Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Criminology and Criminal Justice

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Beth M. Huebner


Lee A. Slocum

Elaine Eggleston Doherty

Peggy C. Giordano


The vast number of individuals on community supervision (i.e., probation and parole) remains at around 4.5 million Americans and suggests a need for research that delves deep into the nature of challenges faced by this population. Research demonstrates individuals on community supervision tend to rely on others for and provide social support to manage the challenges and conditions of community supervision. Simultaneously, many criminological theories incorporate elements of social support and speak to the importance of social relationships as predictors of criminal behavior, but less is known about the mechanisms underpinning social support exchange. Examination of the delivery and perceptions of social support can provide policymakers with insight about how best to create policy which aids this population. Given the importance of social support exchange for criminological theory and policy, I use qualitative interview data with 62 people on probation and parole in the St. Louis metropolitan area to explore how people on community supervision access, approach, and think about social support exchange. Findings suggest theoretical explanations of social support exchange should be expanded to account for the diversity in support sources and the ways it is exchanged. The participants in this study typically relied a great deal on their family members, as opposed to romantic partners, and sometimes pieced together support from many friends and acquaintances in the absence of family. Probation and parole officers also played a key support role, but their support was overshadowed by the fact that they could implement sanctions if participants were honest about their struggles with compliance. Participants relayed the most helpful support from others came from those who could understand their experiences with the criminal legal system or who had system experience. Finally, participants’ reciprocation was predicated on their ability to convince others they were worthy of help and their access to instrumental goods. Policy efforts should be structured to support more equitable social service distribution for persons on community supervision because their livelihood can depend on the precarious and piecemeal support of informal relationships as well as individual probation and parole officer approaches.

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Criminology Commons