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A Comprehensive Study of Female Offenders: Life Before, During, and After Incarceration.

A Comprehensive Study of Female Offenders: Life Before, During, and After Incarceration, by Martin Guevara Urbina, Springfield, Ill., Charles C. Thomas Publisher, 2008, 279 pp.

Martin Guevara Urbina is to be commended for addressing important issues facing female offenders in A Comprehensive Study of Female Offenders. He examines this population based on a comprehensive literature review and survey of female offenders in the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.

Urbina attempts to address the complete experience of the female offender from the offender's perspective. Unfortunately, he spends an inordinate amount of time with the popular idea of female "pathways" to crime, e.g., female offenders ultimately are not entirely responsible for their crimes based on social ills or any number of "isms." He supports this premise with mostly dated research and does not offer alternative explanations for female criminal behavior. In this manner, A Comprehensive Study is not entirely comprehensive; rather, it becomes a comprehensive examination of the author's theory, which perpetuates the idea of offender as victim.

Much of Urbina's work is based on the Wisconsin offenders' responses to questionnaires. Urbina accepts these responses as the broad reality of female incarceration instead of limiting his conclusions and analyzing the responses as snapshots of offenders' perceptions to incarceration. Urbina could have offered a more balanced approach to his work by examining correctional policy and protocol in addition to the offender surveys. Because of the limited scope, his work ends up reflecting only the offender's perceptions of corrections.

Many correctional professionals, especially those employed in female facilities, may find the basic premise of Urbina's work offensive--that female facilities and those employed by them are abusive and controlling in nature. This negative stance is my major criticism of Urbina's work. He dismisses current attempts to improve the lot of the incarcerated female, and he is especially harsh in his assessment of security staff. His work does not consider that there are many dedicated, professional security staff who are not abusive to female offenders--and that they, in fact, may be some of the healthiest individuals the offender is exposed to.

Urbina also fails to consider how corrections' role of promoting public safety fits into his argument. By using a sociological approach/theory, Urbina implies that the primary responsibility of the correctional setting is the care and well-being of the incarcerated. The offender survey results become the measure upon which he bases his conclusions and recommendations. This is especially problematic as Urbina never mentions that he is surveying a population that is not always known for its truthfulness and ethical decision-making. By implying that the system is more responsible for the care and lifetime wellbeing of the offender than she is for herself, Urbina seems to discount the idea of personal responsibility.

I'm also concerned that Urbina's view of rehabilitation focuses too heavily on the need to change an external locus of control (i.e., society, corrections, family, etc.) rather than focusing on factors that incarcerated females can actually influence (i.e., behavior, attitudes, thinking). This approach implies that, unless larger societal factors are addressed, the incarcerated female is powerless to change her situation.

Urbina uses shock value in an attempt to empirically validate his hypothesis about who is responsible for individual behavior. This work is not likely to appeal to the average correctional employee as it lacks emphasis on personal responsibility.

Reviewed by Scott Hudson, Psy.D., LP, psychologist supervisor at a female correctional facility.
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Author:Hudson, Scott
Publication:Corrections Compendium
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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