Older Women Leaving Prison ‘Less Likely to Return to Crime’

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Photo by Thomas Bower via Flickr

The older a woman is upon release from prison, the more likely she is to re-integrate into civilian society and avoid recidivism, according to a study by Erin M. Kerrison , Ronet Bachman and Raymond Paternoster.

The study, supported by the National Institute of Justice, examined the cases of 218 women released from Delaware prisons during the 1990s, and followed up with interviews with more than half of them during 2009-2011.   One recurring outcome the authors came across was that women aged 46 or older were more likely to focus on rehabilitating themselves after release than younger women. In some cases, they were motivated by the pressure of time to rebuild lives that had been spent too long away from children or loved ones.

Such women were more likely to “work harder to maintain those important components of identity” when given a second chance, wrote Kerrison (University of California, Berkeley); Bachman (University of Delaware); and Paternoster (University of Maryland).

Even women who had been substance abusers recognized that “a tremendous amount of work had to be done to get clean, stay clean, and redeem their perceived failure at such a significant gender role, like motherhood.” study said.

“… [The momentum] for change appears to be strongly linked to an understanding that the undesired fate of dying alone in prison or on the street is a more conceivable reality for women who are released at a later age, than it is for women who leave prison when they are younger.”

The authors did not include comparative data for men experiencing the same circumstances as the women they interviewed, but  they point out in several places throughout the study that there has been a great deal of research focusing on male reentry rates and patterns.

At a time when women are emerging as a growing demographic in the nation’s corrections systems, they suggest that a focus on separating women by their ages and maturity may help to improve the design of rehabilitating/reentry programming.

But the authors were careful to draw only cautious conclusions from their work.

“We are not advocating for longer prison sentences for drug-involved women.” the authors said, noting instead that more “proactive attention” should be paid to finding post-prison employment or counseling for women likely to benefit from it.

That would “avoid wasting resources [on] people who are not yet ready to desist (and will not benefit from employment) and avoid creating perverse incentives for those who are still actively involved in crime.”

The full study is available here.

This report was prepared by TCR staff intern Shannon Alomar.

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