National Resource Center on Justice Involved Women Newsletter
This is the ninth in a series of bimonthly newsletters from the National Resource Center on Justice Involved Women (NRCJIW). The NRCJIW provides guidance and support to justice professionals – and promotes evidence-based, gender-responsive policies and practices – to reduce the number and improve the outcomes of women involved in the criminal justice system.
New NRCJIW Innovator: Wendy Niehaus, Director of the Hamilton County (OH) Pretrial and Community Transition Services: Implementing Pretrial Gender Responsive Strategies
Wendy Niehaus, Director of the Hamilton County (OH) Department of Pretrial and Community Transition Services (DPCTS), helped spearhead one of the first countywide policy teams in Hamilton County to implement a coordinated approach among pretrial services and the courts, community corrections, jail, mental health, and the community to improve responses to women. Ms. Niehaus has lent her experience to increasing knowledge of gender-responsive strategies, collaborative change management in the field of corrections and criminal justice, and ensuring a legacy of gender-informed programming for justice-involved women in Hamilton County that will pay lasting dividends.
Q: Your agency implemented a gender-informed approach to managing justice-involved women at the pretrial stage. Can you tell us about your approach?
A: Hamilton County has a "one-stop shop" booking process for all arrested individuals. Pretrial release services are incorporated into that process and an entire intake area is dedicated to that end. The model developed for women was also developed for the mental health and the drug courts—early intervention to treatment programs. Our programming is about smart intervention, targeting the right services to address the risks and needs of women as soon as they become justice-involved. We talk to each woman about the purpose of pretrial services. At intake, we conduct an interview where we ask each woman very specific, but brief questions about substance use and mental health issues. The women we interview may be high or moderate risk, or high have needs. Understanding the risks associated with a woman's substance abuse and other compounding challenges is critical to stabilizing her during the pretrial release period. Identifying women experiencing high stressors at intake helps us to understand that she may need a constellation of services.
We rely heavily on evidence-based, validated tools to identify their needs, determine when and where to intervene, and collaborate with other leaders whose services are informed and responsive to those needs. The primary tool we use is the Basis-24, a nationally tested 24-item self-report questionnaire that recognizes a wide range of symptoms and problems that occur across the diagnostic spectrum. Scores are computed over six critical life domains. Many of the women are eligible for specialized dockets where their issues can be comprehensively addressed. The tools help us determine whether she should be further assessed to determine her eligibility for drug or mental health court or for other brief interventions and wraparound services that may be needed at the time. The information we collect from the assessment and interview helps form the basis of a case management work list we develop to prioritize women with co-occurring illnesses. We want to quickly respond to trauma and other co-occurring issues they may have. Based on assessment outcomes, we meet women where they are; relying on case management skills to engage them and build trust. This is so important for the large number of women who come into our system suffering from trauma and substance use. Many of the women have been violated multiple times throughout their lifetime.
Q: It sounds like the key components of your program are smart intervention, using evidence-based tools to identify needs, meeting the women where they are, and collaboration. What benefits have you seen in using a gender-informed approach?
A: During our planning process we implemented an intermediate sanctions team, a triage and information sharing protocol, and decided to use jail treatment beds for only the very sick women that would benefit from trauma-informed care. We seek authorization from women to share only certain information so that judges are informed concerning conditions of her release, especially when high risk factors are indicated. We have found that when risk factors are known early on, the legal community and court engage in more meaningful discussions about pretrial conditions. By assessing the needs of women and talking to each judge about conditional release options to support them while out on bond, we found judges more willing to release high risk women. We also found that the women who had participated in pretrial services appeared for court at a higher rate. We attribute this to the commitment by our intermediate sanctions team and treatment partners to engage the women earlier, rather than later, in their involvement with the justice system.
We have also built good relationships with stakeholders. For example, we have a wonderful homeless coalition that provides resources and staff to assist homeless mentally ill individuals upon release from jail. We find that when working with women in survival mode, having onsite social services staff available to assist them right away is immensely beneficial. If a woman is not connected to services, a staff person is available to help her get re-connected. This partnership represents a significant shift in practice; historically, community agencies did not provide services to any individual until there was a final disposition of the case. Now, community support for women begins at arrest. Another resource we gained for women is addiction detoxification services, which is major obstacle for everyone. Before, women could not get into a treatment program until they were medically detoxified. In response, local government officials redirected existing health care levy services to address this gap in services. Now, five detox treatment beds are prioritized for women for up to eight day stays.
