Drug Treatment and Reentry for Incarcerated Women

By Wells, Doris; Bright, Laurie | Corrections Today, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Drug Treatment and Reentry for Incarcerated Women


Wells, Doris, Bright, Laurie, Corrections Today


Author's Note: Points of view expressed in this article do not represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

For many years, corrections officials applied the same drug addiction treatment programs to women as they did to men. During the past several years, the number of women inmates has increased (and continues to increase at a faster rate than that of men). (1) Research now indicates that many female inmates and parolees have physical, emotional and social needs that are different from men and thus may require different treatment programs. For example, women tend to have stronger attachments to their children (thus more separation anxiety), more childcare responsibilities and parenting issues, and have histories of sexual and physical abuse more often than men.

Two recent National Institute of Justice studies of drug addiction treatment and rehabilitation programs for female inmates, KEY/CREST (2) and Forever Free, (3) found that a much higher percentage of participants in these two programs remained drug-free and arrest-free at three- and one-year follow-up periods, respectively, than the comparison groups. Results from both studies show that treatment programs that provide aftercare, and recognize and address issues unique to female inmates can help to reduce recidivism.

KEY/CREST in Delaware

KEY is a women-only residential therapeutic community drug rehabilitation program at Baylor's Women's Correctional Institute in New Castle, Del. CREST is a coed work release therapeutic community (TC) at Sussex Correctional Institute in Georgetown, Del. Prison TCs separate participants from the general prison population and place them in an environment where they can develop positive behavioral, mental and emotional changes that can help them reduce or stop drug use.

Prior research has demonstrated that the therapeutic community model, which was originally designed for men, can be effective for treating women if redesigned in a more female-oriented format that, for example, helps build trust and is less confrontational. (4) Women respond to a program that emphasizes repairing their abusive relationships with men and teaches them how to build positive ones, shows them how to deal with family relationships and child care responsibilities, and helps them sort out their histories of sexual and/or physical abuse and other personal issues, including mental-health problems such as depression.

The process evaluation of KEY/CREST showed that the environment and curriculum of both programs addressed the physical, emotional and social needs of women, but the researchers recommended changing CREST to a single-sex program. They suggested that the presence of men and the confrontational methods used in the program could combine to provide a psychologically threatening environment for women.

However, CREST participants expressed mixed views about the proposed change. Some women said that the program was gender appropriate and that they did not feel unsafe or threatened by the presence of men. Some women wanted less hostility in the encounter groups, others wanted more female-only encounter groups, and still others wanted to keep parts of the program coed to help them learn how to relate to the opposite sex in nonsexual ways. Although some participants saw a need for male involvement, they all seemed to indicate a preference for a program that focused more on female issues.

A three-year follow-up study of KEY/CREST produced positive results. The study found that 69 percent of inmates completing KEY/CREST and aftercare remained arrest-free, compared with 55 percent of those completing CREST only, 28 percent of CREST dropouts and 29 percent of the control group. The study also found that 35 percent of inmates completing CREST and aftercare remained drug-free, compared to 27 percent who completed CREST only, 17 percent who dropped out and 5 percent of the comparison group. …

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