University of Hawai'i
Maui Community College
Lee Stein's Publications
The Psychosocial Needs of Hawaiian Women
Incarcerated for Drug-Related Crimes
The incarceration rate of women for non-violent drug-related offenses in Hawai`i is now outpacing that of men. While females of Native Hawaiian descent comprise less than 10% of the total State population, the ratio among incarcerated women is a disproportionate 40%. The pathways to drug abuse and related crimes are different for men and women. Discrimination and survival of what is often a lifetime of interpersonal violence are salient contributors to the behaviors leading to the imprisonment of women. There must be full consideration of these issues to reach proper understanding of the complexity of the unmet needs underlying the behaviors leading to arrest, and to resolve them. A needs assessment was conducted at a work-furlough program for women in Honolulu in order to better understand their self-identified psychosocial needs. This paper challenges social workers and policy makers to consider the distinct needs of this population, and to design and implement appropriate and adequate services to lessen recidivism.
Hawaiian women; interpersonal violence; drug abuse; imprisonment
Incarceration trends in America have changed dramatically in recent years. Contemporary arrest rates for non-violent drug-related crimes have skyrocketed, and with them, the incarceration rates of women for these offenses now exceed those of men (Owen & Bloom, 1995). There is evidence that an overwhelming percentage of women in prison have been the victims of incest, child abuse, and domestic violence and rape as adults, in addition to having come from impoverished backgrounds (Chesney-Lind 1997; Kupers, 1999). Numerous authors (Chesney-Lind 1997; Immarigeon & Chesney-Lind, 1992; Kupers, 1999; Owen & Bloom, 1995) correlate the impact of abuse on women with the tendency to cope with life’s difficulties by using, and often abusing, substances. Others consider racism and other forms of societal oppression to be traumatic stressors that often preceed drug and alcohol abuse (Allen, 1996; Chesney-Lind, 1997; Kupers, 1999; Marsella, 1996; Singer, Bussey & Lunghofer, 1995). Bloom and Covington (1998) and McClellan (1994) link the psychological, physical, and sexual abuse of women to substance-abusing behavior that precipitates incarceration. The combination of the recent “war on drugs” and “get tough on crime” policies with women’s increasing substance abuse and economically motivated petty-larceny and theft crime is causing the female incarceration rates and costs to soar in this country (Chesney-Lind, 1998; McGinnis, 1998; Owen & Bloom, 1995).
Not only are the crimes that women commit often a reaction to negative life events, a crisis, or to prolonged disadvantage (Singer, Bussey & Lunghofer, 1995), but women are also more likely to be imprisoned for drug offenses and other non-violent property crimes than are men (Kupers, 1999; Owen & Bloom, 1995). Beth Richie (1996) theorizes that the circumstances and experiences resulting from the multiple oppressive forces in the lives of women coalesce as a form of “gender entrapment” (p. 132) that actually causes many to be, as the title of her book claims, “compelled to crime”.
Of the women in prison nationally, 66% (Owen & Bloom, 1995) to 80% (Gray, Mays & Stohr, 1995) are mothers of children under 18 years of age. Further, the majority of these mothers were the primary caretakers of their children prior to their imprisonment (Gray, Mays & Stohr, 1995; Singer, Bussey & Lunghofer, 1995). Incarcerating women who are mothers triggers hidden, yet substantial additional human and financial costs. When mothers are put in prison, their children are immediately put in crisis and, all too frequently, a harmful and costly revolving door of foster care begins. This trauma of separation and being uprooted exacerbates conditions that contribute to the generational cycle of drug abuse and crime.
The penal system in America was originally developed for male offenders with approaches thought to be effective for that population (Flanagan, 1995; Moyer, 1992). The profile of the female offender contrasts sharply with that of imprisoned men. Violent crimes are the hallmark of the male offender, yet female criminals are most likely to have committed non-violent property- and substance-related crimes (Chesney-Lind & Shelden, 1998; Moyer, 1992; Owen & Bloom, 1995). Our prisons are organized to control aggressive male convicts, and are not sensitized to the special needs of women (Kupers, 1999).
