Improving Outcomes for Women Involved in the Criminal Justice System
Buell, Maureen, Corrections Today
The National Institute of Corrections (NIC) has maintained an interest in improving outcomes for female offenders almost since its inception in 1974. During the past three decades, NIC has broadened its focus on women involved in the criminal justice system to meet an increasing demand for information and assistance relative to working with this population.
Women in the Criminal Justice System
In 1971, the U.S. attorney general convened an array of corrections professionals and experts at the National Conference on Corrections in Williamsburg, Va., to develop recommendations for prison reform. (1) Among the discussion papers presented was, "The Special Problems of Female Offenders," by Edith Elisabeth Flynn, Ph.D., then associate director for the National Clearinghouse for Criminal Justice Planning and Architecture at the University of Illinois.
During her presentation, Flynn brought to light the statistical data, patterns of criminality, theory and practices in sentencing and incarcerating female offenders up to that time, which had not been part of the report released by President Lyndon Johnson's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice in 1968, a blue ribbon panel that looks at crime problems in the nation. Among Flynn's recommendations specific to addressing the female offender population were:
* Disposition and treatment based on individual needs;
* Equal opportunities for vocational training;
* Diversion programs to address addictions;
* Increased use of pretrial diversionary interventions and enhanced services for preadjudicated individuals;
* Maximized use of alternatives to incarceration for eligible offenders;
* Restoration of family and community ties and increased use of community-based corrections;
* Reduction of the traditional lines drawn between institutions and the community;
* Replication of normative institutional environments; and
* Racially representative staff.
A quick review of this list is not unlike looking at the components of today's transition and/or reentry models for offenders released to the community. However, overshadowing the changing criminal justice landscapes has been the dramatic rise in women's involvement with the criminal justice system. Between 1977 and 2004, the rate of female imprisonment increased 757 percent, versus 388 percent in the male prison population. (2) With the marked increase in female imprisonment and the attention to transition and reentry and significant issues impacting criminal justice in general, criminal justice professionals must aggressively pursue the relevant qualitative and quantitative research specific to women involved in the criminal justice system. Moreover, designing interventions to improve the outcomes for female offenders must now be even more deliberate, focusing on improved outcomes if the criminal justice system is to effectively manage this population.
An Evidence-Based Foundation
Since the mid-1970s, NIC's services and products have reflected much of what was recommended by Flynn at the National Conference on Corrections in 1971. With the emergence of evidence-based practices and gender-responsive principles in the field of corrections, NIC can also contribute to what Flynn stated in her closing comments, "In view of the great dearth of statistical information on women offenders in specific and the almost total absence of data on women in society in general, it is recommended that such information be obtained with deliberate speed, with particular attention paid to the role of woman in contemporary society." (3)
The fields of medicine and education have long histories of using evidence-based practices to shape and improve outcomes. Accepting evidence-based practices within the culture of criminal justice has reassured some practitioners and created a level of uncertainty for others. …