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Effective interventions for Women offenders: A Rapid Evidence Assessment

This summary presents the findings of a review of the evidence of what interventions, and targets for intervention, reduce women’s reoffending. The review also examines evidence of factors that promote desistance from crime. The review was commissioned to assist the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) in designing an evidence-based commissioning strategy by summarising the evidence base into ‘what works’ to address key areas.

Key findings

- Evidence suggests that the following reduces women’s offending: substance abuse treatment, in particular in-custody or hierarchical therapeutic community programmes that apply a cognitive-behavioural intervention focusing on skill development; a gender-responsive cognitive-behavioural programme that emphasises existing strengths and competencies, as well as skills acquisition; community opioid maintenance, which may reduce offending rates while the women are in treatment; booster programmes that assist in maintaining treatment effects through community follow-up, which appear to contribute to improved outcomes; gender-responsive approaches, which show promise relative to gender-neutral programmes.

- Appropriate treatment targets for women offenders overlap with those of male offenders. Factors found to be consistently related to women’s recidivism are: antisocial personality (problems with impulse control, emotion regulation and hostility), antisocial peers, antisocial attitudes and substance abuse. Targeting offenders with the most serious levels of substance abuse for treatment should be part of any strategy to reduce women’s criminality.

- Women’s violent crime, including partner assault, is associated with alcohol abuse; acquisitive crime and soliciting are related to serious drug abuse. Very little research examines the effectiveness of programmes in reducing women’s violence.

- Serious mental health issues are associated with violent offending among some women offender samples. For these women, mental health needs must be stabilised prior to participation in programmes that address criminogenic need.

- A prosocial personal identity may permit women to take advantage of potential opportunities to establish desistance from crime. This suggests that interventions that use motivational, solution-focused techniques, encouraging women to seek their own meaningful ‘hooks’ for lifestyle change, could promote desistance.

- Programmes for women offenders may be particularly effective if they focus on higher-risk offenders.

- Single-target programmes focusing only on reducing the effects of trauma do not appear to contribute to reductions in women’s reoffending.