Women suffer greater traumas than men do before going to prison. The reasons for their conviction are very different. They display needs and have difficulties coping with imprisonment sharply distinct from those of men (Kupers, 1999). These discrete characteristics of female inmates call into question the philosophy and tactics of our “male model” correctional institutions and their impact on women.
The implications of these trends for the lives of women are significant and devastating and are likely to continue for generations to come unless policy makers, criminal-justice-system personnel, and the public begin to re-examine how to approach this growing population of non-violent female drug offenders. The purpose of this study is to understand more clearly the individual and collective needs of non-violent, substance-abusing, female offenders in Hawai`i, especially those of Hawaiian ancestry. It is hoped that new perspectives will lead to better and more comprehensive interventions that will reduce relapse and recidivism and improve the ability of these women to lead more responsible and fulfilling lives, while satisfactorily addressing the concerns of the larger community. Both the population represented by the participants in this study and our communities will benefit as this information is used by policy-makers and the legal and social-work systems to support or implement alternative or more effective legal and social policies and practices. When women can meet their underlying need for support and healing from violent victimization, discrimination, and damage from their substance-abuse, there will be a dramatic decrease in turning to drugs and criminal acts to cope with those needs and there will be a corresponding drop in the rates of relapse and recidivism.
In 1997 Hawai`i led the nation in prison population growth (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1998); the number of inmates sent to local prisons increased by 21.6%, while the national average was 4.7% (Chesney-Lind, April 13, 1998). The imprisonment rate for women in Hawai`i is currently outpacing that of men (Chesney-Lind, 1997; Immarigeon & Chesney-Lind, 1995). The number of women under the jurisdiction of the Hawai`i correctional authority increased an incredible 65% between 1995 and September 1997 (Thorburn, 1997), while the male prison population during the same time grew by 28% (State of Hawai`i Crime Summary, 1997).
A 1995 study revealed that 73% of the inmates at the Women’s Community Correctional Center (WCCC) on Oahu were women of color with the largest sub-group, 55% (or 40% of the total number of incarcerated women), being of Hawaiian descent (Goldkuhle, 1995; Thorburn, 1997). Recent data indicate a marked increase in this ratio of Hawaiian inmates. For example, the study described in this paper revealed that 61% of the women released from prison were Hawaiian. This disproportionate representation becomes especially salient in light of the fact that Hawaiian females comprise less than 10% of the total state population (Blaisdell, 1996; Blaisdell & Mokuau, 1991).
Many disturbing trends are emerging among the native Hawaiian or Kanaka Maoli population in Hawai`i. Hawaiians have the lowest median income and the highest rates of incarceration, homelessness, and poverty of all ethnic populations in the state (Blaisdell, 1996). Hawaiian women have the highest rate of female heads of households, placing those families at even further economic disadvantage (Blaisdell & Mokuau, 1991). Hawaiian families have the second highest per-capita number of confirmed child-abuse and child-neglect cases in the state (Blaisdell & Mokuau, 1991). Attempts to escape these harsh realities through drugs and alcohol are common for many, thus increasing the likelihood of incarceration for substance-related crimes.
There is wide
agreement among scholars that colonialism, racism, foreign economic
exploitation, forced disconnection from indigenous lifeways, and a
reprehensible neglect of their plight are largely responsible for this
devastation in the lives of these indigenous people in their homeland (Blaisdell,
1996; Cruz, 1996; Dudley & Agard, 1990; Trask, 1996; Trask, 1993).
In her 1992 analysis, Thorburn (1997) reported that more than 71% of the inmates at the women’s correctional center on Oahu had been physically or sexually abused. An earlier study revealed that over 60% of the women had been sexually abused by a family member (Thorburn, 1997). Profound child abuse, whether physical or sexual, can result in delays or arrests in emotional, cognitive, relational, and spiritual development (Briere, 1992). These impairments can follow victims throughout their lives, leaving many emotional scars in addition to possible physical ones (Sgroi, 1989).