Q: Have your goals to managing women changed over time?
A: It was always an overarching goal to identify and engage women as soon as possible, to intervene and begin responding to their needs before we lost them. That goal hasn't changed, and we continually work to find alternatives to jail through what is now a women's collaborative. The women's collaborative includes members from the criminal justice and behavioral health care systems as well as a number of other community providers. The collaborative was developed after a needs assessment study by the Court Clinic identified women who might benefit from mental health and/or substance abuse treatment. The Alternative Intervention for Women (AIW) program was developed to address this significant gap in services.
The outcome data suggested that implementing a gender-informed system of early screening, assessment, and treatment was helpful to courts in deciding on treatment as an alternative to incarceration. The program has a strong theoretical and research foundation drawn from the work of Dr. Stephanie Covington, Helping Women Recover, and the Dartmouth/New Hampshire model of treatment for individuals with co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders. Services are gender-specific and trauma-informed and address women's pathways to crime, the importance of relationships, self-efficacy, self-esteem, and healing and recovery. Over a 24-month period from 2010-2012, 87.5% of the women who participated in the pretrial intervention process were successful. Additional gender-informed services for women have subsequently evolved. For example, women involved in prostitution benefit from a nationally recognized peer-run recovery program that is available, as needed, through the collaborative. The evidence-based, gender-informed approach we have taken influenced everything we do. It is the foundation to everything we do. We are proud of the model we have built and feel we are ahead of many communities in connecting women to the right services as early as we can.
Q: What advice do you have for professionals who want to achieve better outcomes for the justice-involved women with whom they work?
A: Give women hope. No matter if you work in a jail, inside the court, or want to help as a peer or provider from your community, the good news is that gender-informed, gender responsive principles and practices are available to you. The potential is there for you to build a continuum of care by sharing your data, your information, and your commitment to resources.
To read our full interview with Wendy Niehaus, visit the Innovators section of our web site here.
NRCJIW Innovator Drew House Featured on CBS
Drew House, a 2013 NRCJIW Innovator, represents a unique partnership between the Kings County (Brooklyn, New York) District Attorney's Office and Housing + Solutions, a non-profit supportive housing provider. This innovative program allows select women charged with felony offenses to fulfill the Court's mandates while living with their children in a supportive housing apartment. Felony charges are dismissed after completion to prevent future disenfranchisement. The Drew House Model provides supportive housing in a non-secure setting as an alternative to incarceration (ATI) for women with minor children. Watch an excerpt from a recent brief CBS profile of the program:
Register for the15th Bi-Annual Adult and Juvenile Female Offenders (AJFO) Conference
Registration is now open for the AJFO conference, which will take place October 6-10, 2013 in Portland, Maine. Piper Kerman, author of the book "Orange is the New Black" and inspiration for a new Netflix original series by the same name, will provide the keynote address.
Workshops will be provided on a number of topics including: trauma-informed practices and policies, gender-responsive risk assessment, gender-responsive behavioral management, leadership and mentoring, and promising programs for justice-involved women and girls.
To register, visit: http://ajfo.org.
Look for NRCJIW at these National Conferences
Are you planning to attend the ACA, APPA, or AJFO conferences later this year? If so, please join the NRCJIW for the following workshops:
- Best Practices in the Use of Restraints with Pregnant Women Under Correctional Custody, American Correctional Association Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Monday, August 12, 4:15 pm – 5:45 pm.
- Guidance on Developing Gender-Responsive Discipline Policy With Women Inmates, American Correctional Association Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Wednesday, August 14, 8:30 am – 10:00 am.
- Reflections on the Past, Present and Future of Gender-Informed Criminal Justice, Adult and Juvenile Female Offender Conference in Portland, Maine, October 6 - 10 (Final date and time TBA).
- Gender-Informed Discipline and Sanctions Policy for Female Inmates, Adult and Juvenile Female Offender Conference in Portland, Maine, October 6 - 10 (Final date and time TBA).