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Gender-Responsive Strategies: Research, Practice, and Guiding Principles for Women Offenders

NCJ Number
Barbara Bloom Ph.D.; Barbara Owen Ph.D.; Stephanie Covington Ph.D.
Date Published
June 2003
146 pages

This report summarizes current multidisciplinary knowledge about women in correctional facilities and the ways in which gender affects criminal justice practice and policy.


Female offenders now constitute a significant portion of those under criminal justice supervision; numbering approximately 17 percent of all offenders. As such, it has become imperative to utilize the growing knowledge base concerning female criminality and female offender needs in order to respond appropriately to this population of offenders. The report was designed to offer guidance to criminal justice practitioners who seek to respond effectively to the behavior and circumstances of women offenders. The report summarizes the research literature on this group of offenders and then offers guiding principles and strategies for improving services to women offenders under criminal justice supervision. The literature review contains knowledge from such areas as health, family violence, substance abuse, mental health, trauma, employment, and education. National focus groups and interviews with experts in the field of criminal justice, policymakers, staff, and women offenders were also utilized to offer pertinent data on managing female offenders. Findings from the study indicated that women offenders come into criminality differently than men, and have unique needs in terms of correctional services. As such, gender-based differences in services should be implemented to manage women offenders more effectively and improve programs and service delivery. Chapter 1 of the report provides an overview of the characteristics of women in the criminal justice system. This chapter touches on issues of race and ethnicity, differences between male and female criminality, and how gender-specific issues touch the lives of women. Chapter 2 explores the unique needs of female offenders and how the criminal justice system can more effectively respond to this population. The two key findings in this chapter indicate that the sheer volume of male offenders works to overshadow the needs of female offenders and that the attempt to apply policies and services designed for male offenders to the female offender population is misguided and ineffective. Chapter 3 presents a summary of the multidisciplinary research literature regarding women in general, and female offenders specifically. Chapter 4 offers gender-responsive guiding principles and strategies for the criminal justice management of female offender. Effectively responding to women offenders will benefit women, improve community safety, and improve criminal justice effectiveness. Bibliography, appendices