Maladaptive coping behaviors often emerge as a result of this emotional, psychic, and spiritual damage. “Young women responding to severe problems of abuse and neglect seek to escape this violence through any means possible” (Chesney-Lind, 1997, p. 133). Drugs and alcohol are the most frequently used methods to seek “solace” (Chesney-Lind, 1997, p. 109) from childhood victimization and to escape the pressures of life. Sgroi (1989) describes substance abuse as a way for sexually abused girls and women to distract, distance, or dissociate themselves from the trauma they have experienced. Without intervention, many of these women will seek distorted outlets to help them survive their experiences, however destructive to themselves and society in the long term (Miller, 1990).
Jo desMarets, former WCCC Social Worker, estimates that “approximately 90% of the inmates at WCCC have been incarcerated for drug-related crimes” (personal communication, October 9, 1998). These crimes typically consist of possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia, petty theft or shoplifting, passing bad checks, and prostitution (Immarigeon & Chesney-Lind, 1995). Further, in Hawai`i, possession of even the residue of a controlled substance (e.g., crystal methamphetamine or “ice”, or crack cocaine) is charged at the felony level as “promotion of a dangerous drug.” Conviction for “promotion” is extremely common among the women incarcerated in Hawai`i. Conviction on this charge inaccurately portrays many users of drugs as dealers of drugs to the public.
It costs an average of $76 per day to house each inmate in Hawai`i, but only $43 when they are sent to mainland prisons (Waite, 1998). The increasing incarceration rate, lack of local prison space, and substantially higher costs are factors in the growing tendency to send Hawai`i inmates to mainland prisons. Not included in these costs, however, is the human cost of sending mothers thousands of miles away from their children.
This study was conducted at T.J. Mahoney & Associates (TJM), a secure work-furlough program for women transitioning into the community from prison. Women are eligible to be released to this program from WCCC when they are within 1 year of completing their minimum sentences and are considered to be of minimum risk to the community. A program of graduated “steps” rewards the residents with increasing freedom, based on obtaining thirty-two hours per week of employment while remaining in compliance with all program requirements. Because the women sent to TJM are generally the most motivated to be pro-social, this sample cannot be said to represent accurately the general population of female inmates.
To discover the needs of incarcerated, non-violent, substance-abusing women, a two-part instrument was developed based on a review of contemporary literature. The goal was to elicit from each participant a ranked and prioritized list of needs and circumstances occurring in their lives at the time of their most recent arrest.
Thirty-one of 33 residents occupying the facility the week of February 21-27, 1999 agreed to participate in the project, which involved completing a two-part questionnaire. The instrument included open-ended questions in order to understand better the circumstances occurring around the time of the women’s arrest (e.g., what was their “world view/explanation” of the problems they were encountering; what “specific positive or negative events” were occurring at the time; what methods were used to “handle/cope with your situation”; etc.). This instrument also inquired about abuse experiences as either a child or adult, and about the number and nature of their incarceration(s). It was not unusual for the women to report difficulty revisiting some of the more abusive experiences in their lives. The two women who chose not to participate in the study remarked that they did not want to think about their pasts, which were filled with abuse and pain.
A Likert scale synthesized from contemporary literature on the subject (Chesney-Lind, Koo, Kato & Clark, 1998; Singer, Bussey & Lunghofer, 1995) was applied to a list of needs common to incarcerated women. The instrument listed 19 areas of potential need and provided space for participants to add other needs (see Table II). Each “need” was accompanied by a scale indicating a range from “extreme need”, “strong need”, “somewhat needed”, “slight need”, to “no need”. After participants rated their perceived level of need for each item, they were asked to rank their top 3 needs by placing the number 1, 2, or 3 next to those items. The time required to fill out the questionnaires was between thirty minutes and one hour. Participants were given credit toward their monthly community service requirement for participating in the study.
