Criminal behaviors are typically described in relation to the male offender population. This is due to the disproportionately larger size of the male offender population compared to the size of the female offender population (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). In 2011, the imprisonment rate for males was more than 14 times the imprisonment rate associated with females (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2012). According to Salisbury and Van Voorhis (2009), in 2008 women accounted for approximately 7 percent of the United States prison population. However, women also represent 23 percent of the supervised probation population. In addition, incarceration rates of women also significantly increased between 1995 and 2007 (BJS, 1996, 2008).
While the offender population is predominately male, the increase in offending by women established the importance of exploring how and why women engage in criminal behaviors, as well as determining possible factors that contribute to continued engagement in criminal behaviors (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). Research pertaining to female offenders has illuminated common features associated with the female offender population. In this discussion, the two features that will be discussed are victimization via abuse, and the lack of human capital. Both features will first be described and discussed in terms of how and why each is a common feature among female offenders. Then the features will be described in relation to treatment approaches and outcomes.
Victimization through Abuse
One common feature established among female offenders is victimization. More specifically, Salisbury and Van Voorhis (2009) described three primary pathways to incarceration of women, which included a pathway starting with childhood victimization. In general, high levels of childhood victimizations are found in inmates of either gender. However, childhood victimization and sexual abuse is comparatively higher among female offenders than in male offenders (Fagan & Ax, 2010).
Fagan and Ax (2010) identified a study conducted by Browne, Miller, and Maguin (1999) in which they interviewed 150 incarcerated women in a correctional facility in New York. The study found 70 % of the interviewed inmates reported suffering severe violence in their childhood and adolescence. Moreover, approximately 60% of the interviewees reported they were sexually abused before 18 years of age. According to Fagan and Ax (2010), there is a relationship between childhood victimization and adult victimization. In this regard, individuals who suffered childhood victimization were more likely to be victims of domestic violence. In a study by Siegel and Williams (2003), they found an association between childhood sexual abuse and adult offending among female inmates. The sexual abuse incurred during childhood is compounded by other troubles such as the absence of care, inadequate supervision, and physical violence. The pattern of abuse experienced during childhood continues into the adult lives of many incarcerated women (Fagan & Ax, 2010).
The pathway to incarceration can begin with childhood victimization (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). The premise of the pathway is that childhood victimization would contribute to mental illness and substance abuse (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). Bloom (1996) identified abusive and lifelong traumatic events as a contributing factor of continued recidivism. Mental illness, which was associated with childhood victimization, was also identified as another factor that contributed to continued recidivism. According to Fagan and Ax (2010), childhood and adult victimization is a precursor to mental illness among female offenders. Incarceration can result due to the inability for women with mental illness caused by victimization to adapt to life circumstances and their environment. Criminal behaviors of females are precipitated by various factors such as poverty, physical and sexual abuse, and substance abuse (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). Childhood and subsequent adult victimization and trauma can result in depression, mood disorders, and drug abuse. The mechanisms that can lead to incarceration of females includes running away from home, living on the streets, engaging in prostitution, remaining in violent relationships, and engaging in illicit behaviors to meet financial needs (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009).
Lack of Human Capital
Another pathway to incarceration is through human capital. Human capital was described by Salisbury and Van Voorhis (2009) as a combination of skills, knowledge, and capacity that enable individuals to act. Actions are facilitated by human capital because of the effects of social empowerment on an individual’s psychological well-being (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). Human capital also involves an individual’s ability to achieve personal goals through the application of personal confidence, educational achievement, and self-efficacy (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). According to Bloom, Owen, and Covington (2003), self-efficacy is a core element associated with preventing women from engaging in criminal behaviors. This means the absence of self-efficacy and human capital are prominent factors that lead women to engage in crime. Lack of human capital has an inverse effect on individuals’ psychological well-being, which has the ability to negatively impact the life path of an individual. In the case of female offenders, lack of human capital can result in criminal behaviors, arrest, and incarceration (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009).
