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Practice Profile

Gender-Specific Programming for Incarcerated Females

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types

Practice Description

Practice Goals/Target Population
Gender-Specific Programming for Incarcerated Females entails in-prison substance abuse and other types of treatment programs that are specifically designed for incarcerated women. The goals of the programs are to reduce the risk of recidivism. 
Practice Theory  
Gender-specific treatment programs were created as a result of challenges to the assumption that mainstream, gender-neutral correctional programs were appropriate for women. Instead, advocates for women-centered perspectives argued that because women’s pathways to crime are different from men’s, correctional interventions for women should take a different approach from correctional interventions for men. Gender-specific interventions are partly founded on relational-cultural theory (Miller 1986), feminist paradigms, and strengths-based approaches (Van Wormer 2001).
Gender-specific programming can be informed by the risk-reduction model, which is based on the idea that identifying and addressing dynamic or malleable risk factors for criminal behavior will reduce recidivism (Andrews and Bonta 1998). For instance, by addressing substance abuse among women in prison, the practice is theorized to reduce reoffending and re-incarceration after release.
Practice Components
Substance abuse treatment under the risk-reduction model is typically provided either through a therapeutic community or cognitive—behavioral approach. Therapeutic communities typically employ a holistic approach toward modifying offenders’ socialization and underlying values (De Leon 1986; Messina et al. 2006). Cognitive–behavioral interventions seek to change the offenders’ thinking patterns.

Various programs are aimed at improving women’s functioning during and after incarceration. The programs can target women’s psychological and physical well-being and focus on issues such as coping with physical or sexual abuse, parenting, and HIV risk. Many of the programs try to help the women heal emotionally from past experiences of victimization; to reduce symptoms or incidence of depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and anger; and to boost self-esteem (Bedard et al. 2003; Bonta et al. 1995; Schram and Morash 2002; Valentine and Smith 2001).

Other programs target parenting skills. Such programs train women in prison on understanding and meeting the developmental needs of their children, avoiding the use of corporal punishment and using other disciplinary methods, and establishing parenting roles.

Finally, other programs aim to improve women’s physical health by increasing HIV awareness and prevention efforts and helping HIV-positive inmates by addressing feelings of isolation, stigma, shame, and poor self-image (Chung and Magraw 1992; Pomeroy et al. 1999).

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

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Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Tripodi and colleagues (2011) examined the results from six studies on interventions for incarcerated females that followed the risk-reduction model (involving substance abuse interventions) and found that those in the treatment group were 45 percent less likely to recidivate (pooled odds ratio = 0.55). Gobeil and colleagues (2016) examined 38 unique effect sizes from studies on gender-informed interventions, and also found that recidivism was significantly lower for the treatment group than for the comparison group (weighted mean odds ratio = 1.35).
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Meta-Analysis Methodology

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Meta-Analysis Snapshot
 Literature Coverage DatesNumber of StudiesNumber of Study Participants
Meta-Analysis 11994 - 201361588
Meta-Analysis 22000 - 20133721795

Meta-Analysis 1
Tripodi and colleagues (2011) conducted a systematic review to examine the effectiveness of substance abuse interventions for incarcerated women. The authors reexamined the studies included in the meta-analysis conducted on interventions for female offenders conducted by Dowden and Andrews (1999) and performed a comprehensive search of the literature to locate studies, including unpublished dissertations, which had been conducted in the United States between 1988 and 2008. To be included, studies had to have evaluated the effectiveness of correctional-based interventions for women inmates in jails or prisons and used experimental, quasi-experimental, or one-group pretest–posttest research designs that provided sufficient information to calculate effect sizes. The researchers excluded studies with attrition rates of more than 30 percent that did not include study dropouts in the analyses.  

A total of six studies were identified and fit the criteria for inclusion in the risk-reduction model group of studies. The final sample comprised 1,588 offenders. The treatment group participated in substance-abuse prevention programs that used a therapeutic community approach, with the exception of one program that used a cognitive–behavioral approach. 
The outcome of interest was recidivism, which was measured in a variety of ways across the studies, including convictions since release, incarceration since release, return to custody, arrests, criminal activity, drug-related crime, and sex crime. A fixed-effects model and random-effects model were calculated.

