For women in the criminal justice system, what factors can lead to a successful transition and re-entry? According to Betty Tyler, CCP, CMHT, CCS, clinical supervisor at Alcohol Services Center, Inc. (Jackson, Miss.), it’s a combination of things. The problem is that too few know where to start.
“This is a unique population that’s really touched my heart,” noted Tyler, who has worked with the female inmate population as a substance abuse therapist, and gave a presentation at the 2011 National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD), titled “Treating the Female in the Criminal Justice System.”
“It’s [a population that is] kind of set apart,” she explained. “For the most part, these women were in prison because of a behavior or a mindset. So it’s important to focus on their criminal thinking and anti-social behavior.”
Recently, Tyler worked on statewide survey funded by a grant from the Mississippi Department of Health to explore issues being faced by female offenders returning to society. “We identified several areas of need for these women. In fact, many times they are simply unaware of services that are available to them.”
In Mississippi, for example, there are certain criminal charges that prevent eligibility for things like food stamps and other programs, so even when female offenders take that initial step, they run into a roadblock and don’t pursue other avenues.
Based on findings from the survey, Tyler offered a number of treatment approaches that have assisted these women toward more successful transitions to re-entry, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and motivational incentives.
“Really, one of the best approaches to treating these young ladies is treating them as women, and showing them respect,” said Tyler. “They need to be given a motivational incentive to become the best that they can be.”
Stigma also plays an important role, so treatment needs to address the anger, hostility, and shame associated with being an offender, which Tyler said, often prohibits these women from realizing any real sense of accomplishment.
“It’s a matter of offering them some type of feeling that people do care,” she said. “People need to understand that these women do deserve a second chance.”