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New Report Evaluates Treatment Options for Women in U.S. Prisons


November 1994

A new report contains some grave findings about the number of women drug-abusers in prison and their prospects for obtaining effective treatment (Jean Wellisch, Michael L. Prendergast, and M. Douglas Anglin, "Drug-Abusing Women Offenders: Results of a National Study," National Institute of Justice Research in Brief, Oct. 1994).

For the period between 1982 and 1991, women arrested on drug charges made up the fastest-growing population in the nation's justice system. According to data from the National Institute of Justice's Drug Use Forecasting (DUF) program, the majority of women arrestees (both those arrested on drug charges and those for other charges) tested positive for at least one illegal drug.

The study is a result of a survey of 234 criminal justice treatment programs from 40 states. While the number of treatment programs has grown since the 1970s, the study finds that the growth in treatment programs has been matched by increases in the drug-abusing women population, such that the percentage of women in need has remained the same. The treatment that some women do receive, the authors find, is not as comprehensive as many women need. Further, the effectiveness of the programs is questionable. Often treatment programs do not offer the services that women need to make the transition out of correctional facilities. In fact, the authors write that "the specific needs of women are an afterthought in many programs."

The authors of the study recommend increasing communication among federal, state and local agencies about the level of treatment in correctional facilities, establishing transition programs for women released into communities, and implementing family-friendly treatment programs to encourage women to attend.

[To obtain a copy of this issue, contact the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, 301-251-5500 or 800-851-3420. The document number is NCJ 149261 and there is no charge for the order.]