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Gender Responsiveness Programs


In order to develop best practices for women and girls who are involved in the criminal justice system, it is important to acknowledge that their circumstances and needs are different in many respects than their male counterparts and require appropriate differentiation in the provision of programs and services. A growing body of research suggests that the most effective way to intervene with women and girls in the criminal justice system is through gender-responsive and trauma-informed approaches.

In order to enhance public safety and improve outcomes for justice-involved females and males, criminal justice policymakers and practitioners should take into account the physical, behavioral, social and cultural differences between each gender.


Justice-involved women and girls represent a much smaller population than males and their crimes are generally less violent in comparison. Women and girls have experienced more physical and sexual abuse than their male counterparts and have greater health and mental health needs.

Women’s pathways to crime are frequently different than their male counterparts. Women in the criminal justice system have much higher rates of childhood and adult trauma exposure than men. Trauma history is associated with alcohol and drug dependence, high-risk behaviors, and physical and mental health disorders among women in criminal justice settings. Understanding the impact of trauma is particularly important when working with women and girls.

Justice-involved women also have greater family responsibilities placed on them than do males, and the lives of children are impacted to a greater degree by their mother’s involvement in the criminal justice system. Women also have more limited job skills and employment options than their male counterparts.


The following six guiding principles from the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) Gender-Responsive Strategies: Research, Practice, and Guiding Principles for Women Offenders report provide a foundation for gender-responsive policy and practice (Bloom, Owen, and Covington, 2003):

Gender - Acknowledge that gender makes a difference.

Environment - Create an environment based on safety, respect, and dignity.

Relationships - Develop policies, practices, and programs that are relational and promote healthy connections to children, family, significant others, and the community.

Services and Supervision - Address substance abuse, trauma, mental health and other issues through comprehensive, integrated, culturally relevant services, and appropriate supervision.

Socioeconomic Status - Provide women with opportunities to improve their socioeconomic conditions.

Community - Establish a system of community supervision and reentry with comprehensive, collaborative services.

In consideration of the NIC guiding principles, ICCA recommends the following approaches:

  • Community corrections agencies should review all policies, programs and practices including classification systems to ensure they are gender responsive.

  • Programs should offer a safe, nondiscriminatory, supportive environment for women and girls under supervision.

  • Criminal justice systems should provide comprehensive, integrated, age and developmentally appropriate, gender responsive and trauma-informed programs and services that address substance abuse, physical and sexual abuse, trauma, physical and mental health, relationship, spiritual, economic self-sufficiency, and legal issues for women and girls.

  • Community corrections services should facilitate the maintenance and strengthening of family ties, particularly those between mother and child throughout their experience in the criminal justice system.

  • Communities should offer comprehensive, least restrictive alternatives to incarceration, including pre-trial and post-trial diversion, probation, restitution, community residential and parole/aftercare services designed to meet the needs of women and girls.

  • Community corrections agencies should offer gender responsive and trauma-informed programs, including employment of carefully screened and trained staff and the implementation of humane, relevant policies and practices.

  • Programs should be designed to expand economic self-sufficiency of girls and women, with emphasis on education, career counseling and exploration of nontraditional vocational training, life skills, reentry, and work/education release programs and ensure that women and girls return to the community with access to short term emergency services including housing, subsistence, clothing and transportation.

  • Community corrections agencies should promote research on and evaluation of gender-responsive and trauma-informed community correctional interventions for justice-involved women and girls.

Adopted by the ICJA Board of Directors Date: September 13, 2014

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