Justice Involved Women

Justice Involved Women - 2019

The number of justice-involved women has skyrocketed -- at rates exceeding men. Their entry into the criminal justice system, offense patterns, and levels of risk often follow a different path than men and require more targeted approaches.

The collection of resources below are intended to provide information on the back ground and current status of justice-involved women in the corrections environment in the United States. For more on this topic, please see our Justice-involved Women Project Page https://nicic.gov/justice-involved-women.

While the use of evidence-based practice (EBP) is being used by more and more correctional systems, EBP tend to primarily address the needs of men. Issues specific to females are often overlooked. This void can be filled with gender-specific programming and services. The National Institute of Corrections (NIC) is a reliable resource for information about gender-responsive topics. This article provides a glimpse at the various things NIC offers. Some of these assets are technical assistance, training programs, the Gender-Responsive Bulletin and additional material, and models of practice which can improve operational outcomes.

The series, Reentry TIPSHEETS for Women, is designed to help correctional staff and other supportive stakeholders, who are working with women during the pre-release planning process and during reentry to address their needs as they transition to the community.  The tipsheets are an important resource for staff to use as a component of their ongoing discussions with the woman during her reentry planning process, and as a reminder of discussions and plans that have been identified during her period of incarceration. They are not intended to be handouts merely given to women on their way out the jail or prison door. Of necessity the Reentry TIPSHEETS for Women cover each topic generally and provide links to national resources.

With growing public attention to the problem of mass incarceration, people want to know about women’s experience with incarceration. How many women are held in prisons, jails, and other correctional facilities in the United States? And why are they there? How is their experience different from men’s? While these are important questions, finding those answers requires not only disentangling the country’s decentralized and overlapping criminal justice systems, but also unearthing the frustratingly hard to find and often altogether missing data on gender.

In March 2018, The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition released a report, A Growing Population: The Surge of Women into Texas’ Criminal Justice System, which examines the growing number of women entering Texas’ criminal justice system and offers recommendations for safely reducing this population and helping women thrive in the community.

Over the past three decades, States have enacted legislation making it easier to transfer youth to the adult criminal justice system. Although the process occurs with male and female youth, this document specifically addresses the challenges of transferring girls to adult court and correctional systems. Mechanisms developed to move youth into adult systems include Judicial Waiver/Transfer Laws, Prosecutorial Direct Filing, Statutory Exclusion Provisions, the “Once an Adult, Always an Adult” Provisions and Age of Jurisdiction Laws. When making those transfer decisions, less consideration may be given to the idea that adult jails and prisons are not designed for the confinement of youth, and as a result most are not equipped to meet the inherent and specific needs of adolescents. 

Women account for approximately 7 percent of the federal inmate population. Nationwide, women are a growing correctional population, however in the Bureau of Prisons, women have maintained a steady proportion of the overall population. The Bureau houses women in 29 facilities across the country.

Flanked by fig groves and vineyards and surrounded by electrified fences and thick coils of barbed wire, the Central California Women’s Facility is the largest women only prison in the state. Inside the low-slung cinderblock buildings, in a trailer that doubles as a classroom, a dozen prisoners have gathered around a conference table. They are black, white and Latina; former gang members, preschool teachers, musicians and veterans. They have one thing in common. All these women are serving long-term sentences for committing violent offenses. Many of them are LWoPs—life in prison, without the possibility for parole. They’ve come to this classroom to talk about the beginning of their journeys to prison — which almost invariably began with childhood trauma.

Criminal career patterns, social context and features, psychological factors, potential matches in prior pathways research, sub-types, and treatment goals are provided for the following types of women's pathways to crime: "Type 1 - Quasi-Normal non-violent women with drug/alcohol issues"; "Type 2 - Lifelong Victims, many of whom have abusive partners, drug problems and depression"; "Type 3 - Socialized Subcultural Pathways, poor and marginalized but with low victimization and few mental health problems"; "Type 4 - Aggressive Antisocial, high risk/high need and victimized, mental health issues"; [and] women offenders not classified.

Ex-offenders are subject to a wide range of employment restrictions that limit the ability of individuals with a criminal background to earn a living. This article argues that women involved in the criminal justice system likely suffer a greater income-related burden from criminal conviction than do men. This disproportionate burden arises in occupations that women typically pursue, both through formal pathways, such as restrictions on occupational licensing, and through informal pathways, such as employers’ unwillingness to hire those with a criminal record. In addition, women have access to far fewer vocational programs while incarcerated.

Many researchers and practitioners working with justice-involved women understand the gendered nature of how women end up incarcerated. They also recognize that many (if not most) of the women in these institutions have experienced trauma – either as a child and/or as an adult. Practitioners working with women in jails and prisons also understand that all imprisoned women experience the trauma of incarceration. As a result, advocates, service providers, and others, have created programming for women that is both gender-responsive and trauma-informed. This listing includes resources that give some examples of gender-responsive and trauma-informed programs and curricula for practitioners working with justice-involved women.

The gender-responsive Women Offender Case Management Model (WOCMM) is described. This document covers: the history of the project; philosophy and core practices; process incorporating four core elements (e.g., engage and assess, enhance motivation, implement the case plan, and review progress); preparing for implementation; and evaluation.

