An Exploration of how Women Probation and Parole Officers Learn to Negotiate Power and Interest in the Criminal Justice System

Open Access
Varner, Barbara Eileen
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
March 03, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Elizabeth Jean Tisdell, Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Elizabeth Jean Tisdell, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Irene C Baird, Committee Member
  • Holly L Angelique, Committee Member
  • Heather L Stuckey, Committee Member
  • Narrative
  • Negotiating Power and Interest
  • Criminal Justice Education
  • Women Probation and Parole Officers
  • Probation and Parole
  • Adult Education
ABSTRACT The purpose of this narrative inquiry was to explore the ways women probation and parole officers learn to negotiate power and interests in the criminal justice system. The women are considered officers of the courts and work within the constraints of the court system. The framework that informed this study was a critical feminist lens on the literature on negotiating power and interest within the fields of adult education and criminal justice. Critical feminist theory makes visible the gendered experiences of all women within patriarchal systems as they attempt to challenge systems of power. The women in this study are situated within the constraints of the criminal justice system that is embedded within historical traditions that have been created and dominated by the system of patriarchy and other relations of power that affect human needs and interests. This study made use of a narrative research methodology. The primary means of data collection was in-depth, semi-structured, narrative interviews with eight women probation and parole officers. Data were analyzed following the principles of narrative inquiry. The narratives proved rich, detailed stories filled with life experiences about the ways the women learned to negotiate within the criminal justice system. A cross analysis of the narratives revealed three significant themes. The first notes how the women focused on the clients, and emphasized their caring and connectedness in negotiating for them, even though that also meant being tough when necessary. The second emphasized the importance of the community, and negotiating power and interest by networking and building relationships. The third highlights the fact that they de-emphasize gender in their focus, at the same time that they recognize patriarchal gender dynamics at play in the workplace. Thus they appear to try to reduce the salience of gender in what they say, though it is interesting that they emphasize skills and abilities often associated with women (caring, connectedness, relationship-building as networking) in negotiating power and interest. The conclusion examines what the study contributes to critical feminist theory, the field of adult education, and criminal justice education.It also offers suggestions for further research.