; Zimmerman, Rich, Keilitz, & Broder, 1981). Further, Mallet’s (2000) study of 397 juvenile youth offenders with ID on supervised probation reported findings that suggested that to better serve this population, needs and service gaps within the juvenile justice system would need to be overcome. Overcoming these gaps would improve intersystem collaboration for the juvenile court personnel and officers who work with this disproportionately represented population. This suggests that there is a need for probation officers to have an increased awareness of youth with ID and to know how to implement appropriate interventions so they can assist youth in their caseloads who have these challenging behaviors (McKenzie, Paxton, & Murray, 2003).

ID Definition

According to the American Psychiatric Association (2000), “Intellectual disability is operationally defined as a state of arrested or incomplete mental development resulting in a significant impairment of intellectual functioning and adaptive and social functioning that originates before the age of 18” (p. 52). More recently the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ Definition Manual provided this definition: “Intellectual disability refers to a particular state of functioning that begins in childhood, is multidimensional, and is affected positively by individualized supports” (Thompson, 2010, p. 166). This is in keeping with the emergence of a person-environment fit model that focuses on a person’s interactions with his or her environment. This model takes into consideration the nature and extent to which people with ID experience a mismatch between their competencies and environment demands. When ID is viewed as a poor fit between a person’s capacity and environmental demands, it is not considered a defect in the mind but rather a state of functioning (Thompson, 2010).

In additional reports, researchers have increasingly used the term “intellectual disability” to denote the cognitive problems connected to having a learning disability (Russell, Purcell, & Peterson, 2005; Williams & Casey, 2009). According to Williams and Casey (2009), people with ID often experience cognitive deficits in multiple areas. These cognitive deficits include, but are not limited to, attention, perception, time-perception, short-term memory, expression, comprehension, and coping with change. Because of these functional impairments, people with ID often say and do things they think will please other people and have a strong desire to fit in (Brodsky & Bennett, 2005). These characteristics frequently lead them to confess to crimes they did not commit (Scheyett et al., 2008). Moreover, people with ID who get arrested and are detained, incarcerated, or supervised within the criminal justice system, often struggle with processing the information and have minimal understanding of legal terminology and procedures (Brodsky & Bennett, 2005; Scheyett et al., 2008). As a result, people with ID sometimes give up their rights because of their minimal understanding of the consequences, which in turn causes them to be more susceptible to receiving wrongful convictions (Scheyett et al., 2008). Along that same vein, Perske (2000) reported a study that determined 53 people with ID made false confessions to felonies, such as murder, rape, arson, and robbery, which they did not commit. These cases were extracted from a 30-year collection of files and from sifting through a list produced by two experts of all false confessors (Perske, 2000). More recently, Perske (2008) compiled a list of these people by name, after examining false confession reports from the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University’s School of Law. Even though all of the 53 people have been legally exonerated, the numbers on this false confession list will likely increase in the years to come.

The likelihood of an increase in false confessions is mostly due to the characteristics of people with ID. Previous literature on offenders with ID identified their vulnerabilities to arrest, as well as during the trial process, periods of incarceration, and time spent under community supervision (Brodsky & Bennett, 2005; Perske, 2000; Søndenaa, Rasmussen, & Nottestad, 2008). Because of the noted characteristics of offenders with ID and the extensive periods of time they could be sentenced to probation, the issue of offenders with ID under community supervision warrants further consideration in research.

Probation Officers and Clients with IDs

Because of the disproportionate amount of youth offenders with ID on community supervision (Lindsay, 2001; Mallet, 2000; Shandra & Hogan, 2012), it is highly probable that probation officers will have an offender with an ID on their caseload. However, none of the national recommendations on knowledge, skills, and abilities for probation officers include having specific training on youth offenders with IDs (Bonta, Rugge, Scott, Guy, & Yessine, 2008). These findings suggest that probation officers need new guidelines, training, and intervention tools to better serve the complex needs of this specialized population (McKenzie et al., 2003).

