National Resource Center on Justice Involved Women Newsletter
This is the sixth in a series of bimonthly newsletters from the National Resource Center on Justice Involved Women (NRCJIW). 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.
NRCJIW Innovator: Connecticut Court Support Services Division
The NRCJIW highlights groundbreaking work in the field of gender-informed criminal justice by profiling innovations in applying gender-informed strategies, achieving success in lowering recidivism, and improving the physical, social, and economic well-being of women and their children.
Our current innovator is the Connecticut Court Support Services Division (CSSD), which provides supervision to juveniles and adults on probation in the state, was selected by the National Institute of Corrections in 2007 to pilot a gender-responsive model, the Women Offender Case Management Model (WOCMM). Developed by Dr. Marilyn Van Dieten of Orbis Partners, Inc. in partnership with NIC, the model includes evidence and gender-responsive techniques and is designed to reduce recidivism, increase the availability of services and enhance outcomes for women.
A recent outcome evaluation of the model as it was applied by CSSD indicates a consistent trend of lower recidivism rates, absconding rates, and technical violations for a sample of WOCMM participants as compared to non-participants. Consider that:
- WOCM participants' recidivism rate after one-year was 31.6%, compared to non-participants whose rate was 42.5%.
- Furthermore, WOCM was particularly beneficial for high risk women. High risk participants were less likely than medium risk women to be re-arrested, abscond, or receive technical violations.
Implementation of WOCMM by CSSD at a Glance:
- The pilot was implemented in 2007 by CSSD probation staff in four Connecticut supervision offices: Bridgeport, Hartford, New Britain, and New Haven.
- In 2011, CSSD expanded the implementation of the WOCMM model statewide (the use of the model in Connecticut is referred to as WOCM).
- A WOCM Central Office Oversight Team is responsible for planning, training staff, supporting implementation (i.e., coaching, supervision, problem solving), and monitoring the implementation of the WOCMM model for quality assurance.
- The number of clients on a caseload is controlled, allowing case management teams with time to work collaboratively with the women to define individual needs and strengths, establish mutually agreed upon goals, deliver and broker the necessary services, and monitor progress. Probation officers serve as the primary case manager, and are joined by a gender-responsive case manager (formerly called a resource advocate) and an intervention specialist.
- Women who are selected to participate in WOCM must be 18 years or older, committed a non-sex offense, newly sentenced to probation for a minimum of 12 months, and score as medium or high risk to reoffend. CSSD currently uses the Women's Risk Need Assessment (WRNA) developed by NIC and the University of Cincinnati to determine female probationers' risk level and criminogenic needs. Women that participate in WOCM exhibit high risk characteristics and multiple needs including mental health conditions, histories of abuse, substance abuse, poor relationships, and financial hardships.
- CSSD continues to ensure model fidelity and monitor WOCM outcomes as it is implemented statewide. The department is currently in the process of developing measures for 3, 6, 12, and 25 month recidivism rates and will track these rates over time. CSSD reports that as of September 2012, WOCM participants averaged a 37% 12 month rearrest rate (according to data collected over the first 9 months of 2012).
For more information about the WOCMM implementation in Connecticut, visit: http://www.cjinvolvedwomen.org/innovators-connecticut-court-support-services-division
Excerpted Interview with Erika Nowakowski, State of Connecticut Judicial Branch, Court Support Services Division:
Ms. Nowakowski has overseen the WOCM efforts in Connecticut since July 2011. Her responsibilities include providing support to WOCM officers and their chiefs by sharing information, tools, and resources, coordinating meetings, and offering one-on-one assistance. She is also a key member of the Central Office Oversight Team, which supervises its implementation statewide and ensures fidelity of the WOCM model.
Q. The WOCM model follows nine principles. Were some of these principles harder to implement than others? What are some of the major challenges you have experienced?
A. Implementing principle six – which includes building essential partnerships with community providers in order to make sure critical resources are available to women under supervision – was a struggle for us and continues to be. While we had already built a range of partnerships prior to WOCM, we had some difficulties recruiting new partners, as well as getting both new and old providers to work with us in the collaborative way the WOCM model proscribes. For example, we don't want a job development specialist to just find a client a job, we want them to educate the client and build her skills set so that years from now, she will be able to find a job on her own.
Another challenge that we have faced is how to balance our officers' caseloads and assist officers who may be experiencing vicarious or secondary trauma. We have to be very mindful of what officers are going through, what supports and training they need, and when they need to take a break. The officers must balance their role of providing ongoing support to probationers with their responsibilities to community safety. The occurrence of vicarious trauma is greater in supervision offices where there may be only one WOCM officer for the entire jurisdiction and they do not have other peer officers who can offer support.
