Researcher of the Month - Rose Ricciardelli

Dr. Rose Ricciardelli, who is smiling and looking from the camera, is shown from the shoulders up.Dr. Rose Ricciardelli, a professor in the Department of Sociology and a winner of the President's Award for Outstanding Research in 2019, is the August 2021 researcher of the month for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Below, Dr. Ricciardelli answers some questions about her research.

Your work concentrates on corrections, prisoners, police officers and related areas. We're in a time with a lot of discussion of these issue among the general public and political attention to law enforcement and corrections. How does your research contribute to our understanding of the current function of corrections in society, and to how it might look in the future?

My current research is centred on correctional services. I study the well-being of correctional employees, broadly including correctional officers, parole officers, and everyone working in community, institutional, and administrative correctional services. I strive to understanding the experiences of those incarcerated or on conditional release and how to inform, pro-actively, their community re-entry. I try to understand what constitutes the “hook” to desistance, where the motivation to “quit” crime comes from, and how correctional services can support that decision once made.

My recent emphasis on the mental health of correctional employees serves both the organization and its employees but also those under the care of the service. I investigate if (and how) we can better support the employees responsible for the well-being of prisoners and parolees, and how we simultaneously better support prisoners and parolees/probationers, which in turn will help the organization and its employees.

Through my work, I unpack the function of correctional services today and I actively work to inform the future of correctional services — at the provincial, territorial, and federal levels. I have had the opportunity to change federal policies and legislation and I welcome the opportunity to continue to make changes. One example is my role in having correctional and parole/probation officers recognized as first responders under the federal Memorial Grant. This process elevated the status of correctional employees, gave correctional officers visibility as first responders, and ensures into the future that their sacrifice, should an adverse event resulting in death happen due to their work (including if resultant from occupational stress injuries and mental health disorders), is recognized and their families are supported.

In addition to your faculty and research roles at Memorial, you do work with institutions and organizations focused on corrections, rehabilitation and mental health treatment. How does your scholarly research help you contribute to the organizations (and vice versa)?

My research serves to inform mental health policies and practices across the country. I work in partnership with correctional services, recognizing their challenges, appreciating the various positions, and then working to optimize and introduce new processes that advance knowledge and practices toward meeting the goal of a healthier workforce. My partners contribute to my work by revealing needed areas of inquiry, while I inform the work of my partners by research dissemination and targeted investigation. The collective outcome is a working relationship where we all listen and learn from each other — moving forward our objective, toward improved outcomes for correctional services, thus under supervision and all employees.

What led to your specialization in corrections, policing and criminology? Was this a longstanding area of interest for you, or one you found your way into unexpectedly?

I found my way into justice almost by accident. As a masculinities scholar, I became interested in understanding how gender, particularly embodied gender, presented in prisons. Ironically, I have never written the paper I set out to write about body modification, masculinities, and sport in prison. Nevertheless, I have researched many elements of prison living and work and I realize prisons are spaces in which I am deeply interested.

My work in policing was the result of being approached in 2013 by the former Commanding Officer/Assistant Commissioner of the RCMP in Newfoundland and Labrador. I started creating restorative practices in the province as a means to help youth who come into contact with RCMP officers. However, my work in the area of policing is now quite focused on the policing of the sex offender registry, with sex offender experiences being a perceived area of my expertise.

In 2019, you were inducted to the Royal Society of Canada's College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. Has that honour impacted your work — for example, by connecting you with new scholars or opportunities?

Being part of the RSC has been a humbling experience. I am fortunate to have met many incredible scholars. I was invited and joined the RSC COVID-19 task force, and I chair the working group on Corrections and Prisons, which provides me the privilege of working with an incredible team of academics from Canada, the US, and the UK. We have written a policy brief (reproduced as a journal article), and two opinion pieces to date. Moreover, we have a COVID study tied to prisons underway that will inform practices around infectious disease in prisons and provide evidence to support responses to COVID-19 should a fourth (or subsequent future) wave(s) of the virus be experienced. I also have connected with some amazing RSC fellows and begun the process of bringing change and making research actionable and accessible to more communities in Canada and internationally. It’s been a great experience.

You've said that your work focuses on advocacy for people who often aren't given a public voice. During the ongoing pandemic, there has been attention to the risks faced by people in institutions (including correctional and health institutions) — not just due to COVID-19 itself, but also due to isolation. Is this an area you plan to focus on in current or future research?

My work is centred on giving voice to those who voices are silenced, often due to confidentiality or other processes. Isolation remains complex, as it is a way to prevent the spread of COVID but it is also inhumane and, especially when prolonged, a form of torture. We need alternatives. Unpacking COVID experiences of prison living to understand the nuances is something I will endeavour to do in the future. I believe there is a better way forward, without isolation, but am still unclear as to what that looks like beyond decarceration.