As of September 2016, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) incarcerated 10,567 sentenced female inmates, representing 7 percent of the total BOP sentenced inmate population of 146,084. Though female inmates compose a small percentage of the nationwide incarcerated population, correctional officials have recognized that in some areas female and male inmates have different needs and BOP has adopted gender-responsive programs and policies that account for these needs. As a continuation of prior U.S.

The programs on this site are varied in the populations they serve and services provided. This database is intended for correctional stakeholders working across front end decision-making, pre-trial release, jail and prison reentry and covers topical areas such as parenting programs and substance abuse and/or behavioral health. We have found this site to be a resource in correctional case planning, management, and supervision and treatment of women in correctional systems but also as a source of information for those interested in developing programs to serve women.

This database is not an exhaustive listing and we encourage visitors to help us keep the site active by submitting new programs.

Research on women's perpetration of physical violence has focused primarily on partners, often neglecting perpetration against nonpartners. This study proposes a conceptual model with direct and indirect relationships between childhood adversity and different targets of violence (partners and nonpartners), mediated by victimization experiences (by partner and nonpartners), mental illness, substance abuse, and anger. Using survey data from a random sample of incarcerated women (N = 574), structural equation modeling resulted in significant, albeit different, indirect paths from childhood adversity, through victimization, to perpetration of violence against partners (β = .20) and nonpartners (β = .19).

This report examines the civil rights of women in United States prisons. The population of women in prison has increased dramatically since the 1980s, and this growth has outpaced that of men in prison, yet there have been few national-level studies of the civil rights issues incarcerated women experience. The Commission studied a range of issues that impact incarcerated women, including deprivations of women’s medical needs that may violate the constitutional requirement to provide adequate medical care for all prisoners; implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA); and the sufficiency of programs to meet women’s needs after release.

Over 20 years ago, in litigation challenging conditions for women in District of Columbia prisons, a federal district court found widespread violations of the women’s rights, citing unsanitary and otherwise substandard living conditions, inadequate medical care, and educational, recreational, and religious   opportunities that were inferior compared with those available to men housed in the same facilities. The court also found evidence  of  “a level of sexual harassment which is so malicious that it violates contemporary standards of decency,” with reports of rape, “general acceptance of sexual relationships between staff and inmates,” unconsented sexual touching, and degrading remarks.

The argument on behalf of women offenders was made at least four decades ago at the National Conference on Corrections convened by then President Richard Nixon in response to the 1971 Attica Prison riots. Among many speakers, Dr. Edith Flynn delivered the only address on women offenders. In “The Special Problems of Female Prisoners,” Dr. Flynn noted that female prisoners were largely ignored.

Over the past quarter century, there has been a profound change in the involvement of women within the criminal justice system. This is the result of more expansive law enforcement efforts, stiffer drug sentencing laws, and post-conviction barriers to reentry that uniquely affect women. The female incarcerated population stands nearly eight times higher than in 1980. More than 60% of women in state prisons have a child under the age of 18.1)
Between 1980 and 2017, the number of incarcerated women increased by more than 750%, rising from a total of 26,378 in 1980 to 225,060 in 2017.

The National Resource Center on Justice Involved Women (NRCJIW) was established to address the complex needs of women involved in the criminal justice system.

The mission of the NRCJIW is to provide guidance and support to criminal justice professionals—and to promote evidence-based, gender-responsive, and trauma-informed policies and practices—in order to reduce the number and improve the outcomes of women involved in the criminal justice system.

The authors review evidence of gender-responsive factors for women in prisons. Some gender-responsive needs function as risk factors in prison settings and contribute to women’s maladjustment to prison; guided by these findings, the authors outline ways in which prison management, staff members, and programming can better serve female prisoners by being more gender informed. The authors suggest that prisons provide treatment and programming services aimed at reducing women’s criminogenic need factors, use gendered assessments to place women into appropriate interventions and to appropriately plan for women’s successful reentry into the community, and train staff members to be gender responsive.

Given the dramatic growth of women’s incarceration in recent years, it’s concerning how little attention and how few resources have been directed to meeting the reentry needs of justice-involved women. After all, we know that women have different pathways to incarceration than men, and distinct needs, including the treatment of past trauma and substance use disorders, and more broadly, escaping poverty and meeting the needs of their children and families. In recognition of these differences, and in an effort to reduce the harms of incarceration and the likelihood of re-incarceration, many prison systems have begun to implement gender-responsive policies and programs. But what’s being done to help women get the support they need to rebuild their lives after release?

The United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (‘the Bangkok Rules’) were adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2010 and fill a long-standing lack of standards providing for the specific characteristics and needs of women offenders and prisoners.

Historically, prisons and prison regimes have almost invariably been designed for the majority male prison population – from the architecture of prisons, to security procedures, to healthcare, family contact, work and training.

The 70 Rules give guidance to policy makers, legislators, sentencing authorities and prison staff to reduce the imprisonment of women, and to meet the specific needs of women in case of imprisonment.

This information sheet offers a number of quick facts about Women in the Federal Offender Population in the United States.

As of 2016, over 1.2 million women in the United States were incarcerated in prison or jail, on probation, or on parole. Since 2000, the rate of women’s incarceration in jails rose over 26 percent, whereas the jail incarceration rate for men decreased by 5 percent. When women are released from jail or prison, they are often ill-prepared to reencounter and address the serious problems they faced prior to incarceration, such as victimization, an unstable family life, difficulties in school, limited work experience, financial issues, poverty, substance use disorders, mental health issues, a lack of vocational skills, and parenting difficulties.