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The impact of gender-specific programming on female offenders.

Editor's Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily the American Correctional Association.

Corrections professionals face significant challenges regarding programming and treatment services for the women involved in the criminal justice system. Providing effective gender-specific treatment that yields positive outcomes in a correctional setting requires special training that must be integrated into treatment. Specific trainings include: treating co-occurring addiction and mental health disorders; principles of trauma-informed care; and gender-responsive programming.

Criminality research has historically been centered on crimes committed by men. As a result, male offenders represented the norm for programming and policies in the criminal justice system. However, there are indeed differences between men and women that go well beyond simple anatomy. The following are just a few examples of the gender differences: (1)

* The mortality rate for women who suffer from addiction is 50 to 100 percent higher than men; (2)

* Women develop substance use disorders and health problems faster than men;3

* Women respond differently to medications and drugs, and as a result, they are more likely to experience side effects and fatal drug reactions than men; (4)

* While women and men are both susceptible to heart disease, women experience different symptoms than men; (5) and

* The rates of sexual abuse in childhood and adulthood are higher for women than for men. (6)

Women respond best to a relational style that fosters trust and safety with care providers and their environment. Women experience relationships as the context through which decisions are made, self-esteem is determined and their life plans are developed. Establishing a sense of connection with others is a primary motivator for women. (7) Respect should be given to the power and value of healthy relationships for women where power differentials exist. This is especially true within the corrections culture.

Since the majority of women who suffer from addictions and/or have a co-occurring mental illness have also experienced trauma during their lifetime, it is important to remember that the correctional environment may trigger symptoms through the way they communicate and interact with women. Caution is necessary, as providers may unintentionally become "part of the problem" or escalate an encounter as a woman reacts to the posture, tone and language used. (8)

Women who are recovering from alcohol and other drug dependencies may also be more vulnerable to being revictimized as trauma survivors--thus the importance of creating safe, consistent, trustworthy relationships with their care providers. Being incarcerated may bring about new trauma for women, causing them to feel hopeless and disempowered by the confinement. The majority of women incarcerated for drug-related crimes have experienced some type of trauma that led to "escaping" through the use of substances. Consequently, the people suffering harmed themselves and others through their behaviors. (9)

East Tenn. Correctional Release Center

In April 2011, the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) partnered with a nonprofit organization called The Next Door (TND) to provide gender-specific reentry programming for 42 female offenders at the East Tennessee Correctional Release Center (CRC) in Chattanooga, Tenn. TND is an organization that has specialized in reentry and co-occurring treatment services for female offenders in Tennessee since 2004. CRC became accredited by the American Correctional Association in July 2012.

Women who come to CRC are within three to six months of being released from incarceration. Upon arrival, they are assessed for co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders. Women are then enrolled in one of three tracks: a reentry program track; an addiction recovery track; or a more intensive, extended addiction treatment track. In addition to the clinical programming, each track in CRC includes victim impact, pro-social life skills, family reunification and workforce development courses. Upon completion of the CRC program, women may participate in an aftercare program called Lifetime Recovery Management (LRM), TND's peer-led, community-based support group for female offenders. LRM is designed to increase inmates' sustained recovery following reentry into the community through skill reinforcement, interpersonal processing and accountability to their peers.

All services at CRC are provided by well-trained staff who are intentional about building consistent, trusting relationships with the female offenders. The culture of CRC is one that promotes healing balanced with accountability for individual behavior and action. The creative synergy between corrections and gender-specific recovery programming has produced promising results. To date, one and a half years into the program, CRC has an 8 percent recidivism rate.

Gender-specific treatment works. It is our responsibility to support, educate and be educated on intervention strategies that promote positive outcomes, reduce recidivism rates and reinforce safer communities. Gender-specific treatment sustains the mission of TDOC to operate safe and secure prisons and provide effective community supervision in order to enhance public safety.

Providing effective gender-specific treatment that yields positive outcomes in a correctional setting requires special training that must be integrated into treatment.


(1.) Covington, S. 2001. A woman's journey home: Challenges for female offenders and their children. In From prison to home: The effect of incarceration and reenby on children, families and communities. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from

(2.) National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 2008. Alcohol: A women's health issue. Retrieved from

(3.) Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. 2009. Substance abuse treatment: Addressing the specific needs of women. Treatment Improvement Protocol Series, 51. Rockville, Md.: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from

(4.) Whitley, H. and L. Wesley. 2009. Sex-based differences in drug activity. American Family Physician, 80(11): 1254-1258. Retrieved from

(5.) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dec. 10, 2007. Heart attack symptoms in women--Are they different? Retrieved from hi hi-10. htm.

(6. )Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, 2009.

(7.) Covington, S. and B. Bloom. 2006. Gender-responsive treatment and services in correctional settings. In Leeder, E. (ed), Women and therapy. Retrieved from

(8.) COVirigt011, S. and B. Bloom. Creating gender-responsive services in correctional settings: Context and considerations. Paper presented at the 2004 American Society of Criminology Conference, Nov. 17-20, 2004, in Nashville, Tenn, Retrieved from

(9.) Covington, S. 2008. Women and addiction: A trauma-informed approach. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, SARC Supplement 5: 377-385. Retrieved from

Marina Cadreche, Psy.D.

Director of Clinical Services Tennessee Department of Correction
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Title Annotation:Guest Editorial
Author:Cadreche, Marina
Publication:Corrections Today
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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