Outside of the criminal justice environment, in health care and other social service disciplines, staff people’s ability to meet the needs of clients with an ID and provide quality services is linked to their knowledge base on that population (Fraser, Edwards, & Harper, 1998; Holburn & Vietze, 2002; Hastings, Jenkins, & Baker, 1995; McKenzie, Sharp, Paxton, & Murray, 2002). According to McKenzie, Paxton, and Murray (2003), probation officers are likely to encounter challenging behavior such as aggression and assault when working with people with IDs. Therefore, it is crucial that they know how to intervene when de-escalating a situation (Black, Kelly, & Hardingham, 1997; McKenzie et al., 2002). Successful probation officer interventions rely on them having a broad knowledge base on safe reactive strategies as well as experience in the appropriate psychological and behavioral approaches that are proven effective in managing challenging behavior (Lindsay, 2001; McKenzie et al., 2004; Murray, Paxton, McKenzie, & Sharp, 1999).

Hence, it is important that probation officers have some knowledge of ID and are able to detect its signs and symptoms. However, previous literature has established that the majority of probation officers working with offenders with ID have received little or no appropriate training that would equip them to effectively intervene with this population. Further, a review of literature revealed that no studies have assessed probation officers’ knowledge of offenders with ID (McKenzie et al., 2003; Russell, 2012).

Purpose

The purpose of this study was to pilot test the Probation Officer Knowledge of Intellectual Disabilities Assessment. This newly established instrument was developed by utilizing a synthesis of subject matter analysis technique and a comprehensive literature review (Russell, 2012).

The following research question was addressed: Can a valid and reliable instrument be developed that assesses probation officers’ knowledge level of offenders with ID?

The ultimate goal of this study was to evaluate the reliability and validity of the instrument. The instrument was pilot tested on a circuit probation unit in rural southern Illinois comprising 25 probation officers with mixed caseloads of both juvenile and adult offenders. The study results can add information to the body of literature about the most effective instrument to measure probation officers’ knowledge of ID. Further, this data can eventually help identify the most effective training material for probation officers on offenders with ID and encourage criminal justice agency administrators to incorporate it within curriculum development for new staff orientation or in-service or academy training.

Methodology

Sample

A sample of juveniles and adult probation officers within an Illinois circuit court unit was used for this study. All 25 probation officers employed by the agency participated in the study. Table 1 displays the demographic data. The range of participates were ages 25 to over 60, and the majority were between ages 40 and 49 years. A total of 68% (n = 17) participants were female. Of the 25 participants, 60% (n = 15) reported having between 10 and 19 years of experience in criminal justice, 28% (n = 7) reported between 5 and 9 years, 8% reported more than 20 years, and 4% reported less than 5 years. In response to the question of years and current position, 48% reported between 10 and 19 years, 40% reported between 5 and 9 years, 8% reported more than 20 years, and 4% reported less than 5 years. All were White, and all had obtained a bachelor’s degree. In regard to personal knowledge of a person with an ID, 72% (n = 18) reported they personally knew a person with such an issue.

Table 1. Participant Demographics

 

Frequency

Percent

Gender

Male

8

32.0

Female

17

68.0

Total

25

100

Ethnicity

White

25

100

Age

25–29

2

8

30–39

6

24

40–49

8

32

50–59

7

28

60+

2

8

Education Level

BA, BS

25

100

Years of Experience

<5

1

4

5–9

7

8

10–19

15

60

20+

2

8

Years in Position

<5

1

4

5–9

10

40

10–19

12

48

20+

2

8

Personal Knowledge

Yes

18

72

No

7

28

 

Instrumentation

The instrument package included two items: (a) informed consent, and (b) the Probation Officer Knowledge of Intellectual Disabilities Assessment, a 20-item multiple-choice instrument that included demographic and other questions pertaining to the following officer characteristics: (a) sex, (b) age, (c) ethnicity, (d) years of experience in criminal justice, (e) years of experience in current position, and (f) personal experience with a person who has an ID. The majority of the items were intended to reflect a probation officers’ knowledge of offenders with IDs. The officers’ knowledge domains and skills were established by using the study’s first step, subject matter expert (SME) analysis. The subject matter analysis (SMA) has two components: the quest for agreement on the knowledge of the master performer, referred to as the subject matter expert (SME), and the representation of this knowledge so that elements, structures, and relationships are clearly depicted. SMA is concerned with what ought to be happening and with what performers must know to do their jobs to the best of their ability (Rossett, 1987). SMA is the dominant front-end technique for developing knowledge domains as well as for preparing new courses or modules for new products.

