Gender and Crime

Understanding the Impact of Probation Officer Biases on Female Halfway House Residents

Erin Kerrison
Assistant Professor of Social Welfare, University of California at Berkeley

Key Findings

  • Innate biases of parole officers in halfway house settings often negatively impact female residents, who are seeking to develop their own authentic sense of self-concept which may be nontraditional and therefore out of line with parole officer expectations.
  • This ‘misalignment’ between parole officer expectations and resident’s personal goals can result in a diminished sense of self for individuals who are already marginalized and disadvantaged.


In the article, “Risky Business, Risk Assessment, and Other Heteronormative Misnomers in Women’s Community Corrections and Reentry Planning,” Kerrison explored the innate biases of community corrections staff as they helped female residents develop a plan to reintegrate in to society and create future life goals. For this study, the author used field notes and unstructured interview data collected during a 15-month period (starting in April 2008) in which she served as an “embedded criminologist” at a private women’s community corrections facility (“halfway house”) in a Northeast American urban setting. Approximately 40 women served as subjects in this study. They ranged in age from 27 to 61 years old, identified as Latina, White or Black, and were sentenced to mandatory custody in this facility for primarily low-level crimes. The author found that residents who identified as queer and/or aspired to nontraditional goals often were at odds with parole officers who expected them to create plans that were more traditional and ‘heteronormative’ in nature. This disapproval often caused friction between the resident and parole officer, resulting in residents being marginalized and having their sense of self concept diminished. The study highlighted a need for parole officers in halfway house settings to limit the influence of their own biases (which are most often white, middle class, and heterosexual in nature) on the guidance they provide to residents who seek to develop their own authentic prosocial identities.

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