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Breaking the Barriers
for Women on Parole
An Executive Summary
Of the many scandals gripping California’s correctional system,
the failure to reduce crime, violence and drug abuse among
parolees is one of the greatest. The costs and consequences of this
failure are most onerous in the case of female offenders.
In a prison system as large as California’s – and one so ridiculed for
inmate abuse, cost overruns and ineffectiveness – it is easy to overlook
the 10,000 incarcerated women and 12,000 women on parole.
The vast majority of female inmates are not a threat to public safety.
Two-thirds of them were convicted of property or drug-related crimes.1
Indeed, more of them have been victims of violent crimes than were
convicted of violent crimes. A haunting four in 10 were physically or
sexually abused before the age of 18. 2
Most of them are housed in two of the nation’s largest prisons
isolated in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley. Despite the
relatively low security risk of female inmates, the primary
considerations in the design and operation of these facilities
are preventing escapes and minimizing violence behind bars.
Partly to control costs, the prisons are crowded far beyond
design capacity. But the costly irony is the overcrowding
further frustrates the anemic efforts at education, drug
treatment and other interventions that – if managed correctly –
could prevent many inmates from returning to prison after
they are released.
With little preparation, all inmates are placed on parole at the
end of their terms – something that is not done in most other
states. Few of them receive help finding a job, a home, or
staying clean, and in some cases they are denied help because
of their convictions. Predictably, nearly half of these women
violate the conditions of their parole and end up back in
prison. More than 90 percent of those violations are for nonviolent behaviors.3

i

On the cover: Susan
Burton, a crime victim and
parent who lost a son to
violence, served time as a
drug addict, earned a
degree as a counselor,
achieved her certificate of
rehabilitation, and is now
executive director of a nonprofit assisting women on
parole in Los Angeles
County.

LITTLE HOOVER COMMISSION
The State spends about $1.5 billion a year on male and female inmates
after they have completed their prison terms.4 Most of those costs are
associated with re-incarcerating parole violators. While California’s
inmates are similar to those in other states, California ranks 49th in the
percentage of offenders who successfully complete parole.5
In some instances, a strong case can be made that tough parole policies
protect the public from serious and violent offenders. In its 2003 report
on parole policies, the Little Hoover Commission recommended ways to
strengthen policies regarding inmates and parolees with violent histories.
The Commission also has advocated for better data and better analytical
tools to assess the risks posed by individual offenders.
Surely, some female offenders pose a public safety risk, while in prison
and on parole. The incarceration rate among female offenders for violent
crimes has doubled over the last 20 years.6 But those offenders are not
the ones responsible for the rapid growth and overcrowding. The
statistics reveal that over the last generation, more and more women
have been captured first by addiction and then the War on Drugs. They
serve their time in prisons that are largely gender-blind and outcome
ambivalent.
At the time of their arrest, half of these women were taking care of their
children; two-thirds of those women were single parents.7
The
correctional system does little to assess its impact on the prevention of
future criminal behavior. It does even less to consider the impact of
current policies – or the potential of alternative policies – on the
thousands of children whose only parent, their mother, is in prison for
petty theft with a prior or abusing drugs. Experts agree that parental
incarceration is a significant risk factor for children, suggesting that

Safe and Sound Parole Policies
The Commission in 2003 declared California’s parole system to be a $1 billion failure, and made
comprehensive recommendations for reducing costs and improving public safety by adapting proven
strategies for reintegrating offenders back into California’s communities. Among the
recommendations:
1.

The Board of Corrections should provide ongoing oversight of the parole system to ensure
evidence-based strategies are properly implemented.

2.

Prisons should prepare inmates for release. Wardens should be held accountable for operating
effective programs and “good time” credits should be restructured to encourage inmates to
prepare themselves.

3.

Communities should assume greater responsibility for assisting parolees with housing,
employment and other supports, funded by resources now spent by the State.

4.

The State should develop a range of interventions for “failing” parolees based on effectiveness.

5.