SMEs and their responses to interview protocol questions were recorded verbatim and transcriptions were analyzed by using content analysis (Krippendorff, 2004). In the initial stage of analysis, general concepts were obtained from each individual SME interview. After the initial draft of categories and themes was developed, appropriateness of content analysis was approved and validated by three of the five SMEs.

The study’s second step was a comprehensive review of literature that involved conducting an initial literature review on knowledge levels of criminal justice staff about offenders with IDs. The search yielded minimal results. Based on SME suggestions, a supplemental literature review was performed regarding staff knowledge levels of clients with IDs in the following fields: education, special education, rehabilitation counseling, and health care. The outcomes of the literature review suggested that effective assessment of staff knowledge levels of IDs should include whether staff can do the following: describe the clinical definition of ID, recognize signs and symptoms of IDs, respond appropriately to outbursts and challenging behaviors, identify prevalence rates of intellectual disability, and exemplify practical knowledge of effective interactions.

The third step of the study was instrument development. After the initial draft of items was developed, the SMEs validated the appropriate content of items for the instrument, deciding what should be retained, modified, or deleted. An item was deleted if a majority of experts recommended deletion. As a result of SME opinions, four questions were deleted and five questions were modified. A revised copy of the Probation Officer Knowledge of Intellectual Disabilities Assessment included the suggested changes. Item format is a mixture: Some items are queries about facts related to IDs, and others are scenario based and require participants to identify the most appropriate response to a situation based on their knowledge and experience. Additional items were designed to assess officers’ attitudes on interventions with offenders and their views on the criminal justice organizational structure. The knowledge domain items were scored either correct (1 point) or incorrect (0 points), generating a total sum score. Higher scores (i.e., 7 or higher) denoted greater knowledge of offenders with IDs. For a more thorough explanation of the instrument development and its statistical data, see the companion article (Russell, 2012).

Procedure

The research project was introduced and information about the study’s purpose was provided to participants during a weekly staff meeting at the officers’ probation site. Officers were informed that participation was voluntary and that refusal to participate would not affect employment status. The anonymity of all responses was guaranteed by using subject code numbers instead of staff names or ID badge numbers. Once all content forms were collected, researchers passed out the Probation Officer Knowledge of Intellectual Disabilities Assessment, a pencil, and an envelope. The participants took approximately 20 minutes to complete the assessment. Once they completed the assessment, they were instructed to place all items in the envelope, seal it, and return it to researchers.

Data Analysis

To establish evidence of test re-test reliability of scores produced by the Probation Officer Knowledge of Intellectual Disabilities Assessment, the assessment was readministered to the same probation officers approximately 2 weeks after the first administration. Participants’ knowledge changes between the first and second administration were determined through a debriefing session after they took the assessment a second time. In the debriefing, participants were asked questions to determine if they had been exposed to any information about IDs since they were first assessed. The following list of statistical analysis was computed: T-test retest, internal consistency, item-total correlation, Cronbach’s alpha, and item difficulty. Further, construct validity of the newly developed Probation Officer Knowledge of Intellectual Disabilities instrument was assessed in this study. The primary analysis used to answer the research question was the computation of descriptive statistics (means, mediums, and frequencies) and reliability coefficients. Data was analyzed using a statistical package for social sciences.

Results

Knowledge Domains

The mean score for knowledge domain items was 6.5. Therefore, participants who attained a score of 7 or higher on the assessment were considered to have a greater knowledge of offenders with IDs. In contrast, probation officers who obtained a 6 or lower on the assessment were regarded as having a minimal knowledge of offenders with IDs. Mean scores (Tables 2 and 3), item-total correlation (Tables 4 and 5), and internal consistency reliability were estimated within each administration and between the two administrations of the assessment using Cronbach’s alpha (Tables 2 and 3). These results are reported below.

First Administration. The mean score of probation officers during the initial administration was 6.72, median = 7, standard deviation = 1.88 (see Table 2). Results based on item-total correlation illustrated that 7 out of 13 items positively correlated with the total score of the assessment at a statistically significant level. Of these seven items, five (items 1, 6, 8, 9, and 10) correlated significantly at .01 alpha level. Items 3 and 7 showed significant correlation with the assessment total score at .05 alpha level (see Table 4). The group’s overall Cronbach’s alpha = .539 for the 13 knowledge domain questions. According to Brewer (1996), the strength of internal consistency reliability is classified as follows: (a) below .20 = poor, (b) .21 to .40 = low, (c) .41 to .60 = medium, (d) .61 to .80 = high, and (e) .81 to 1 = almost perfect. In concurrence with this classification, the strength of internal consistency for the initial administration was medium. Based on a previously established cutoff for high or low scores, in the initial administration, 16 out of 25 probation officers had a high level of knowledge about offenders with intellectual disabilities; 9 out of 25 probation officers were identified as having low knowledge of offenders with IDs (see Table 2).

