The Rise in Women’s Incarceration and the Gender Informed Practice Assessment

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The United States has 5% of the world’s women, and 33% of its incarcerated women. Women’s imprisonment rose 700% nationally between 1980 and 2014, and women of color are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated. In response to this dramatic increase, the National Institute of Corrections and the National Resource Center on Justice-Involved Women worked to develop effective practices for women’s prisons through a Gender Informed Practice Assessment tool, known as GIPA.

Research shows that a larger proportion of justice-involved women have experienced sexual abuse and other forms of victimization when compared to justice-involved men. They are more likely to have experienced poverty and underemployment, and to come from neighborhoods that are entrenched in poverty and lack viable systems of social support. About 73% of women in NY prisons have children, and most provided for the children’s daily care before their arrests. For all of these reasons, women’s needs differ from those of men.

Gender-responsive approaches intentionally use research and knowledge on women to guide policy and practice at all levels of service delivery. They are defined by five “CORE Practice Areas”, which advise that every program, service and intervention should be 1) Relationship-based; 2) Strengths-based; 3) Trauma-informed; 4) Culturally Responsive; and 5) Holistic. The GIPA is a multi-day process that involves: a) review of agency/facility reports, polices and related materials; b) interviews and focus groups with stakeholders, including administrators, supervisors, custody and non-custody staff, contractors, volunteers, and women residents; c) observations of programs, services, and facility operations, and d) review of files of the women in custody.

The process of implementing the GIPA is extensive and is meant to be transformative. Departments of Corrections that elect to participate in the process commit to engaging in a challenging and deeply rewarding process of self-reflection and building gender-responsive, evidence-based, and trauma-informed policies and practices for and with justice-involved women and staff. This approach is meant to reach every aspect of life in the facility and every interaction between staff and women in custody. The Correctional Association looks forward to the impact of this rigorous process on the practices of New York’s prisons as the work of implementing the GIPA unfolds, and intends to monitor DOCCS’ progress and level of commitment to actualizing the GIPA tool as part of our core mission.

Read more in the CA’s most recent newsletter.