Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16233 Designing Programming and Interventions for Women In the Criminal Justice System

Friday, January 13, 2012: 8:00 AM
Constitution D (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Martin T. Hall, PhD, MSSW, NIDA Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
Seana Golder, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
Cynthia L. Conley, PhD, Assistant Professor, Ball State University, Muncie, IN
Susan Sawning, MSW, Project Manager, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Background and Purpose: Women are the fastest growing segment of the criminal justice population, yet the majority of research on criminal justice populations has been focused on men. Programming and interventions that reduce women's involvement in the criminal justice system and ameliorate the negative consequences associated with criminal justice involvement are urgently needed. The overall aims of this study were to (a) identify factors that impede the engagement of criminal justice-involved women in psychosocial interventions, and (b) provide a framework for gender-specific programming and intervention strategies that reduce criminal justice involvement and its associated consequences.

Methods: Four focus groups were conducted with 40 adult women who had been remanded to probation or parole. Participants were recruited from two homeless shelters and two not-for-profit drug treatment agencies. Each focus group was comprised of 5 to 12 women, lasted between 90 minutes and two hours, and utilized a structured interview guide that included questions assessing service needs, barriers to service utilization, and experiences in the criminal justice system. Content analysis was used to inductively analyze the transcriptions, and analysis followed a grounded theory approach. Transcripts from the focus group sessions were reviewed in order to develop a list of broad themes and concepts. Further reduction of data and coding occurred after the development of a preliminary set of coding categories. Three coders reviewed all transcripts, and during each stage of the analysis, findings were reviewed and discrepancies discussed until consensus was reached.

Results: Analyses of the focus group transcripts identified four overarching themes. First, women described the positive elements of involvement in the criminal justice system. Most women reported having supportive relationships with their parole/probation officers, and many expressed satisfaction about being arrested because it facilitated entry into drug treatment. The second theme participants identified was barriers to employment. Women described a complicated interplay of personal (e.g., criminal record, educational history) and environmental (e.g., geographical location of jobs, employer fears) factors that influenced their ability to secure legal employment. Third, participants expressed a need for safe, affordable housing, and described the manner in which penalties associated with a criminal and/or drug history made them ineligible for federal housing subsidies. Fourth, participants identified the chronic nature of drug use, as well as a wide range of drug-related trauma and abuse experiences, that should be considered when developing programming and interventions.

Conclusions and Implications: Intervention models for women in the criminal justice system should be designed to address women's pressing social needs, including: job training, employment assistance, and access to safe and affordable housing. Given the high prevalence and interrelated nature of victimization, drug use, and other co-occurring psychological problems among women in the criminal justice system, integrated mental health and drug treatment should be a feature of all programs and interventions. Finally, service delivery and treatment should be of adequate intensity and duration to affect lasting behavioral change.

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