The U.S. Department of Justice has taken major steps to make our criminal justice system more fair, more efficient, and more effective at reducing recidivism and helping formerly incarcerated individuals contribute to their communities. An important part of that task is preparing those who have paid their debt to society for substantive opportunities beyond the prison gates, and addressing obstacles to successful reentry that too many returning citizens encounter. To highlight these issues, April 24-30, 2016 has been designated by DOJ as National Reentry Week.
To commemorate National Reentry Week, the National Resource Center on Justice Involved Women (NRCJIW) would like to take this opportunity to focus on one of the key gender responsive principles identified in the National Institute of Corrections’ seminal guide on women, Gender-Responsive Strategies: Research, Practice, and Guiding Principles for Women Offenders: Establish a system of reentry and community supervision with comprehensive and collaborative services.
To be successful in the community, women leaving prison must: stay clean and sober, return to a primary caretaker role for their children, earn a livable wage, obtain reliable childcare and transportation, and find safe and sober housing for themselves and for their children. This must occur while meeting the requirements of community supervision and additional demands of other public agencies (e.g., child welfare). Furthermore, many women must find care for chronic health conditions such as HIV. To minimize the likelihood that women returning home will be overwhelmed by the requirements of multiple service agencies, essential services must be readily available and well-coordinated.
To assist women to be successful, corrections professionals should consider the following:
- Address women’s specific risk factors (e.g., abuse/victimization, mental health, substance abuse, parenting issues and self-esteem) before, during, and after reentry.
- Partner with community organizations who provide substance abuse, public health, employment, child welfare, and housing services.
- Implement a gender responsive case management approach that attends to women’s needs in a holistic way, such as the Collaborative Case Work Model, formerly known as the Women Offender Case Management Model (WOCMM).
- Implement gender responsive interventions or programs that attend to women’s unique needs.
The importance of providing services and using approaches specifically targeted to justice involved women cannot be overstated. Consider that in a recent meta-analysis (of 37 studies and almost 22,000 women offenders), researchers found that:
- women who participated in gender responsive correctional interventions had 22% to 35% greater odds of community success than non-participants, and
- high fidelity women’s programs are more effective for women than high fidelity, evidence based, gender neutral programs (i.e., programs designed for men).
Women’s successful reentry to their communities, as well as the well-being of their children and families is at stake.