Women Who Are Victims of Domestic Violence: Supervision Strategies for Community Corrections Professionals

Article excerpt

In recent years, the field of community corrections has focused increased attention on the growing number of women entering the criminal justice system. The National Institute of Corrections, as well as organizations such as the American Probation and Parole Association and the American Correctional Association, has identified the need for changing policies and practices to integrate gender-responsive strategies into programs and services for women.

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As researchers and practitioners work to identify the unique life experiences of women and their pathways into the criminal justice system, it is increasingly evident that the vast majority of women under community corrections supervision are victims of domestic violence. Thus, one of the most important strategies for a community corrections agency is the implementation of policies that recognize and respond to the many safety issues and complexities of the day-to-day realities that women under supervision face as a result of their histories of abuse. (1)

Victims of Domestic Violence Under Community Supervision

Best practice dictates that community corrections agencies create uniform responses to support the safety of women who may have been abused, throughout the supervision process. Strategies to accomplish this goal include making the safety of women who are abused the highest priority and approaching every case from a homicide-prevention perspective. (2)

Officers in community corrections need to be aware of specific strategies that can be used to identify the occurrence of domestic violence in cases where it has not been identified so that they can provide the support and resources needed by the victim. For women already identified as victims of domestic violence, officers have a wide range of supervision strategies available to help protect them. This can minimize any unintended consequences of the orders and conditions, which are designed to develop probationer or parolee competencies.

Across the nation, 57 percent of women in state prisons and 40 percent of women in federal prisons reported that they have been physically or sexually abused. And, of those who admitted to being abused, most (61 percent in state prison and 66 percent in federal prison) reported that their abusers were their current or former intimate partners. (3) Additional studies of incarcerated women indicate that these experiences of domestic violence demonstrate a national trend. (4)

Looking only at women under community corrections supervision, a 2002 study conducted by the Oregon Council on Crime and Delinquency (OCCD) in Lane County, Ore., indicated that the vast majority are or have been victims of domestic violence at some point in their lives: 85 percent have experienced physical violence including pushing, slapping, shoving or grabbing; 79 percent have experienced physical violence in the form of punching, kicking, strangling or hitting; and 46 percent have been raped or forced to have unwanted sex. (5)

The same OCCD study also indicated a strong connection between women's criminal histories and their relationships with their abusive partners:

* 56 percent committed at least one crime to please a partner;

* 45 percent committed a crime to get drugs for a partner;

* 40 percent admitted to a crime actually committed by a partner;

* 29 percent committed a crime because they were threatened by a partner;

* 51 percent lied to authorities to hide a partner's crime; and

* 21 percent chose to go to jail to avoid violence by a partner.

Convictions for many women in the criminal justice system are either direct or indirect results of the abuse they experienced. This includes women who kill or assault their abusers in self-defense, women charged with failure to protect their children from an abuser's violence, as well as women charged with parental kidnapping after fleeing in an attempt to protect their children. …