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Review 1 of "Too close for comfort?: Impacts of working with the sex offender population"

...Qualitative...Criminology

Published onJan 11, 2022
Review 1 of "Too close for comfort?: Impacts of working with the sex offender population"

Vote: Reject


[For votes to count, referees must reasonably explain why they voted as they did. Thus, please explain your vote. If you voted to publish pending minor changes, specify each change, why it is needed, and, possibly, how it should/could be done.]

The present study considers the impacts on frontline criminal justice professionals who work with individuals convicted of sexual offenses in various roles. The themes provided by the analysis may be useful for understanding the basic ideas emerging from frontline workers’ experience, but the analysis lacks the nuance and rigor anticipated. For instance, the analytic (and perhaps the study) premise seems to be built to reinforce the idea that sex offenders are hard to work with and cause lots of trauma and discomfort to workers, but without situating in the literature or providing sufficient evidence of the context. I don’t think this conclusion is clear cut, but the manuscript presentation seems to reinforce the ways in which the public and the system develop policy based on moral panic.

[Please put additional info below, as/if you see fit.]

The framing of the study centers on the repeated premise of working with the most stigmatized population of justice-involved individuals, and the author reinforces this stigmatization through the lack of person first language and such phrases as: “Most of us want nothing to do with these criminals; we want them off our streets, far from our women and children, and banished away on an isolated island.” (p. 2) Or the presence of some outdated tropes about the population such as “Or is the increased number of sex offenders attributed to the world truly becoming a more evil place, with more people forgoing their morals and decency? I sincerely hope it was the former.” (p. 3). This type of phrasing and language infuses a degree of bias into the study that may be unintentional but could be taken out of context.

The author indicates there is no research in the area of impacts on frontline criminal justice workers who work with sex offense populations. While a study with this express question/relationship might not exist, there is much research on secondary trauma among treatment providers and additional work on the complex relationship between officers specializing in sex offense cases and their clients (e.g. Bailey & Sample 2018; Rhineberger-Dunn). The author seems to differentiate itself from the Severson & Pettus-Davis study, which examines secondary trauma and parole officers, but it’s unclear how it is different. Given the relevance of that study, it seems important to describe it in the literature review. Here the author also introduces the concept of secondary trauma.  The literature review could also be enhanced by a discussion of secondary trauma, as this concept is included in the findings, but not well-defined or sourced.

The goal of the study could be clarified. What is meant by the “combined experiences” (p. 4)?

The methods section is very informative and includes a lot of relevant detail for understanding the nature of the study and the challenges of conducting this type of research. The information in the last paragraph of the methods might do well to go earlier where the author describes the difficulties with conducting the study.  I would also like to know more about the author’s positionality.

The findings are laid out in an organized way and the conceptual map is useful. However, the focus of the themes if largely about the negative effects of working with the population; are there any alternate cases or themes to reflect on? Also, throughout the findings, it would be good to identify the job role of the speaker more clearly so there is additional context for what they are saying. The author creates a collective of frontline workers, but given their different settings and job duties, this might influence their view on working with the population. The author indicates this comparison is important in the discussion/implications but doesn’t make this clear from the evidence.

The author describes the first theme as it being “difficult” to work with the population, but doesn’t describe how so. Is it because the stigma creates a hostile environment? What is the context the worker is in? For example, the excerpt on page 10 is unclear if it’s a correctional officer or therapist. One could expect a different reflection/experience/response based on their job and background training.

The interpretation in the “not my choice” section comparing it to mental health patients could use additional exploration. It seems the author is presenting the forced assignment to work with this population as universal--did everyone say it wasn’t their choice, even the therapists? I think more depth can be discussed in this theme.

In the “darker world” theme, are these exclusive to people convicted of sex offenses? Did participants provide comparisons to other offending categories? The author can be more precise in describing the participants saying their views of the world changes solely after working with this population compared to generally working in a prison other correctional setting.

The 4th theme “secondary trauma” has quite a bit of literature and seems a theme warranting a bit of information at the front of the paper. The author mentions symptoms of secondary trauma were experienced but doesn’t say what and it is unclear from the evidence. The fact that some women in the study reported having been threatened with sexual assault is so appalling, and the deficits in the organization supporting them. There seems to be important connections to the complexities of workplace violence in the correctional setting that can be made.

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