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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Effective interventions for women offenders

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It is surprising that in 2015, there is almost no British research of sufficient high quality to inform best practice in reducing women's offending. There is a particular need to develop an effective evidence base around what works in helping women to desist from violent crime.

A Rapid Evidence Assessment

NOMS recently (July 2015) published a number of rapid evidence assessments (REAs) distilling the key lessons from research on reducing reoffending with different groups of offenders.

Lynn Stewart and Renee Gobeil produced one on “effective interventions for women offenders” which reviewed the research evidence on 18 different studies, most of which (15) related to US programmes.

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Reducing offending

The REA established five key approaches which reduce women’s offending:

  1. Substance abuse treatment, particularly in-custody or hierarchical therapeutic community programmes which apply cognitive behavioural interventions focusing on skill development.
  2. A gender-responsive cognitive behavioural programme which emphasises existing strengths and competencies, as well as skills acquisition.
  3. Community opioid maintenance, which may reduce reoffending rates while women are in treatment.
  4. Booster programmes which assist in maintaining treatment effects through community follow-up.
  5. Gender-responsive approaches which appear to be more effective than gender-neutral programmes.

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Other findings

The review of the evidence also highlighted a number of other key findings:

  • Factors found to be consistently related to women’s recidivism are: antisocial personality (problems with impulse control, emotion regulation and hostility), antisocial peers, antisocial attitudes and substance abuse. Targeting offenders with the most serious levels of substance abuse for treatment should be part of any strategy to reduce women’s criminality.
  • Women’s violent crime, including against partners, NOMS women offenders REA front coveris associated with alcohol abuse whilst acquisitive crime and soliciting are related to serious drug abuse. There is a very little research into the effectiveness of interventions seeking to reduce women’s violence.
  • Serious mental health issues are associated with violent offending. For these women, mental health needs should be stabilised prior to participation in programmes which address criminogenic need.
  • Women with pro-social personal identities are more likely to take advantage of potential opportunities to desist from crime. Interventions that use motivational, solution-focused techniques which encourage women to seek their own meaningful “hooks” for lifestyle change, could promote desistance.
  • Programmes for women offenders may be particularly effective if they focus on higher-risk offenders.
  • Programmes  which focus only on reducing the effects of trauma do not appear to contribute to reductions in women’s offending.

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Conclusions

It is surprising that in 2015, there is almost no British research of sufficiently high quality to inform best practice in reducing women’s offending. There is a particular need to develop an effective evidence base around what works in helping women to desist from violent crime.

 

If you are aware of examples of best practice with women offenders or particular gaps in provision, you can contribute to the Probation Inspectorate’s upcoming thematic inspection of work with women offenders.

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All Probation Posts are sponsored by Unilink

With over 20 years’ experience in the criminal justice sector, Unilink is a world leader in probation and community corrections software applications, as well as prisoner self-service, prisoner/case management and prisoner communications. Unilink’s integrated suite of products provide a complete digital solution enabling efficient running of prisons and probation. Underpinned by biometrics it integrates seamlessly to deliver security, efficiency and value – while being proven to help rehabilitate prisoners.

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