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.
Meet the Latest NRCJIW Innovator! Superintendent Jane Parnell and Washington Corrections Center for Women
In 2013, the Washington State Department of Corrections formalized its Gender Responsive Initiative, which among other activities, has led to the development of an agency policy for Gender Responsiveness and deliberate efforts to design and implement a gender responsive risk and needs assessment.
The Washington Department of Corrections develops gender-responsive policies and procedures under its Gender Responsive Initiative. Goals of the initiative include:
- Defining a culture that is relationship focused, trauma informed, sensitive to the sexual/gender orientation and needs of the individuals.
- Reviewing the Offender Health Plan to ensure gender responsivity.
- Implementing a gender responsive assessment tool and developing a corresponding case management process.
- Ensuring the classification system accurately assesses the female population.
- Increasing gender responsive programming to serve female offenders.
To read more about WADOC's goals, desired outcomes, and accomplishments, click here.
The NRCJIW recently had the opportunity to interview Jane Parnell, Superintendent of the Washington Corrections Center for Women, the largest facility for women inmates in the state, about her experiences supporting the state-wide effort to improve responses to women inmates. She also described the Women's Village, an inmate community concept that has successfully changed the culture in the Washington Corrections Center for Women. An excerpt from that interview is provided below.
"Many women do not even recognize the role that past trauma has played in their pathway to crime. Our staff must recognize [the importance of trauma] before we can expect the women to."
-Jane Parnell, Superintendent, WCCW
Q: What are some of the steps you are planning or have taken to enhance gender and trauma-informed care at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW)?
A: It's a work in progress. We have for more than five years now provided "Pathways and Perspectives" Training to all staff members (including uniform staff, educators, medical staff, cooks, etc.). This is a 2-day training that covers the pathways that bring women to prison and the important differences between men and women. It is required for every staff person prior to working at WCCW.
While we provide trauma-informed programming to offenders at WCCW (the facility offers Moving On, Healing Trauma, Helping Women Recover and Beyond Trauma, e.g.), we recognize a need to include trauma informed information in our in-service training for staff. We are adding more about the results of women's trauma to a new trauma-informed care curriculum which we will pilot in May 2014. An example of some of its content is for staff to be aware of body language and how close they stand to the woman. For instance, we have a male chemical dependency officer who is really large and we realized that his physical presence in itself could be intimidating for a woman. He now realizes the importance of sitting down when he talks to offenders. We also have become aware of the possibilities of triggering a traumatic response from women when they visit the dentist. Being in a chair with her feet higher than her head – in a powerless position – could be retraumatizing for a trauma survivor. The dentist now explains to the offender what will happen ahead of time and lets her know that she can take a break if she needs to.
Q: What have been some of the most challenging parts of building a more gender-responsive and trauma-informed facility?
A: At times it has been challenging to coordinate changes in policy and practice across the different DOC divisions. For example, in order to put a program at WCCW, we need get approval from the Department's Division of Programming. Therefore, it is essential that they understand the need to tailor programming for women. Another example: When the DOC originally developed its offender health plan, it did not take into account the differences between women and men (with the exception of OBGYN services). We have to make sure that the Department's health services division is bought in so we can ensure that dental and medical services look different for women.
There was some push back from officers who thought that our new practices with women would not hold them accountable. Some thought being gender-responsive meant that we would give women everything they wanted. We learned that it was critical to talk with staff and educate them that you can do both – be gender responsive and hold women accountable for their behavior. I emphasize with all new staff that we want to hold offenders accountable but we also want them to be successful. An example I often use is a woman who has a positive urinalysis. I tell staff that we need to both hold her accountable but also understand that she uses drugs for different reasons than men. If we only respond to her usage of drugs, but not the underlying reasons why she is using (e.g., trauma), we are wasting our time and resources. We must understand what is driving their behavior.
The Women's Village Mission:
Encourage and foster an atmosphere of change in our community by harnessing our unique strengths, together as individuals, to create a new culture based on the pursuit of excellence.
The Women's Village Values:
Q: We understand that you are currently operating a program called The Women's Village. How did the program get started?
A: The Women's Village is an effort developed primarily by inmates for inmates. It started in February 2011 with about a dozen women at WCCW who were long term offenders who wished to create a safe and positive environment in which to live and work – for both women and staff. Some staff were also involved in the creation of the Village; a Mental Health Provider and the Associate of Programs provided oversight. About 350 offenders currently participate in The Village.
Q: Can you tell me about the key components of the program? What are the roles and responsibilities of the inmates and staff?
A: A village council provides leadership to The Village, meeting twice per month with the Associate of Programs. Each member chairs one of eight subcommittees: Education, Violence Reduction/Morale Building, Re-entry, Sustainable Accountability, Peer Support, Health and Wellness/Spirituality, and Family Support. Offenders are expected to develop and regularly update a strategic plan for each subcommittee's work. A staff person provides oversight to the subcommittees. Members of the village are expected to participate in three orientation sessions, complete two self-help classes per year (these may include for example, NA, AA, education classes, religious groups), maintain the values of The Village (and sign an agreement stating this), and develop at least one personal goal to work towards. Members also have the opportunity to meet in accountability circles to discuss the challenges they are facing with other women in The Village and to report back on progress in reaching their personal goals.
