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Translating Research Into Practice: Improving Safety in Women's Facilities

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 2008
7 pages
In response to the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), this report identifies and discusses the factors that contribute to interpersonal violence in women’s correctional facilities.
Strategies for preventing interpersonal violence in women’s facilities should address individual factors, relationship factors, institutional factors, and societal factors. Regarding individual factors, a history of victimization, violence, and trauma can lead to two different kinds of behaviors that contribute to violence in prison: overly aggressive behaviors or passive behaviors that invite victimization. Other individual factors that increase the risk for violent victimization are mental illness, mental handicaps, age (both youth and old age), offense type, and lack of proficiency in the English language. Relationship factors are also significant in the risk for violence in women‘s facilities. Conflict in relationships may foster coercive or abusive behaviors, and relationships that involve the creation of alliances can promote competitive and intimidating behaviors that can lead to violence. Institutional factors that contribute to violence in female facilities include the level of violence tolerated by the inmate population and the staff; the presence or absence of all forms of sexual harassment of inmates by staff; a rehabilitative or custodial approach to facility management; staff attitudes toward women offenders; and verbal and nonverbal interactions that are degrading, humiliating, and/or decrease self-esteem. Societal factors can also adversely influence prison climates through norms, beliefs, and social and economic systems that reinforce individual, relational, and institutional risk factors such as prejudice and discrimination regarding race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender, as well as economic inequalities. For each of the aforementioned categories of factors related to prison violence, this report offers recommendations for prevention/intervention strategies. Researchers conducted 40 focus groups with inmates and staff in jails and prisons around the country. File and record reviews were also conducted.

Date Published: November 1, 2008