Table 2. Intellectual Disabilities Knowledge Domains: First Administration

Means

Median

SD

Cronbach’s Alpha

6.72

7

1.88

.539

 

Question Number

Frequency

Percent

Item Difficulty

Question Response

4

   

Correct

 

4

16.0

Incorrect

 

21

84.0

Question Response

5

   

Correct

 

21

84.0

Incorrect

 

4

16.0

Question Response

10

   

Correct

 

23

92.0

Incorrect

 

2

8.0

Total Score: Correct Responses

 

3

2

3.9

 

4

2

3.9

 

5

1

2.0

 

6

4

7.8

 

7

9

17.6

 

8

3

5.9

 

9

2

3.9

 

10

2

3.9

 

In a further examination of assessment scores, an item difficulty analysis was conducted. Results indicated that more than 80% of probation officers answered Question 5 and Question 10 correctly, and more than 80% of participants answered Question 4 incorrectly. Even though 80% of participants answered correctly to both Questions 5 and 10, only the latter showed significant moderate correlation with the assessment total score (see Table 4). The correlation of Question 5 with the assessment total score was poor (.052). In addition, 80% of participants answered Question 4 incorrectly; however, this question had a negative, poor correlation with assessment total score (-.052). Although high percentages of correct or incorrect responses to questions did not automatically qualify an item to be deleted, in future analysis, these items should be closely monitored and possibly modified (DeVillis, 2003).

Second Administration. The mean probation officers’ score during the administration 2 weeks later was 6.96, median = 7, standard deviation = 1.79 (see Table 3). Based on item-total correlation, results showed that 7 out of 13 items positively correlated with the total score of the assessment at a statistically significant level during the second administration as well. However, of these seven items, only four (items 1, 3, 6, and 9) correlated significantly at .01 alpha level. Items 2, 10, and 19 showed significant correlation with the assessment total score at .05 alpha level (see Table 5). The group’s overall Cronbach’s alpha = .453 for the 13 knowledge domain questions. The strength of the items’ internal consistency for the second administration was moderate as well. In the second administration, 16 out of 25 probation officers had a high level of knowledge about offenders with IDs, and 9 out of 25 probation officers had low knowledge. Results from the item analysis indicated that more than 90% of probation officers answered Question 10 correctly, and more than 90% of participants answered Question 8 incorrectly. Although 90% of participants answered Question 8 incorrectly, this item had a poor correlation (.116) with assessment total score. However, Question 10 showed significant moderate correlation (.497) with the assessment total score in the second administration. As a high percentage of probation officers provided the correct response to Question 10, and it had a significant moderate correlation to the assessment total score in both administrations, this item could be too simple and may need to be modified or deleted from future administrations of this assessment.

Table 3. Intellectual Disabilities Knowledge Domains: Second Administration

Means

Median

SD

Cronbach’s Alpha

6.96

7

1.79

.453

 

Question Number

Frequency

Percent

Item Difficulty

Question Response

8

   

Correct

 

2

92.0

Incorrect

 

23

8.0

Question Response

10

   

Correct

 

23

92.0

Incorrect

 

2

8.0

Total Score: Correct Responses

 

4

4

7.8

 

5

1

2.0

 

6

4

7.8

 

7

6

11.8

 

8

4

7.8

 

9

5

9.8

 

10

1

2.0

 

Test-Retest Correlation. Correlation between the two administrations was .058, and the Cronbach’s alpha reliability coefficient was .110. These results indicate that the strength of relationship of the two administrations is weak and reliability is poor.

Inter-Item Correlation. According to literature (DeVillis, 2003), an average inter-item correlation is .50. In this study, only two inter-item correlations yielded above average correlations over both administrations (see Table 4). The correlation of items 3 and 6 for first administration was .614, and their correlation was .523 for the second administration. Also, the inter-item correlation of items 7 and 10 for both administrations was .525. Due to the small 13-item scale in this study, the average inter-item correlation needed to be approximately .29. This average inter-item correlation method helped offset weaker correlations within the pool of items. However, it must also be noted that there were several items that were negatively correlated (see Tables 4 and 5). When negative correlations occur, it is suggested that items be either reversed or eliminated. If after revisions, the item correlation is not improved, the items should be eliminated from the instrument.