The State must scrutinize practices of re-incarcerating parolees suspected of serious crimes as
parole violators rather than charging them with a new crime.
ii

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
policy-makers reconsider the use of re-incarceration as the primary
response to non-criminal parole violations – particularly for women
offenders.
By not using analytical tools, by precluding rehabilitation with the
priority on punishment, and by allowing policies to be based on the myth
that only serious and violent inmates are sentenced to prison, the State
has shackled itself to expensive and ultimately ineffective policies.
To be certain, there has been a vigorous debate about how to treat felons.
The Little Hoover Commission – as indisputable evidence has emerged
that some interventions can cost-effectively reduce crime, violence and
drug-abuse – has urged policy-makers to implement those measures as a
way of reducing public expenditures and improving public safety.
Former Governor Deukmejian – who in the 1980s championed the rapid
expansion of the prison system and refocused it on incapacitation and
punishment – this year concluded after a comprehensive and
independent analysis that the pendulum had swung too far. He urged
policy-makers to institute and expand programs that research has
proven result in less crime, violence and drug abuse among the vast
majority of felons who are released from prison and return home.
At this moment, no one can credibly defend California’s correctional
policies or be satisfied with the Department of Corrections’ capacity to
administer those policies.
There is at least rhetorical agreement from correctional officials that the
primary policy goal should be to improve public safety by reducing crime,
violence and addiction by inmates upon release. And in testimony,
officials acknowledge that to be successful, they must faithfully replicate
proven strategies.
But meaningful reforms have not been enacted.
This report builds on the Commission’s previous reports by examining
and making recommendations for improving prison and parole policies
as they relate to female offenders.
Improving policies for women offenders is not an alternative to reforming
the entire system, and indeed reforming the entire system is both needed
and would improve outcomes for women offenders.
But making the system more effective for male offenders will not be
enough to make it more effective for female offenders. And because of
their criminal histories, their smaller numbers, and the greater support

iii

At this moment,
no one can
credibly defend
California’s
correctional
policies or be
satisfied with
the Department
of Corrections’
capacity to
administer
those policies.

LITTLE HOOVER COMMISSION
for improving the outcomes for incarcerated mothers, the
recommendations advocated in this report could pioneer the smart
reforms that are needed systemwide.
To succeed, any reform must be predicated on two undeniable realities:
1. The Department of Corrections cannot change itself. If policy-makers
and department officials are serious about making changes, they will
put in place from the beginning an effective mechanism for
independent, public, expert and outcome-based oversight of all
programs and all facilities.
2. The Department of Corrections is only one part of the correctional
continuum. It cannot and should not assume that it has sole
responsibility for parolees, and it must work collaboratively with
public and non-profit organizations to accomplish the goal of
reducing crime. Specifically, the Commission believes the State’s
objective should be a community-centered and community-based
parole system where the necessary supervision and assistance can be
mustered to help parolees become responsible, contributing and free
citizens.
This problem cannot be solved with more “programs.” Correctional
leaders and policy-makers at the state and local levels must establish
clear goals and the outcome measures that will gauge progress toward
those goals. They must develop a strategy that makes the best use of
existing resources – facilities, as well as annual budget expenditures – to
institute evidence-based programs for reducing crime, violence and drugaddiction.
Toward that end, the Commission makes the following recommendations:

A Correctional Strategy for Female Offenders
Finding 1: The Department of Corrections has not developed a correctional
strategy that effectively reduces crime, violence and drug abuse by the growing
number of women inmates upon their release.
The number of women incarcerated in California grew exponentially over
the past two decades. California has squandered limited resources by
not responding with a strategy to reduce criminal activity and enhance
public safety.
Four out of every 10 women on parole will fail and return to prison.8 The
costs and consequences of this failure place an enormous burden on
more than just the criminal justice and correctional systems, but the

iv

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
child welfare, mental health and juvenile justice systems as well.
Research shows that children of prisoners are five to six times more
likely to become incarcerated than their peers. Ten percent are in foster
care.
For the most part, the State has relied on a punishment strategy rather
than a correctional strategy. California has failed to develop strategies to
prepare inmates for their imminent release and their transition back to
the community, despite a growing body of evidence of what works. And
the State has made minimal efforts to provide the gender-responsive
strategies that experts agree are essential for female parolees to become
self-sufficient and law-abiding citizens.

