Abstract: Refining Definitions of ‌under-Served� and Service Neglect: A Systematic Review of Women’s Engagement in Social Services Pre- and Post-Incarceration (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

667P Refining Definitions of ‌under-Served� and Service Neglect: A Systematic Review of Women’s Engagement in Social Services Pre- and Post-Incarceration

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Gina Fedock, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Carly Murray, MSW, Research Assistant, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: Women who are involved with the criminal-legal system are disproportionately women who face the harms of systems of power, social and political marginalization, racial oppression, and economic deprivation. While arguably this population of women are also those in most need of efficacious, high-quality, and supportive social services and resources, they often face being “over-policed and under-protected” by and within criminal, legal, social service, educational, and health care systems, with a harmful dynamic of being both underserved and overly criminalized. Experiences of incarceration disrupt their lives, with negative impacts on their basic needs and a variety of “permanent punishments” that prohibit them from gaining access to economic assistance, resources, and services. While studies commonly document women’s service needs’ domains, less attention is given to their engagement with and experiences of services, including those related to financial support, food, housing, employment, domestic and sexual violence, mental health, and substance misuse. This study focused on a systematic review of research of women’s engagement in forms of social services pre and post-incarceration.

Methods: Following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA) 2020 Guidelines, a review protocol was designed in order to assess rates of social service engagement among currently or formerly incarcerated women prior to or post incarceration. Searches were conducted in Web of Science, Criminal Justice Abstracts, and Social Service Abstracts. Articles were limited to those which were peer-reviewed, reported on samples within the United States, and were published between the years 2010- 2020. These dates were chosen in order to most accurately depict the current realities of presently and formerly incarcerated women with regards to social service utilization and socioeconomic status. Search terms were delineated into three categories to represent the population of focus, time of service utilization, and types of services utilized.

Results: Of the 4,544 studies first identified across search engines, 27 articles met criteria for inclusion in the final review. Over the ten years of research, women’s average income levels did not change, and a majority of women in samples reported unemployment. Across included studies, we found three major gaps: (1) a lack of research about women’s engagement in domestic and sexual violence support services; (2) little attention to differences amongst women, especially with attention to race and class; and (3) a scarcity of details about service experiences, including duration, specific types, treatment by staff, and the role of stigma, discrimination, and permanent punishments.

Conclusions and Implications: While studies commonly report service needs for women involved in the criminal-legal system and describe this population as impoverished, few studies examine women’s experiences with different forms of services, limiting the ability to advance services and resource provision for this population. Further attention is needed for improving the socioeconomic status and material realities of this population of women. This research also neglects to track the role of collateral consequences on women’s experiences. The findings point to key research, policy, and practice directions.