The pathway to incarceration via human capital results from various challenges faced by female offenders within their life. These challenges could involve education, inadequate family support, lack of self-efficacy, and dysfunctional relationships. In turn, those challenges can impact the individual’s ability to obtain employment and financial stability, which can also result in imprisonment (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). Female offenders are considered to be deficient in human capital because they primarily come from poverty-stricken and disadvantaged backgrounds, which are compounded by minimal social networks (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). In a study by Holtfreter et al. (2004), provision of services such as education, vocational training, healthcare, and housing provide women offenders with the necessary support to reduce recidivism. The study found providing female offenders with such services would significantly decrease the chances of recidivism. In addition, high quality employment and positive social relationships act as insulating mechanisms that prevent criminal activities (Giordano, Cernkovich, & Rudolph, 2002).
Implications of Each Feature on Treatment Approaches and Treatment Outcomes
The main implication of each feature on treatment approaches and outcomes is the fact that the features discussed are associated with various factors. These factors would impact how the clinician selects appropriate treatment approaches for their client. In turn, the appropriateness of the selected treatments would impact the treatment outcomes. For example, victimization was associated with childhood and adult abuse. Abuse could be physical or sexual in nature (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). Moreover, the victimization is associated with subsequent mental illness and substance abuse (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). Treating an offender whose pathway to incarceration was propagated by physical or sexual abuse would require the clinician to consider the abuse incurred, as well as any concurring mental illnesses and issues with substance abuse (Fagan & Ax, 2010; Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). The developed treatment plan would ultimately need to address all of the underlying issues that resulted in criminal behaviors leading to incarceration. This is consistent with the childhood victimization model and relational model treatment approaches (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009).
The childhood victimization model emphasizes using a treatment approach that addresses co-occurring disorders and assists female offenders with strengthening their coping skills to deal with their prior victimization (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). Addressing childhood and adolescent victimization becomes a crucial part of treating the underlying cause of potential concurring mental illnesses and addictions. In relation to treatment outcomes, the inclusive approach suggested by the childhood victimization model decreases the likelihood of recidivism. However, outcomes are dependent on the women’s willingness to engage in treatment efforts related to their childhood trauma (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). Salisbury and Van Voorhis (2009) asserted forcing women to engage in such treatment would negatively impact positive treatment outcomes. Therefore, it is essential for the female offenders to be emotionally prepared to engage in treatment related to their victimization. Similarly, the relational model takes a holistic approach for treating female offenders that experienced trauma through victimization.
Application of the relational model for treatment seeks to increase the client’s self efficacy and self management. The treatment approach does this by addressing mood disorders and substance abuse issues while accounting for the underlying traumatic experiences (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). The use of holistic treatment approaches for female forensic populations has been widely supported because of the inclusive nature of the treatment (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). Traditional treatment approaches address mental illness and addiction individually rather than concurrently as done in holistic treatment approaches. In relation to treatment outcomes, addressing each treatment issue individually has proven to be insufficient for reducing recidivism (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). The use of holistic treatment approaches provides the practitioner with the ability to treat offenders’ issues concurrently. In turn, it provides the practitioner with the ability to view clients’ issues as multifaceted and complex (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009).
The issues related to the feature of human capital are as complex as the issues that arise from victimization. Lack of human capital results in numerous challenges that arise from insufficient education, inadequate family support, lack of self-efficacy, dysfunctional relationships, and poor psychological well-being (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). Similar to victimization, lack of human capital requires practitioners to consider what services should be provided to the offender in order to prevent recidivism. Again, a more holistic approach is required (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). In this regard, treatment provided to offenders would include education, vocational training, healthcare, and housing. These services are considered to be necessary in order to support female offenders and reduce recidivism (Holtfreter et al., 2004). The combination of services positively impacts treatment outcomes by providing insulating mechanisms that prevent criminal activities, increases employment opportunities, and promotes positive social relationships (Giordano et al., 2002; Holtfreter et al., 2004).
In general, it is important to address all of the treatment issues of a female offender holistically. Treating issues separately does not address the underlying cause of the offenders’ criminal behavior. The two features discussed were related to pathways to incarceration. Each of the pathways was complex and requires a multifaceted treatment approach. It is essential to select a treatment approach that would produce the best outcome. In this regard, it is essential to view all of the client’s issues collectively and consider holistic approaches that are associated with better treatment outcomes and reduced recidivism.