JULY 2014


Specific Needs:
Women, Rehabilitation & Recidivism
Hudson Photo 1
Hudson Best

The female inmate population that offers the greatest hope for reducing recidivism. Unfortunately, our prison system continues to provide cookie-cutter rehabilitation programs geared towards the male-dominated population. Female offenders have distinct rehabilitation needs and the path that leads back to prison is often littered with evidence of those unfulfilled needs. There is a dire need for gender-specific programs that address the necessities of incarcerated women. It is counterproductive and reprehensible to purge a woman from the prison system in the same, if not worse, condition than when she arrived.

Regardless of gender, the vast majority of U.S. inmates are imprisoned, either directly or indirectly, as a result of drugs and alcohol. Substance abuse is a major factor in our overall burgeoning prison system, but female offenders are even more likely to be addicts. Statistics show that violent female offenders are unlikely to commit another violent crime upon release from prison. In fact, most female recidivists commit economically-motivated crimes, suggesting an attempt to feed a ravenous addiction. Simply stated, but for the addiction, no crime would have occurred. The first order of business for a newly incarcerate woman should be to address this primary disease with mandatory, research-support treatment programs. Drug rehabilitation supersedes any of the pennies-a-day, state-sanctioned slavery disguised as "job opportunities" that are the norm in U.S. prisons.

Female inmates are also more likely than males to be suffering from diagnosed and documented mental illness. Moreover, there is quite often a dual diagnosis of both addiction and mental illness and, without proper care, the trauma of the prison experience often aggravates and intensifies the symptoms of a mental disorder. Another unique and debilitating factor haunting the female inmate is the looming specter of abuse. Female inmates are more likely to have suffered the damage of past sexual and physical abuse and high quality psychiatric healthcare is fundamental to establishing a sturdy foundation on which to build a new and successful life.

After rehabilitation and psychiatric treatment, education is perhaps the most beneficial use of prison time. We want the offender to "learn their lesson" in both the deterrence and the academic sense. Paramount to independence for the female inmate is a basic education; they must leave the institution armed with more than bad habits and a criminal record. GEDs, computer basics, résumé, mock job interviews—these are skills that bolster confidence, build self-esteem, and give the inmate a much-needed advantage in the job market. Work released programs also provide the female with real job experience and perhaps continued post-release employment.

Accurate intake assessment is critical to proper program assignment. The individual's history (family background, mental health diagnosis, past institutionalizations, criminal history, etc.) will provide clues to the specific needs of the inmate. The same type of accurate assessment and planning are important upon discharge. It is crucial for female parolees to establish strong ties to the communities, have easy access to resources, and receive emotional support. However, many women are discharged into the same toxic environment from which they came—one replete with poverty, drugs, prostitution, abuse, and crime. Rather than simply walking through the gate, the female parolee often requires careful placement in the type of environment that will foster adjustment, recovery, and growth. Women released from prison are quite likely to be mothers with specific needs in the context of family. The unique love of the mother-child relationship can provide additional motivation for the woman. However, without assistance it can also become an overwhelming responsibility and dangerous stressor.

Genuine, compliant female inmates who meet specific criteria should be eligible for early release contingent on participation and completion of the prescribed programs and treatments. Given the appropriate treatment many, if not most, female offenders make excellent candidates for rehabilitation and reintegration into society. They are not incorrigible, irredeemable human garbage. We can and should put the criminal genie back in the bottle. The female offender often has the potential to become responsible, productive, and independent member​ of society—those that we will be proud and secure to have as friends and neighbors.
Hudson Best is an activist and former inmate who lives in North Carolina.


Deschenes, E. P., Owen, B., & Crow, J. (2006). Recidivism among female prisoners: Secondary analysis of the 1994 BJS recidivism data set. Retrieved from http://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/216950.pdf&sa=U&ei=7SpJU82ZE8i22AXWg4CIBA&ved=0CBsQFjAA&sig2=GjbKSUH7KzX2E4uxwrkzSw&usg=AFQjCNHSZlDYfNVONVnHHBT9eSSI8p7h5g

Heilbrun, K., DeMatteo, D., Fretz, R., Erickson J., Gerardi, D., & Halper, C. (2008). Criminal recidivism of female offenders: The importance of structured, community-based aftercare. Corrections Compendium, Volume: 33 Issue: 2. Retrieved from

Dietz, A. (2009). Redefining rehabilitation: The changing approach to reducing recidivism. Journalism Institute of New York University. Retrieved from

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. (2008). Characteristics of female offenders: Past and present. Retrieved from http://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/adult_research_branch/research_documents/characteristics_of_female_offenders_jan_2008.pdf&sa=U&ei=7SpJU82ZE8i22AXWg4CIBA&ved=0CCYQFjAC&sig2=GDSzActP3fz7Rv0gPnzCPg&usg=AFQjCNHHR5WgW-IZND0vvk7LsOhechNrtw