Recommendation 1: The Department of Corrections should develop a coherent
strategy to hold female offenders accountable for their crimes and improve their
ability to successfully reintegrate into their communities. Specifically, the
department should:
q

Develop leadership for reforms. CDC should appoint a director for
women’s programs to guide the development and implementation of
reforms in institutions and parole to effectively address the risks and
needs of women offenders and their children. The director should be
the equivalent of the regional directors proposed by the Independent
Review Panel.
Previously the Commission recommended that
wardens should be appointed to fixed terms and managed with
performance contracts. In addition, wardens of women’s prisons
should have professional training and skills in gender-responsive
management, operations and programs.
The department should
implement programs that have the best evidence of effectiveness in
producing the desired outcomes, including reduced recidivism,
greater employment, substance abuse recovery and reunification.
The director for women’s programs should empanel a council of
criminal justice researchers to identify and recommend best practices
and critique their implementation by the department. Independently
conducted program evaluations should be reviewed and commented
upon by this council. The panel should publicly report on whether
programs are faithfully replicating proven programs, and whether
they should be modified, expanded or discontinued.

q

Embrace evidence-based practices.

q

Develop a strategic plan. The director for women’s programs should
develop a strategic plan for female offenders, consistent with the
department’s overall strategic plan. The plan should include input
and ownership of staff and management; statements of values,
mission, goals and objectives. It should include an implementation

v

LITTLE HOOVER COMMISSION
plan that delineates activities, budgets, time lines and those
responsible for the outcomes.

q

ü

The plan should include a robust community correctional system
to effectively house and prepare female inmates for release.

ü

The plan also should include a robust re-entry effort to effectively
supervise and assist female parolees.

Measure and report performance. The Department of Corrections
should develop performance measures to gauge the effectiveness of
its correctional strategy for women offenders.
It should report the
results to correctional staff, the public and policy-makers.

These two elements – community corrections and a community-based reentry model – are described in the following findings.

Preparing for Success
Finding 2: Mega-prisons, designed primarily to incapacitate and punish violent
offenders, are not effective for the majority of female offenders who are nonviolent, serve short sentences and need specific services to successfully return
home.
More women entered prison in the past two decades than ever before,
many caught by the tough sentencing laws passed to respond to gang
activity and the neighborhood drug wars.
However, the women caught in the drug dragnet are not like their male
counterparts – they are mostly non-violent, the majority have been
victims themselves, they have more mental health issues and more
severe drug addictions, and they are more likely to be the primary
caretaker of a young child.
Yet when reacting to the increase in female offenders, correctional
policies did not take into account the change in the nature of crimes
committed, or even in the gender of the offenders. The State responded
by constructing large, remotely located prisons that isolate women from
their children and do not provide the programs that can reduce crime
and prevent released offenders from recycling back to prison.
The State has taken a few minor steps to develop community-based
facilities that provide gender-responsive services to incarcerated mothers
with young children. While program administrators have identified
barriers to broader participation, little or nothing has been done to
remove those barriers, and the programs have not been expanded or
replicated.

vi

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Gender Differences Among Offenders

Female

Male

835

15,008

Percent of California Parolees with Minimum or Low
10
Supervision

88%

72%

Number of California Parolees Classified as High Control
nd
11
or 2 Strike

822

24,246

Offenders Physically or Sexually Abused Prior to Prison
12
Admission

57%

16%

Offenders in Counseling/Therapy for Mental Health
13
Issues

27%

12%

64%

57%

53%

36%

40%

60%

Californians Convicted of Crimes Against Persons in 2003

Offenders Having a Child Under 18 Years Old

14

Percent Living With Their Children Prior to Arrest
Offenders Employed at the Time of Arrest

15

16

9

The State has one privately run community correctional facility for
women where every inmate participates in educational and vocational
training programs. Located in the heart of a neighborhood in a small
community, the women at this facility have opportunities to learn skills
and give back to the community in ways that their counterparts in the
large remote facilities cannot. Yet this facility has never been evaluated,
replicated or expanded.

Recommendation 2: A core element of a strategic plan for women should be a
robust system of community correctional facilities focused on preparing women
offenders for success on parole. The State should:
q

Revise classification procedures. The Department of Corrections
should tailor its classification tool to improve its ability to classify
and make housing assignments for women offenders. The tool
should be validated to ensure that it accurately assesses the risks
female offenders pose to public safety and their needs for services to
successfully transition from prison to the community

q

Develop a continuum of incarceration options. The department
should develop a continuum of facilities for female inmates to costeffectively match inmates with the facility that best achieves the goals
of public protection and successful re-entry.
ü

The continuum should include community correctional facilities
to house inmates closer to their communities; halfway back
facilities to support the transition from prison to the community;
and, facilities specifically designed to address the needs of parole
violators who are inappropriate for less restrictive sanctions.

vii

LITTLE HOOVER COMMISSION
ü

Prisoner mother programs should be fortified and expanded. The
eligibility criteria for the Family Foundations Program should be
revised to make it consistent with other minimum security
placements such as community correctional re-entry centers,
camps and the Community Prisoner Mother Program.
The
department should explore incentives for participation in the
programs, including providing “work credits” equal to those of the
camp program.

