National Resource Center on Justice Involved Women Newsletter
The NRCJIW provides guidance and support to justice professionals – and promotes evidence-based, gender-responsive policies and practices – to reduce the number and improve the outcomes of women involved in the criminal justice system.
New NRCJIW Innovator: Dr. Merry Morash, Professor of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University
Dr. Merry Morash is a Professor of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University with expertise in the areas of Women Offenders and Applied Research. For two decades, she has concentrated on correctional programming for women offenders, management strategies for correctional agencies that focus on women, and assessment of recidivism risk across girls' and women's pathways to crime. Early in her career, Dr. Morash was part of a group that founded a children's visitation program in a Michigan women's correctional facility; and in 2010, she authored the book, Women on Probation and Parole: A Feminist Critique of Community Programs and Services that focuses on gender responsive and traditional probation and parole strategies for women offenders.
Q How did you become interested in researching issues specific to justice system involved women?
A Very early on, through my research on women police officers, it became apparent that research on women was not occurring the way it ought to. Little was known about what made programs and practices effective for women offenders. In the late 1990's, I was the Principal Investigator for two studies funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). One study involved surveying the field for information on "what works for which women offenders" with respect to program characteristics that were promising for achieving positive outcomes. The second study examined promising community corrections programs in two different settings, and showed these programs' more positive results in a comparison with outcomes from traditional programs.
Q We understand that you are currently conducting research examining women on probation and parole in Michigan. Can you tell us about this research?
A The research is unique because it is highly interdisciplinary, bringing together not only experts in criminal justice (myself and Dr. Jennifer E. Cobbina), but also in psychology and multilevel modeling (Dr. Deborah Kashy) and in communication (Dr. Sandi W. Smith). It's very popular to study women in prison, but a much larger population of women is on probation or parole, and that's a neglected area. We decided to look at women on probation and parole in Michigan. We are conducting research in order to:
- Improve understanding and efficacy of probation/parole supervision of women offenders;
- Examine whether the style and content of supervision interactions predict women's recidivism and key related outcomes;
- Identify measurable dimensions of supervision officers' interactions that best predict outcomes so that these can be taught in training and education programs; and,
- Understand the barriers, challenges, and successes for women supervised in the community.
Q What are the initial study findings about the effects of how probation and parole officers relate to women on their caseloads?
A Because the Michigan Department of Corrections had probation and parole officers who specialized in working with women, Michigan is an ideal setting to look at how probation and parole agents relate and communicate with the women offenders they supervise. Both agents and offenders evaluated the agent's relationship style with the women in three areas: How constructive and positive their working relationship was, how safe and trusting their working relationship was, and how controlling or unequal in status their working relationship was.
Women and agents tended to agree about the unique nature of their working relationship. For example, if the agent reported having an especially positive relationship, the woman also reported having an especially positive relationship. An agent's behavior early during supervision predicted how women perceived them later during supervision. Specifically, agents who discussed a wider array of issues (e.g., education, job skills, criminal thinking, money, housing, criminal associates) with a woman during early supervision interactions were seen as establishing more constructive and safe relationships with them. When agents had a more constructive style, the women offenders tended to report lower anxiety after supervision interactions. In contrast, when agents had a more controlling style, their supervisees reported greater anxiety after supervision.
In the next several months, we will be collecting more recidivism data at the 12-month and 18-month periods, which we will be able to report on in May 2014. This recidivism data will be used to investigate whether more positive relationships with agents translate into less illegal activity. Nature of Offender & Probation/Parole Agent Relationships for Women on Probation & Parole brief
Applying a theory from the field of communication, we found a number of women who recalled what their agents had said as a memorable message, which is what someone (e.g., parents, teachers) says that a person remembers and carries with them for a long time that gives them ideas about how they should behave. We were interested in knowing if there were things that agents said that reinforced their positive behaviors or decreased violation behaviors. We learned that probation and parole agents do have some degree of influence. The motivational messages or behavioral advice women think about in the moment is important. Our brief, "Agent Memorable Messages Recalled by Women on Probation and Parole" provides additional details on this. Memorable Messages from Agents.
We found that Black women were much more likely than White women to live in disadvantaged neighborhoods where crime is prevalent. As a result, many African American women responded to crime by isolating themselves due to the nature of their neighborhoods. They are not interacting with people, not joining informal groups, not talking to neighbors, and have no friends. They avoid everyone. And many believed that keeping to themselves was the safest way to avoid being drawn into "trouble." However, women who lived in neighborhoods that were better off used less restraining strategies. For example, they were more likely to interact with people who don't use drugs or break the law. As a result, they were less isolated and more able to fully participate in public life. This is important because women offenders residing in communities where they are socially isolated, economically disadvantaged, and lack resources face incredible difficulties in staying clean, sober, and crime-free. These difficulties they face can translate to an increased likelihood of reoffending, which increases the victimization risk for members in society. Additional details are available in our brief, "Race, Neighborhood Crime, and Coping Strategies of Women on Probation and Parole. Staying Out of Trouble PDF.
Q What have you learned about reducing risk for women on probation and parole?
