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.

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.

Jails have been described as the criminal justice system’s “front door,” but jail incarceration typically begins with the police, with an arrest. Before any bail hearing, pretrial detention, prosecution, or sentencing, there is contact with the police. But despite their crucial role in the process, we know less about these police encounters than other stages of the criminal justice system.

Women make up a growing share of arrests and report much more use of force than they did 20 years ago.

Purpose: Incarcerated women serving life sentences are a growing subpopulation with multiple mental health needs. However, no existing interventions have been designed for or tested with this population. Method: This study tested a gender-responsive, trauma-informed intervention (Beyond Violence) and examined changes in incarcerated women’s mental health and anger expression. Pre-, post-, and follow-up surveys were administered to two treatment groups with women with life sentences. Multilevel modeling was conducted to assess changes over time for women’s mental health and anger expression and to compare outcomes for women based on time served.

This page shows the Federal Bureau of Prisons statistics on the gender of inmates in the federal prison system.

As the number of women under correctional supervision continues to increase in the United States, attention to gender within correctional programming is crucial as women offenders present with different concerns than their male counterparts. Gender differences exist in a range of criminal justice factors, including pathways to involvement in the criminal justice system, frequencies in types of offenses, treatment needs, and facilitating factors for treatment engagement and positive outcomes. Thus, this chapter highlights the importance of gender in terms of correctional program design and delivery. Gender-responsive programming for women involved in the criminal justice system is guided mainly by the feminist pathways theory of women’s criminality, as well as additional theories.

The story of women’s prison growth has been obscured by overly broad discussions of the “total” prison population for too long. This report sheds more light on women in the era of mass incarceration by tracking prison population trends since 1978 for all 50 states. The analysis identifies places where recent reforms appear to have had a disparate effect on women, and offers states recommendations to reverse mass incarceration for women alongside men.

The Center for Gender and Justice (CGJ) seeks to develop gender-responsive policies and practices for women and girls who are under criminal justice supervision. The Center is committed to research and to the implementation of policies and programs that will encourage positive outcomes for this underserved population.  Being gender responsive means creating an environment through site selection, staff selection, program development, content, and material that reflects an understanding of the realities of the lives of women and girls and that addresses and responds to their strengths and challenges.

 

At the end of 2016, there were 111,616 women in prisons across the United States, a 742% increase from the 13,258 women in prisons in 1980. The United States has 4% of the world’s female population but 30% of its female incarcerated population.  Although there has also been an exponential rise among men— as part of the complex political, social, racial, and public health phenomenon known as mass incarceration—the rate of increase of women in custody has outpaced that of men. Nonetheless, there is a dearth of research about gender-specific health conditions among incarcerated women, especially pregnancy.

This practice brief was designed to summarize the available research on female perpetrated violence. Information in this area is still quite limited. However, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that females who engage in violence are not a homogenous group and that there are some important differences in the context and expression of violent behavior across gender. We will examine a host of personal, contextual, cultural, and victimization-related factors among females charged with intimate partner violence and other violent crimes. This information will then be translated into recommendations for assessment and intervention.

There has been growing acknowledgment among scholars, prison staff, and policy-makers that gender-informed thinking should feed into penal policy but must be implemented holistically if gains are to be made in reducing trauma, saving lives, ensuring emotional wellbeing, and promoting desistance from crime. This means that not only healthcare services and psychology programs must be sensitive to individuals’ trauma histories but that the architecture and design of prisons should also be sympathetic, facilitating, and encouraging trauma-informed and trauma-sensitive practices within.

The WRNA was originally created through a cooperative agreement between the National Institute of Corrections and the University of Cincinnati through research conducted by Patricia Van Voorhis, Emily Salisbury, Emily Wright, and Ashley Bauman. The instrument is now managed by Dr. Emily Salisbury at Utah Criminal Justice Center (UCJC), College of Social Work University of Utah.
The WRNA is a public-domain instrument. However, there are conditions of use, a license agreement, and training costs associated with its implemenation.
This webpage from Utah Criminal Justice Center (UCJC), College of Social Work University of Utah has links to research articles written about the WRNA over the last 13 years.

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, includingdeprivations 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 afterrelease.

This report was first published in 2014. Since then, some things have changed for women in solitary confinement—but many things have not. More attention has been placed on women in prison and on solitary confinement in general, but still, little attention has been paid to the specific plight of women in solitary confinement. Although laws, court decisions, and settlement agreements have all limited the use of solitary confinement for certain populations in some jurisdictions, the use of solitary confinement is still rampant in the United States. Vulnerable populations, including pregnant people and women with mental illness, are still being placed into solitary confinement, and not enough is being done to enforce limitations on such placements.

Correcional facilities are challenged to manage the growing popluation of justice involved women. Increasingly, agencies recognize that "one size does not fit all."   Implementing gender-responsive policy, practice, and programming contributes to a more engaged inmate population, reduces disciplinary issues, and contributes positively to reentry planning. Evidence-based practices and population statistics point toward using gender-specific policies for incarcerated women.