Meta-Analysis 2
Gobeil and colleagues (2016) conducted a meta-analysis on gender-informed and gender-neutral interventions in which they examined the effectiveness of correctional interventions for incarcerated women on reducing recidivism. The authors performed a comprehensive search of published and unpublished literature between January 2000 and December 2013. To be included, studies had to be focused on correctional programs or interventions for women offenders, have a minimum of one comparison group, and a measure of recidivism after intervention completion. The researchers excluded studies reporting on populations of immigration detention and secure mental health settings.  Studies had to have at least 10 participants per group and use research designs that provided sufficient information to calculate effect sizes. 
A total of 37 studies providing 38 unique effect sizes were identified and fit the criteria for inclusion in the meta-analysis. The final sample comprised 8,831 incarcerated women in the treatment group and 12,964 in the control group. The treatment group participated in cognitive–behavioral and therapeutic community programs that focused on substance use, multi-targets, trauma, cognitive skills, education, life skills, peer support, case management, and parenting. 
The outcome of interest was recidivism, which was measured in a variety of ways across the studies, including conviction, charge/arrest, any return to custody, and not defined. Both fixed-effects and random-effects models were calculated.
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There is no cost information available for this practice.
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Evidence-Base (Meta-Analyses Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Meta-Analysis 1
Tripodi, Stephen J., Sarah E. Bedsoe, Johnny S. Kim, and Kimberly Bender. 2011. “Effects of Correctional-Based Programs for Female Inmates: A Systematic Review.” Research on Social Work Practice 21(1):15–31.

Meta-Analysis 2
Gobeil, Renee, Kelley Blanchette, and Lynn Stewart. 2016. “A Meta-Analytic Review of Correctional Interventions for Women Offenders.” Criminal Justice and Behavior 43(3):301–22.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Andrews, D.A., and James Bonta. 1998. Psychology of Criminal Conduct. Cincinnati, Ohio: Anderson Publishing Co.

Chung, Joyce and Margie M. Magraw. 1992. “A Group Approach to Psychosocial Issues Faced By HIV-Positive Women.” Hospital and Community Psychiatry 43:891-894.

De Leon, George. 1986. “Therapeutic Community for Substance Abuse: Perspective and Approach.” In George DeLeon and James T. Zeigenfuss (eds.). Therapeutic Communities for Addictions: Readings in Theory, Research and Practice. Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas, 5–18.

Dowden, Craig, and D. A. Andrews. 1999. “What Works for Female Offenders: A Meta-Analytic Review.” Crime & Delinquency 45(4):438–52. (This meta-analysis was reviewed but did not meet criteria for inclusion in the overall outcome rating.)

Messina, Nena, William Burdon, and Michael Prendergast. 2006. “Prison-based Treatment for Drug-Dependent Women Offenders: Treatment versus No Treatment.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 3:333–43.

Miller, Jean Baker. 1986. What Do We Mean By Relationships? (Working Paper Series, Work in Progress No. 33). Wellesley, Mass.: Stone Center.

Pomeroy, Elizabeth C., Risa Kiam, and Eileen M. Abel. 1999. “The Effectiveness of a Psychoeducational Group for HIV-Infected/Affected Incarcerated Women.” Research on Social Work Practice 9:171–87.

Sorbello, Laura, Lynne Eccleston, Tony Ward, and Robin Jones. 2002. “Treatment Needs of Female Offenders: A Review.” Australian Psychologist 37: 198–205.

Valentine, Pamela Vest, and Thomas Edward Smith. 2001. “Evaluating Traumatic Incident Reduction Therapy with Female Inmates: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial.” Research on Social Work Practice 11:40–52. Van Wormer, Katherine. 2001. Counseling Female Offenders and Victims: A Strengths-Based Approach. New York, N.Y.: Springer.
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Related Programs

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Following are programs that are related to this practice:

Forever Free Promising - One study
The first comprehensive, in-prison, residential substance abuse treatment program designed for incarcerated women. The program is rated Promising. The intervention group reported fewer arrests during parole, less drug use and were employed more at follow-up than the comparison group.

Recovery Management Checkups for Women Offenders (Cook County, Ill.) No Effects - One study
This intervention linked women who committed nonviolent offenses to community-based, substance use treatment after release from jail. It was designed to reduce recidivism, HIV-risk behaviors, and alcohol and drug use, and to promote long-term recovery. This program is rated No Effects. The treatment group was significantly more likely to participate in substance use treatment, compared with the control group; however, there were no significant effects for recidivism or alcohol and drug use.

Brief Motivational Interviewing for Alcohol Use (Incarcerated Women) No Effects - One study
This program was designed to provide an alcohol intervention to incarcerated women with hazardous drinking habits who were being released from prison. The program is rated No Effects. There were no statistically significant differences between the treatment and comparison groups on the number of days abstinent from alcohol consumption at the 6-month follow up.
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Practice Snapshot

Age: 18+

Gender: Female

Race/Ethnicity: Black, Hispanic, White

Targeted Population: Females

Settings: Correctional

Practice Type: Alcohol and Drug Therapy/Treatment, Cognitive Behavioral Treatment, Gender-Specific Programming, Group Therapy, Parent Training, Therapeutic Communities

Unit of Analysis: Persons