Q. Can you tell me more about the status of the use of the model today? Does it continue to be used in the original four offices? Has its use expanded or changed?
A. In 2007, WOCM was piloted in four adult probation regions – Bridgeport, Hartford, New Britain, and New Haven. Starting in 2011, we have expanded the use of WOCM to all supervision offices statewide. Currently, we have a total of 25 adult probation officers, 18 probation chiefs, and 18 Gender Responsive Case Managers participating in WOCM across the state of Connecticut. The criteria for inclusion on WOCM specialized caseloads remains the same, so all clients originally assessed as high-risk who meet the criteria are supervised according to the model.
Q. The WOCM model requires that individuals on the case management team have the skills necessary to engage and enhance the motivation of women, help them with problem-solving, and set and achieve goals. Can you talk about the process used to select officers who would participate in the case management team? What knowledge, skills, and attitudes did you look for?
A. When we first piloted the model, we shared information broadly about the WOCM model and asked for officers to volunteer to participate. When we expanded, we took both volunteers as well as handpicked officers that came recommended by their chief and/or had demonstrated good success rates with their clients. In general, the traits we looked for in officers included an interest in learning more about women, recognition that women have unique needs, prior case management experience, and motivational interviewing skills, to name a few.
Q. It is expected that many women will "fail" over the course of community supervision, violating their conditions of probation or committing new crimes. Are these situations handled differently under the WOCM model than they would be under traditional probation?
A. What we are seeing is that WOCM officers really want to give it their all. They hone in on the specific barriers that are causing a client to fail and try numerous methods to address her needs. It is a really fine line they are struggling with – they want to give her another opportunity to succeed, however, they also need to consider the woman's safety and the public's safety. WOCM officers have numerous conversations with the client before they violate her. What we have found is that through this process of open and honest conversation, the client often "owns" her setback. In fact, clients who have violated their probation are able to come back onto the WOCM caseload, and some have reported more readiness to accomplish the task at hand the second time around. As with many therapeutic interventions, relapse if often part of the process.
To read more about the work of the CSSD and the full interview, see: http://cjinvolvedwomen.org/innovators-connecticut-court-support-services-division.
Gender-Informed Training Opportunities from the National Institute of Corrections
- Webcast: Health, Justice, Women: Behavioral Health and OB/GYN, February 20, 2013. This event is part of a broadcast series that is an opportunity to explore methods of coordination between behavioral and physical health care. This broadcast is the second offering in a two part series addressing health related issues with women in our nation's justice systems. For more information and to register, visit http://nicic.gov/Training/SIB20130220.
- Operational Practice in the Management of Women's Prisons, June 17-20, 2013. During this course, participants will explore the operation of a women's facility and analyze operations from a gender informed perspective. Participants will complete a curriculum focused on contemporary research, management styles for handling women, legal issues, communication, women's pathways to prison, gender responsive principles, and staff sexual misconduct. The deadline for applying is March 1, 2013. For more information, visit: http://nicic.gov/Training/13P3101.
- Women Offenders: Developing an Agency-Wide Approach, April 23-25, 2013 in Aurora, Colorado. The training is for three-person teams from jails, prisons, or community corrections agencies that will commit to developing an agency-wide plan for an effective response to women offenders. Teams must include an agency administrator with authority to direct resources to effect the planned changes in policy and practice and two managers who are responsible for implementation. For more information, visit: http://nicic.gov/womenoffenders for more information and updates.
Save the Date: 15th Bi-Annual Adult and Juvenile Female Offenders Conference
Please save the dates on your calendar and check our website periodically for updates on the AJFO conference registration and for a call for presenters.
New Resource: "Women's Pathways to Jail: The Roles & Intersections of Serious Mental Illness & Trauma"
This multi-site study addressed critical gaps in the literature by assessing the prevalence of serious mental illness (SMI), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance use disorders (SUD) in women in jail and pathways to offending for women with and without SMI. Understanding female offenders' pathways to offending, including both risk for onset and risk for continued offending, helps elucidate the complexity of their experiences and identify key factors and intervening variables that may ameliorate or exacerbate risk. This type of research is critical to development of gender responsive programming, alternatives to incarceration, and problem-solving court initiatives. To access this report in its entirety, see http://cjinvolvedwomen.org/women-pathways-to-jail.