As parts of the instrument had previously been proven in other studies or circumstances, it was thought unnecessary to conduct a pilot test for this instrument.
Participants were given the questionnaire at the facility either individually or in small groups. Instructions regarding the scale of needs used in the questionnaire were given orally to small groups and the investigator was available to answer individual questions throughout the procedure. The author was the only interviewer and carefully read all of the instructions to each woman. The participants appeared to understand the scale of needs without difficulty and worked readily with the instrument as a whole. Since they may have received services while at WCCC and TJM that may have addressed certain needs, they were asked to answer the questionnaire from the perspective of the day of their arrest for their current offense. The intention was to understand better the unmet needs and circumstances that may have contributed to, or even precipitated, the behavior that led to their incarceration.
Population History and Circumstances
Age, Ethnicity, Legal History
All data reported pertain to the entire cohort and reflect the ratio of Hawaiian women in the sample. Any significantly different data related to the Hawaiian sub-group are mentioned separately. (See Table I)
The mean age of the women in the study was 39. This is significantly older than the 33 ½ years reported in a 1994 study of the female prison population in Hawai’i (Thorburn, 1997). During the same year the Department of Justice reported the nationwide median age of incarcerated women to be 31 (Dept. of Justice, 1995).
Nineteen (61%) of the 31 women were Hawaiian or part Hawaiian, a substantially larger number than Goldkuhle’s (1995) 1992 finding that 40% of WCCC inmates were from this group. This increase in the number of incarcerated Hawaiian women requires further examination.
Eighteen women (58%) were currently incarcerated for a specific drug offense. This indicates a substantial increase from the 1992 WCCC study which revealed that 37% of the women were incarcerated for that reason (Thorburn, 1997). When the participants were asked if their current incarceration stemmed from a drug-related charge, 90% (27) responded affirmatively. Theft and larceny motivated by the need to purchase drugs for their addictions were in large part responsible for this greater percentage.
The cumulative number of convictions among the women was 80, an average of 2.7 per woman. One individual with 90 convictions was dropped from the sample. Sixty-nine (86%) of the total of 80 convictions were drug-related. Prostitution convictions were tallied separately and numbered 96 among 5 women. All five of these women reported having been sexually abused as children.
of the respondents were mothers. Twenty-two (71%) were mothers of children
under 18 years of age. This finding is consistent with Singer, Bussey and
Lunghofer’s 1995 mainland study where 73% of over 200 incarcerated women
were mothers of underage children. Fifteen (48%) of the Hawai`i cohort were
the sole providers for an average of 2 minor children at the time of their
most recent incarceration. Most of these children were placed in the care of
Thirty (97%) of the women admitted addiction to illegal substances at the time of their most recent arrest. Only one woman in the cohort had never abused substances. Eighteen women (58%) had received some form of substance-abuse treatment prior to their current incarceration. Of these, sixteen said they had received treatment an average of 2 ½ times and two others responded, “many” times. Sixteen women (52%) felt that the treatment they received had been successful. However, because in some cases “treatment” was interpreted as having attended AA/NA meetings, and in others it included residential or outpatient treatment, the meaning of the finding is uncertain.
Eight women (26%)
responded that they had been diagnosed with a mental disorder; two had more
than one mental disorder. Seven (23%) had a co-occurring substance-abuse
Childhood Physical and Sexual Victimization
Nineteen (61%) reported that they had been physically abused as children. Eight (42%) of that number said the abuse happened frequently. Fourteen (45%) reported that they were sexually abused as children. Two of 14 women had received counseling; however, only one said that the counseling had helped her.
analysis of the WCCC population found that 46% of the women reported
histories of child abuse, and 25% had been sexually abused (Thorburn, 1997).