q

Partner with communities. The department should work with
communities to plan, develop and operate facilities based on
research and focused on successful re-entry. It should explore all
options for siting facilities, including expanding existing facilities,
utilizing closed military facilities, closed California Youth
Authority facilities and contracting with sheriff’s departments and
others.

q

Operationalize the continuum. The department should use a
competitive process to develop contracts for community
correctional facilities to deliver the array of services shown to
reduce recidivism among female offenders. Private companies,
public agencies or partnerships among them should be
encouraged to bid on the contracts.
ü

The department should restructure the contracting process to
emphasize quality of services over the lowest cost to contract
with providers with expertise in addressing the needs of
women offenders and link inmates with aftercare upon
release.

ü

The department should establish performance benchmarks in
contracts with providers and monitor and report return-tocustody rates and other outcome measures.

ü

The department should reward high-quality providers with
higher rates of reimbursement and terminate the contracts of
those that fail to meet specified outcomes.

A Re-entry Model to Reduce Recidivism
Finding 3: Female offenders are often denied assistance with housing,
employment, substance abuse treatment, and family reunification, and as a result
the public costs and personal tragedies continue to plague families and
communities.
All offenders released back into the community face nearly
insurmountable challenges – they frequently have nowhere to live,
nowhere to work and nowhere to turn for help in fighting addiction.

viii

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Women must not only conquer these obstacles, they also are frequently
returning as the sole caretaker of young children.
And at this most vulnerable juncture, many female parolees cannot tap
into the services that could help them and their families succeed.
In an effort to block drug abusers from utilizing social service benefits to
feed their addictions, the federal government placed a lifetime ban on
access to federal welfare funds for drug offenders. So while a non-violent
mother convicted of drug possession is denied access to federal funds
that would help her get a job and take care of her family, a robber, a
rapist or a murderer has no such restriction. Seventeen states have
applied for a waiver to this restriction but California has not.
Not surprisingly many female offenders released to parole do not succeed
and instead return to prison. Their crimes and addictions plague local
communities and sap local government resources. Their children often
are raised by over-burdened relatives or placed in costly foster care,
where they are more likely than most to become the next generation of
offenders continuing the cycle of crime and perpetuating the costs of
incarceration.

Recommendation 3: The State should develop a community-based re-entry model
to reduce recidivism among women offenders, improve public safety and reduce
public costs. Specifically, the State should:
q

The Governor
should establish an interagency council on re-entry to develop a
system of community supervision and re-entry with comprehensive,
integrated services for female offenders.

Establish an interagency council on re-entry.

ü

The council should be co-chaired by the secretary of the Youth
and Adult Correctional Agency and the secretary of the Health
and Human Services Agency. Members should include state and
community representatives from the fields of law enforcement,
education, housing and community development, employment,
alcohol and drug, mental health, child welfare, domestic violence
and victim advocacy programs. Community members, offenders
and their families should be represented.

ü

The council should identify statutory, regulatory and practical
barriers to re-entry and recommend to the Governor and
Legislature ways to overcome them.

ü

The council should identify and recommend to the Governor,
Legislature and communities evidence-based prevention and
intervention strategies for the children of incarcerated parents.

ix

LITTLE HOOVER COMMISSION
q

Shift the responsibility for parolee supervision and assistance to
communities, starting with women. The Governor and Legislature
should require communities to assume responsibility for certain
non-violent women parolees as a first step in transferring
responsibility for the majority of non-violent offenders – male and
female – to communities.

q

ü

Communities should establish multi-agency coordinating
councils and develop local plans for supervising, assisting and
sanctioning female parolees using a case management approach
and partnerships between the adult criminal courts and
dependency courts.

ü

The State should develop agreements with sheriffs or probation
departments, in partnership with community agencies, to provide
the services. The services should be supported by shifting funds
from services now administered by the State.

Provide technical assistance. The Youth and Adult Correctional
Agency should provide assistance in developing, implementing and
evaluating correctional plans.
It should contract for technical
assistance to help communities identify and overcome barriers to
effective interagency partnerships, siting of transitional housing,
development of adequate treatment resources and others.

q

The Department of Corrections should
establish and operate, with the cooperation and participation of its
community partners, a statewide information and evaluation system
to monitor the effectiveness of the community re-entry services.

