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Female Reentry and Gender-Responsive Programming: Recommendations for Policy and Practice

NCJ Number
Corrections Today Dated: May/June 2021
Date Published
May 2021
7 pages

Following an overview of the nature of female criminal offending, this article reviews the movement toward and features of gender-responsive criminal justice programming for female offenders and reviews the empirical literature on what works in reentry programming for women.


Substance use and addiction are identified as integral to understanding female offending. Many women are arrested for drug-related crimes or property crimes to fund drug use. Women are more likely than men to abuse drugs in the context of interpersonal relationships and interactive behavior with romantic partners. Female offenders are more likely than male offenders to have histories of childhood maltreatment and abuse, co-occurring psychiatric disorders, familial dysfunction, and negative self-concept. Gender-responsive programming in reentry after incarceration and in rehabilitation programming has attempted to address the distinctive challenges faced by female offenders while also capitalizing on some of the characteristics of women offenders that make them more amenable than men to rehabilitation. Such programming may include mental health components, parent-child relationships, familial reunification, substance abuse treatment, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Mutual support groups are recommended for women. In assessing gender-specific re-entry models, this article focuses on a series of meta-analyses, which systematically aggregated information and quantified its impact. This facilitates understanding the degree to which various factors impact outcomes of reentry after incarceration. For women offenders, interventions that focused on substance abuse had significantly larger effects on preventing recidivism for women, as did the use of therapeutic communities. Interventions in an institution or those that bridged the institution and the community were more effective than those administered in the community alone. Gender-informed interventions proved to be more effective than gender-neutral programs. Nine recommendations for policy and practice are offered. 22 references  

Date Published: May 1, 2021