Table 4. Inter-Item Correlations, Knowledge Domain: First Administration

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

Total Corr.

1

1

.046

.114

.272

.272-

.460

.067

.184

.282

.473

.428

.067

.272-

.630**

2

.046

1

.027-

.299-

.168-

.157

.016-

.202-

.021

.202

.471-

.385

.299

.244

3

.114

.027-

1

.454-

.419-

.614

.210

.283

.387

.307

.316

.210

.454

.462*

4

.272

.299-

.454-

1

.190

.127-

.245

.129-

.327-

.129

.168

.266-

1-

-.052

5

.272-

.168-

.419-

.190

1

.327-

.266

.129

.327

.129-

.168-

.245-

.190-

.052

6

.460

.157

.614

.127-

.327-

1

.031-

.221

.215

.393

.157

.359

.127

.609**

7

.067

.016-

.210

.245

.266

.031-

1

.166

.421

.525

.016-

.316-

.245-

.453*

8

.184

.202-

.283

.129-

.129

.221

.166

1

.393

.087

.430

.166

.129

.524**

9

.282

.021

.387

.327-

.327

.215

.421

.393

1

.221

.200

.031

.327

.701**

10

.473

.202

.307

.129

.129-

.393

.525

.087

.221

1

.202

.166-

.129-

.595**

11

.428

.471-

.316

.168

.168-

.157

.016-

.430

.200

.202

1

.016-

.168-

.383

12

.067

.385

.210

.266-

.245-

.359

.316-

.166

.031

.166-

.016-

1

.266

.321

13

.272-

.299

.454

.1-

.190-

.127

.245-

.129

.327

.129-

.168-

.266

1

.052

(-) behind number = negative correlation

Knowledge domain item numbers = bold text

Significance at a .001 level = **

Significance at a .05 level = *

Table 5. Inter-Item Correlations, Knowledge Domain: Second Administration

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

Total Corr.

1

1

.046

.114

.312

.312-

.400

.067

.206-

.327

.473

.282

.067

.272-

.544*

2

.046

1

.027-

.129-

.086-

.210

.016-

.046-

.140

.202

.336-

.385

.299

.407*

3

.114

.027-

1

.320-

.280-

.523

.210

.064

.458

.307

.387

.210

.454

.526*

4

.312

.129-

.320-

1

.250-

.000

.281

.312-

.204-

.147

.042

.187-

.873-

-.046

5

.312-

.086-

.280-

.250-

1

.408-

.187

.089

.204

.147-

.042-

.281-

.055

-.011

6

.400

.210

.523

.000

.408-

1

.076-

.036-

.167

.361

.102

.306

.089

.540**

7

.067

.016-

.210

.281

.187

.076-

1

.484-

.459

.525

.031

.316-

.245-

.307

8

.206-

.046-

.064

.312-

.089

.036

.484-

1

.036

.473-

.089

.350

.272

.116

9

.327

.140

.458

.204-

.204

.167

.459

.036

1

.241

.068

.076

.356

.717**

10

.473

.202

.307

.147

.147-

.361

.525

.473-

.241

1

.221

.166-

.129-

.497**

11

.282

.336-

.387

.042

.042-

.102

.031-

.089

.068

.221

1

.031

.127-

.350

12

.067

.385

.210

.187-

.281-

.306

.316-

.350

.076

.166-

.031

1

.266

.414*

13

.272-

.299

.454

.873-

.055

.089

.245-

.272

.356

.129-

.127-

.266

1

.117

(-) behind number = negative correlation

Knowledge domain item numbers = bold text

Significance at a .001 level = **

Significance at a .05 level = *

 

Organizational Structure

The questions under this section were intended to gather probation officers’ opinions on who or what controls effective outcomes of offenders with IDs. Descriptive frequencies based on probation officers’ responses from both administrations to items are described below.