Measure performance.

x

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Knocking Down the Barriers
For the community re-entry model to be effective, the State must take specific actions to
reduce legal and practical barriers to re-entry for female offenders. Specifically, the State
should:
q

Immediately enact legislation to eliminate or modify the ban on CalWORKs for certain nonviolent drug felons to improve access to housing, employment and drug treatment services
critical to successful re-entry.

q

To reduce barriers to housing, the State should:

q

q

ü

Require CDC to collect and report to the Legislature and local Public Housing Authorities data
regarding the housing needs of female parolees and their children.

ü

Create tax credit and bonus programs for private builders as incentives to build housing for
female parolees.

ü

Support, in partnership with communities, the development of a range of housing options for
female offenders, including transitional housing, permanent supportive housing and sober
living environments.

ü

Establish partnerships with Public Housing Authorities to:
•

Encourage local public housing authorities to consider evidence of rehabilitation from
criminal or substance abuse activity in their application of federal restrictions and give
preference to female parolees with children.

•

Provide vouchers as incentives for completion of substance abuse treatment and other
programs known to reduce recidivism.

•

Place eligible CDC inmates on public housing lists prior to release.

•

Adapt the Shelter Plus Care program to female parolees.

To reduce barriers to employment, the State should:
ü

Increase the allocation of discretionary Workforce Investment Act funds for offender
programs. (Currently 15 percent of total discretionary funding, or $10.6 million.)

ü

Provide fiscal incentives for local Workforce Investment Boards to serve female parolees.

To reduce barriers to substance abuse recovery, the State should:
ü

Fully fund aftercare treatment for all offenders participating in in-prison drug treatment
programs and make aftercare mandatory. It should expand aftercare options to include day
treatment, sober living with support services and other options based on offender risk and
needs assessments.

ü

Expand drug treatment furlough for women offenders and use furlough as an incentive for
completion of in-prison treatment.

ü

Evaluate the two drug treatment programs for females at the California Rehabilitation Center
to determine whether the full-time program is significantly more effective than the four-hour
program. If it is not, it should be converted to a four-hour program to increase the number of
offenders served.

ü

Assign parole agents to specialized Female Offender Treatment and Employment Project
caseloads to improve consistency and outcomes.

ü

Measure and report Proposition 36 outcomes for female offenders.

xi

LITTLE HOOVER COMMISSION

Notes
1.

California Department of Corrections. February 2004. "Prison Census Data as of
December 31, 2003." Sacramento.

2.

U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. April 1999. "Prior Abuse
Reported by Inmates and Probationers." Washington D.C.

3.

California Department of Corrections. May 2004. "Rate of Felon Parolees Returned to
California Prisons, CY 2003." Table 2 (Rate is per 100 average daily population.) Also,
California Department of Corrections. "California Prisoners and Parolees 2001." Table
42.

4.

Michael P. Jacobson, Ph.D., Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice. New York.
September 18, 2003. Written communication.

5.

Michael P. Jacobson, Ph.D., Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice. New York.
January 23, 2003. Written testimony to the Commission.

6.

California Department of Corrections. May 2004. "Historical Trends: 1983-2003."
Table 4. Sacramento.

7.

U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. August 2000. "Incarcerated
Parents and Their Children." Washington D.C. Also, M. Anne Powell, Clare Nolan and
Jennifer L. Newman. November 2003. "California State Prisoners with Children:
Findings from the 1997 Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities."
California Research Bureau. Sacramento

8.

California Department of Corrections. See endnote 3.

9.

California Department of Corrections. See endnote 6.

10.

California Department of Corrections. October 5, 2004. "Female Parolees by Class,"
and "Male Parolees by Class." Sacramento. On file.

11.

California Department of Corrections. See endnote 10.

12.

U.S. Department of Justice , Bureau of Justice Statistics. April 1999. "Prior Abuse
Reported by Inmates and Probationers." Washington D.C.

13.

U.S. Department of Justice , Bureau of Justice Statistics. July 2001. "Mental Health
Treatment in State Prisons." Washington D.C.

14.

U.S. Department of Justice , Bureau of Justice Statistics. See endnote 7. Also, M.
Anne Powell, Clare Nolan and Jennifer L. Newman. See endnote 7.

15.

U.S. Department of Justice , Bureau of Justice Statistics. See endnote 7. Also, M.
Anne Powell, Clare Nolan and Jennifer L. Newman. See endnote 7.

16.

U.S. Department of Justice , Bureau of Justice Statistics. December 1999. "Special
Report: Women Offenders." Washington D.C.

xii

 

 

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