Classification of Incarcerated Women Offenders: Current Practices and New Approaches

Patricia Van Voorhis, University of Cincinnati
Patricia Hardyman, George Washington University

Over the past decade, women's prison populations have grown considerably faster than men's (Austin, Bruce, Carroll, McCall, & Richards, 2000; Beck & Harrison, 2001; Chesney-Lind, 1997; Gillard & Beck, 1998). Since 1990, the number of incarcerated women offenders increased 108 percent while men accounted for a 77 percent increase (Beck & Harrison, 2001). Growth rates of this magnitude underscore the need for sound strategies of classification and assessment (Beck & Mumola, 1999). In this context, however, a recent nationwide survey of correctional administrators and practitioners observes that existing classification models for women - many of them originally designed for male incarcerates - are not relevant to the characteristics of women offenders (Morash, Bynum, & Koons, 1998). Classification systems for women have also been faulted for their incompatibility with emerging research on gender-specific programming or with managerial considerations unique to women offenders (Burke & Adams, 1991; LIS, Inc, 1998; Morash et. al, 1998; Ryan, 1994). The call for improving classification and programming for women predates the recent surge in the size of these prison populations. Women and girls, especially those who are incarcerated, have long been overlooked in practice and research due to reduced economies of scale (there were fewer of them) and gendered assumptions about the causes of their criminal behavior (Belknap, 1996; Dobash, Dobash & Gutteridge, 1986; Owen, 1998.; Pollock-Byrne, 1990; Rafter, 1990; Weisheit & Mahan, 1988). In 1999, the Prisons Division of the National Institute of Corrections sought to address these issues through two initiatives (a) Classification of Women Offenders, two cooperative agreements designed to develop improved strategies for classifying women offenders, and (b) Gender Responsive Strategies (Bloom & Owen, forthcoming), a project endeavoring to assemble and put forward extant research on women offenders. Both of these projects were completed in 2002. This paper highlights the findings of the cooperative agreements dealing with classification of women offenders. The tasks of these projects included:

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Updated 05/20/2006