A We also administered the Women's Risk/Needs Assessment (WRNA)3 tool, which was developed and validated specifically for women offenders, to get a measure of women offenders' needs and strengths. Needs and strengths indicate risk for recidivism. In the sample we studied, 22% percent of women were assessed as low risk, 49% were assessed medium risk, and 29% were assessed as high risk for recidivism.
Prior research on gender-responsive corrections has shown that when women receive benefits and services that meet the needs that the gender-responsive assessment tool, the WRNA, measures, many of which are specific to or especially high for women, their risk for recidivism is reduced. Those needs are in the areas of substance abuse and mental health treatment, financial assistance, education and job preparation, and safe affordable housing.
Statewide reductions in public services for the poor impact women disproportionately, especially those returning to the community on parole. Many women could not obtain cash, medical, and housing assistance. The women on both probation and parole in our sample indicated that their highest unmet needs were for housing, cash assistance, medical support, and education and training. Almost a third of the women with unmet food assistance needs did not know if they were eligible for benefits. Many women reported difficulty in determining their eligibility for housing assistance, or were ineligible for subsidized or public housing due to their criminal histories. Many felt highly stigmatized by policies that banned them from public housing assistance. Additional information on these findings is chronicled in our brief, "Women on Probation and Parole: Access to Crime Reducing Benefits and Programs".
To read the full interview with Dr. Morash, visit the NRCJIW Innovators Section
In Memory of Myrna Raeder, J.D.
The NRCJIW mourns the loss of Myrna S. Raeder, a longtime Southwestern Law School professor and advocate for justice involved women and their children. Myrna was a nationally recognized expert on evidence and procedure. She was also a leading advocate for gender equity in the legal profession and the criminal justice system, and championed issues related to domestic violence and the impact of incarceration on women offenders and their children. The American Bar Association noted that they lost a "dedicated member and a great, great friend," and that Myrna's many accomplishments with the ABA "speak volumes" about her as a person and a lawyer. Southwestern dean Susan Prager said in a statement that Raeder had touched many lives, both within the law school and in the larger legal and academic community, "Without question, Myrna will be greatly missed, appreciated and remembered," she said. During her long academic career, Raeder, who also served stints as a prosecutor and a criminal defense lawyer, garnered national recognition for her scholarship and advocacy. In 2002, she received the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement award, one of the ABA's highest honors. In 2013, the ABA's Criminal Justice Section, which she once chaired, awarded her its Charles R. English award for distinguished work in the field of criminal justice. Myrna's many contributions to improving system responses to justice-involved women and their children will leave a strong legacy.
New from the National Institute of Corrections Library: Pregnancy and Child-Related Legal and Policy Issues Concerning Justice-Involved Women
The National Institute of Corrections (NIC) recently released "Pregnancy and Child – Related Legal and Policy Issues Concerning Justice-Involved Women", authored by Myrna Raeder, J.D. The document cites a wide range of resources to assist correctional professionals, administrators, policymakers, and related professionals. It provides a legal context to review current policy and practice specific to the laws and policies that affect justice-involved women. The document is a follow up to "Legal Considerations with Regard to Women Offenders," an appendix to Gender Responsive Strategies: Research Practice, and Guiding Principles for Women Offenders by Bloom, Owen & Covington.
Announcing: NRCJIW Webinar on Applying Trauma-Informed Practices to Criminal Justice Settings to Achieve Positive Outcomes for Justice-Involved Women
This upcoming webinar will be convened on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 from 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. ET. In this session, participants will receive practical evidence-based and gender-informed techniques that will enable them to more effectively manage female offenders, an overwhelming number of whom are trauma survivors. Using research and case study examples from expert implementation, professionals and practitioners who work with females under correctional supervision in various settings will learn about trauma-informed communication strategies, creating safety and security through trauma-informed practice, and caretaking approaches that will improve their skill sets for effectively working with this population. At the end of this webinar, participants will be able to:
- Understand the effects of trauma and how they can work more effectively with justice-involved women.
- Articulate some of the techniques and skills for working with trauma survivors that can be used in a variety of correctional settings.
- Identify appropriate non-verbal and verbal responses to trauma disclosure from female inmates.
- Locate and access additional resources provided by the NRCJIW and NIC.
Presenters will include:
- Alyssa Benedict, CORE Associates, LLC
- Joan Gillece, SAMHSA's National Center for Trauma-Informed Care (NCTIC)
- Becki Ney, National Resource Center on Justice Involved Women (NRCJIW)
To register for the webinar, please go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/NPVKVHP.
Special Edition of American Jails Magazine Focuses on the Unique Needs of Women
The January/February 2014 edition of American Jails is devoted to the special needs of the female inmate population. It features a series of articles focused specifically on the unique challenges correctional facilities face in providing housing and programming for female offenders. Many of the articles were authored by NRCJIW staff and partners, including:
- 10 Facts About Women in Jails
- Female Inmates in Jail Settings: Identifying Challenges and Critical Issues
- Becoming More Trauma-Informed
- The Use of Restraints on Pregnant Women
- Gender-Focused Resources for Criminal Justice and Corrections Practitioners
For more information, visit http://www.americanjail.org/prison-magazine/.