Q: What benefits have you seen in WCCW as a result of The Women's Village?
A: Overall we have witnessed intangible benefits from the Women's Village such as increased offender accountability, women with enhanced self-esteem and a greater sense of civic responsibility, and less tension between offenders and staff. We've also seen an increase in participation in classes and programming. The work of the subcommittees in the Village has produced a number of benefits for the facility's culture. The Environmental subcommittee created a recycling program in the facility and has created a Certified Wildlife Habitat recognized by the National Wildlife Federation. The subcommittee also created a project that now offers "sustainability lectures" each month for the women. The purpose of the project is to bring science and nature into prisons and help reduce the environmental, economic, and human costs of prisons by inspiring and informing sustainable practices. Scientists and community members active in conservation and sustainability share their passion and knowledge with the women on wide ranging topics: wildlife biology, hydrology, innovations in composting, energy and biofuels, native plant identification, and reconciling science and religion.
Perhaps one of the most striking benefits has been an increase in educational opportunities for the women. Since there were no public funds for higher education in correctional facilities in Washington, the Education Subcommittee sent requests to colleges and universities in our area asking professors to volunteer their time to teach the same classes at WCCW that they teach to students in their universities. Out of this work the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound (FEPPS) was developed. This program has provided more than 12 college courses in WCCW since 2012 in which the women can receive college credits.
Q: What lessons from your own experiences working with incarcerated women can you share with your colleagues around the country?
A: My advice to my colleagues is to never give up on being a voice for women offenders. Women will always be the minority. If we don't speak for them, we only help them to continue being powerless and we will not be doing the right thing. Never give up being a voice for the women.
To read more of this inspiring interview, click here.
NRCJIW Webinar "When Women Use Violence: Reasons, Circumstances and Promising Interventions"
Although a small percentage of women are charged with violent crimes, including intimate partner abuse, the response in many jurisdictions is to treat all individuals who have committed violent offenses, regardless of gender and circumstance, with the same intervention programs. The NRCJIW sponsored this webinar on May 28, 2014 in order to provide information about:
- Risk and other factors linked to women's violence
- The importance of context in understanding the use of violence among women
- Screening and assessment tools that have been validated with women
- Promising gender-responsive interventions and services
- Resources available from the NRCJIW and the National Institute of Corrections (NIC)
During the webinar, Dr. Marilyn Van Dieten, Senior Partner with Orbis Partners, Inc., explored the emerging research that suggests that the experience and use of violence varies for men and women and that a gender-informed approach is warranted. A review of personal factors as well as the role of context, culture, and victimization among women charged with intimate partner abuse and other violent crimes was also examined.
To listen to a recording of this webinar, download session materials, and access links to additional information and resources on this topic, click here.
Now Available from NIC: Gender-Responsive Policy & Practice Assessment (GRPPA)
From the National Institute of Corrections - The Gender-Responsive Policy & Practice Assessment (GRPPA) is an online tool designed to guide the assessment of research-based, gender-responsive policies and practices in jails, prisons, and community corrections programs for women.
The GRPPA development process included a review of the assessment strategies in the Gender-Responsive Program Assessment tool, developed by the Center for Gender and Justice, and the Gender-Informed Practice Assessment, developed by the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) in partnership with the Center for Effective Public Policy. The GRPPA was based on the fundamental elements of quality programming, including the guiding principles from Gender-Responsive Strategies: Research, Practice, and Guiding Principles for Women Offenders Report.
The assessment has two major components:
- The GRPPA Description and Instructions section provides information on how to facilitate an assessment of current gender-responsive practices in community corrections programs and correctional facilities. It also outlines the five domains that will be assessed using the GRPPA Instrument.
- The GRPPA Scoring Instrument provides the assessment domains and related areas to be assessed. This document provides space for recording scores for each domain, as well as questions within each domain that can help guide the scoring decisions. It is also used to record what information was gathered or reviewed and to note areas where observations were made pertaining to each domain.
The GRPPA requires a collective effort from a team of corrections professionals to work together in determining a facility or program's current level of gender-responsiveness. It is intended as the first step in a more substantial process to understand the current facility, program policies, and practices so that reforms and/or enhancements can be planned. Improving outcomes for justice-involved women is the primary purpose of this work. Templates for action plans are provided to help agencies move toward improving or changing current practices toward those that are more gender-responsive. For more information about how to access this new resource, click here.
In the News: Female Jail Inmate Population Outpaces Males
Recent data on jail inmates from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that "female inmate population increased 10.9 percent (up 10,000 inmates) between midyear 2010 and 2013, while the male population declined 4.2 percent (down 27,500 inmates)." This trend of an increasing female jail population is also reflected by an average 1 percent per year rise between 2005 and 2013, while the male jail population declined less than 1 percent per year in that same time period. The report, Jail Inmates at Midyear 2013 – Statistical Tables, goes on to provide a yearly breakdown of statistics on female jail inmates for the total population, adults only, and based on conviction status.