  1. Item 12: Based on responses, 44% of the participants believed that an officer’s interactional styles and practices mostly influence an offender’s successful completion of supervision. It must also be noted that 40% of participants thought that availability of community resources was the strongest influence of an offender’s successful completion of supervision.
  2. Item 13: As it relates to effectively working with offenders with IDs, 64% of participants identified lack of community resources as being the most difficult barrier.
  3. Item 14: According to 92% of the participants, assessing probation officers’ knowledge level of offenders with IDs has received little attention from the criminal justice field because of a lack of awareness about the prevalence rates of offenders who have an ID.

Probation Officer Attitudes

The items under this section were intended to assess probation officers’ attitudes and their willingness to change beliefs and patterns of behavior to effectively work with offenders with IDs. These item response choices are in Likert scale format. Based on scale development literature suggestions, two questions are worded positively and two are worded negatively. Descriptive frequencies based on probation officers’ responses from both administrations to items are described below:

  1. Item 15: 60% of the participants reported that it was important for them to take additional time to assist an offender with IDs.
  2. Item 16: 56% of the participants agreed that increased knowledge of offenders with IDs would help them manage their caseloads more efficiently.
  3. Item 17: 76% of the probation officers disagreed that no diagnosis of ID in an offender’s chart is no reason to suspect that the offender might have an ID.
  4. Item 18: 72% of participants disagreed with the statement that probation officers do not need training on IDs.

Conclusion

The successful development of knowledge domains established content validity of the newly developed instrument. This was accomplished by using a group of SMEs and a comprehensive literature review. The SMEs provided a review and approval of knowledge domains that measured the concept of staff having knowledge levels of offenders with IDs. The construct validity and reliability of the newly developed instrument will require further investigation. In both administrations, the mean score obtained on assessment was approximately 7, and Cronbach’s alpha reliability coefficient of each administration was at a medium level. However, correlation between the two administrations was .058, and the Cronbach’s alpha reliability coefficient was poor. These results indicate that the strength of relationship of the two administrations is weak and reliability is poor. Because of these reasons, this study only provides support for content validity and internal consistency estimates of reliability.

Limitations

This study used a convenience sample of probation officers in a rural county in southern Illinois. Further, this sample largely comprises White (100%), female (68%) respondents between the ages of 40 and 49. Therefore, this limits the generalizability of the results to those probation officers who chose to participate in the study.

Threats to internal validity were also examined. Mortality was not a factor in this study because all probation officers participated in both administrations of the assessment. During the second administration, maturation could have been a factor because some probation officers had court in the morning before they took the assessment the second time. Therefore, during the first administration, participants took more time answering the questions and appeared to have been “fresher.”

Implications of Current Research

This instrument provides professionals in the field a starting point for conversations about specific staff training needs regarding offenders with IDs. Prior to this research, no studies or assessments were identified that offered any support for needs assessment training on probation officers. Supervisors and supervisees in the criminal justice system can use content domains developed from SMEs’ interviews to evaluate specific concepts and interactive approaches. However, the validity and reliability of this instrument requires further investigation.

Future research. A scale’s p-value is strongly influenced by covariation among items and the number of items in the instrument. In general, shorter scales allow participants to be relieved of some time constraints caused by longer scales. In this study, it was suggested that the instrument be brief to ensure that probation officers would not have to take too much time out of their schedules to complete it. However, due to the current scale’s low reliability, future research should focus on increasing the number of scale items to assist with improving the scale’s overall reliability. Increasing the number of items will also enhance the inter-item correlations. This process can be accomplished by using the established content domains developed from literature and SME interviews to create more items based on the emerged themes and categories. In addition to increasing the number of items, we suggest recruiting a more diverse population of staff from multiple disciplines within the criminal justice system (i.e., court personnel, correctional officers, police officers, judges). The instrument could eventually be used as a comparison of knowledge (pre and post) in competency-based training on IDs within the criminal justice system as a whole.

About the Authors

Valerie E. D. Russell, PhD, is an assistant professor and program coordinator of the rehabilitation counseling degree track at Florida International University. She has more than 18 years of experience working in the human service/counseling profession with felony offenders, at-risk youth, and minorities. She has developed and facilitated training for county health care professionals and implemented state-wide staff initiatives for correctional probation officer academies and state vocational rehabilitation counselors.

Paige N. Dunlap, PhD, is an assistant professor of rehabilitation counseling at North Carolina A & T University. She is researching the implications of providing rehabilitation counseling services to gang members with disabilities and to incarcerated populations.

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