The increase revealed in this study might reflect the long-standing
relationship of the women to the investigator rather than an increase in
Participants were asked if they had experienced physical violence in the year prior to their arrest. Fourteen (45%) reported that they had. Five of these women had been attacked with a weapon; two with guns, two with knives, and one with steel-toed boots. In a similar study Singer, Bussey and Lunghofer (1995) found that 69% of their cohort of women in prison or jail in Ohio had experienced physical violence in the year prior to their incarceration. On review of the study, it appears that 50% of that cohort had been actively involved in prostitution and many of the assaults were related to that lifestyle. Two Hawai`i women who worked as prostitutes reported that being physically abused by either their pimp or various Johns was common. Both studies reveal a high level of violence related to street life.
The women were asked if they had
been threatened with physical violence in the year prior to their
incarceration. Ten (32%) reported in the affirmative. Two of these women
stated that they had been threatened with death. A total of 24 women (77%)
had experienced or been threatened with physical violence in the year
preceding their recent arrest and incarceration.
Adult Sexual Victimization
When asked about exposure to sexual abuse, ten women (32%) reported being raped in their adulthood. This compares to 68% reported in the Singer, Bussey and Lunghofer (1995) study. Again this disparity is probably linked to the high level of prostitution in that group. Five (16%) of the Hawai`i women had been raped more than once. In three cases guns or knives were used in the attack. No women had received counseling for the victimization they experienced.
An astounding twenty-seven (87%) of the Hawai’i women had experienced either rape, child physical abuse, or child sexual abuse. Of this number, eveven (35%) had been abused in two or more of these ways. Two had been raped as adults and physically and sexually abused as children; six had been both physically and sexually abused as children; two had been sexually abused as children and raped during adulthood; and one had been physically abused as a child and raped as an adult. Of the remainder, ten had been physically abused; three had been sexually abused; and three had been raped as adults. When violence experienced in the last year prior to incarceration was considered, the number of women violated increased to twenty-nine or 94%.
Housing and Homelessness (28 responses)
Twenty-eight of the 31 women in the study answered this question. Eleven women (39%) were homeless at the time of their most recent arrest. Five (18%) lived erratically between family and friends. Twelve (43%) had a stable living situation. Three women did not respond to the question.
Means of Financial Support (30 responses)
Thirty of the 31 women in the study answered this question. A total of eight women (27%) mentioned welfare as a source of financial support. Of that number, two supplemented that income with prostitution, one with prostitution and stealing, and one with stealing. The total number who mentioned prostitution as a form of income was five (17%); all of these women had been arrested for prostitution. Six (20%) said they sold drugs to support themselves; ten (33%) counted on family and friends. Only five (17%) had jobs. Twenty-five women (83%) were unemployed if those on welfare and those without jobs are combined.
Goldkuhle’s 1992 study of women
at WCCC indicated a similar unemployment rate - 84%. The 1994 Department of
Justice statistics on unemployment for women prior to their incarceration
provides a startling contrast to Hawai’i – the national average unemployment
for this population is 53% - a 31% lower incidence than the Hawai`i women
(Bureau of Justice, 1995). This variance is likely a result of the
more-than-decade-long economic slump in Hawai`i, which impacts low-income
individuals most profoundly.
The respondents listed multiple problems that were occuring in their lives around the time of their arrest. Strikingly, problems with their primary relationship were mentioned by sixteen women (52%). Of those, four said they were victims of domestic violence occuring at the time of their arrest; three others stated that sexual abuse was their greatest problem at that time. Therefore, a total of seven women (23%) were actively dealing with violent assault. Thirteen (42%) cited problems with drugs. Twelve (39%) mentioned financial problems. Five (16%) cited problems with their children; of these, one child was lost to CPS, one mother was separated from her child, one child was kidnapped by a boyfriend, and one child was badly injured. Three women had recently experienced the death of a parent or child.
Impact of Problems
When asked how the above problems affected them, two responded that they felt suicidal,
fifteen (48%) felt depressed (3 said their depression was “bad”), four responded with anger (one with domestic violence toward her partner), six (19%) withdrew, six (19%) became anxious, one felt “overwhelmed”, one “felt like a victim”, and one cited emotional problems from “unwanted [intrusive] memories.”
Attempts to Cope
Responding to the question, “How did you handle/cope with your situation?”, twenty-five (81%) said they did more drugs or drank alcohol, four ate food excessively, three began fighting with others. One woman citing financial problems began to borrow money franctically from one person to pay off another.
World View Explanation
The women were asked “How do you explain why you were going through those difficulties at that time?” A sample of their written answers follows:
· “I just gave up on myself.”
· “The reason why I did drugs is because I always felt like I wasn’t wanted. I always felt disliked and used. I never felt loved by anyone. Hurt. I still have thoughts like that.”
· “I choose bad relationships.”
· “Drugs controlled me.”
· “I blamed others.”
· “I was caring for my family alone and it was too much for me.”
· “I didn’t know any other way to live.”
· If I hadn’t been in some of the environments I probably would have been spared a lot of the trauma in my life.”
· “Because of the drugs and abuse in the past.”
· “Because of my addiction I was unable to focus.”
· “Not knowing how to say no to others, constantly trying to please others.”
· “All my problems were the result of my drug using.”
To the question, “Did you turn to anyone for help?”, one woman responded that she went to “pray at the Heiau” (Hawaiian outdoor temple), one turned to God, two turned to the “Lord”, one called her probation officer, nine went to family/friends, one to her “inner self.” Interestingly, three women turned to drugs in the way that many people would turn to a dear and trusted friend. Two of these women stated that “drugs blocked the pain of my personal horrors”, and “drugs were my best friend.” This perception provides insight into one reason why relapse among this population is so prevalent. Thirteen (42%) responded that they turned to no one.
Recognition of Substance-Abuse Problem
Twenty-two (71%) said they recognized that they had a substance-abuse problem at, or before, the time of their arrest. One woman wrote, “When I lost my kids, I knew.” Nine (29%) said they did not think they had a problem at the time.
A complete compilation of demographic data follows in Table I.
Table I. Demographic Characteristics of Participants Number Percent
Total N = 31
Mean age = 39
Hawaiian/Part Hawaiian 19 61%
Caucasian 4 13%
Samoan 2 6.5%
Puerto Rican 1 3%
African American 1 3%
Japanese 2 6.5%
Unknown (adopted) 2 6.5%
Admitted drug addiction 30 97%
Current incarceration drug related 27 87%
Mothers 26 84%
Of children under 18 22 71%
Sole providers at incarceration 15 48%
CPS involved 7 32%
Custody terminated 6 19%
Diagnosed with mental disorder 8 26%
Dual Diagnosis 7 23%
Taking medication 5 of 8 63%
Threat of violence in last year 10 30%
With death 2 6.5%
Physically assaulted in last year 14 45%
With weapons 5 16%
Physically abused as a child 19 61%
Frequently 8 26%
Sexually abused as a child 14 42%
Raped as an adult 8 26%
Child physical abuse, child sexual abuse, rape as adult 27 87%
Above plus violence in last year 29 94%
Homeless at time of arrest 14 45%
Lived between family and friends 5 16%
Stable living situation 12 39%
Means of financial support – more than one answer possible:
Employed 5 17%
Counted on family/friends 10 32%
Welfare 8 26%
Prostitution 5 16%
Stealing 3 10%
Selling drugs 6 16%
Needs of Population
Results of this survey were tabulated in two ways: first, by the number of responses based on degrees of need (e.g., extreme, strong, somewhat, slight, no need), and second, by groupings based on cumulative numbers of respondents’ first-, second-, and third-ranked needs. The top five areas of participant-identified need are listed in order of the combined measures of need. Respondents were asked to rate each item at the level representing their perception of their need at the point of the arrest responsible for their current incarceration.
That “drug treatment” was chosen as the overall greatest need is consistent with the fact that 97% (30 of 31) of the respondents recognized, in retrospect, having had a substance-abuse problem at the time of their arrest. A total of twenty-one women (68%) rated their need for drug treatment as extreme or strong. Seventeen women (55%) felt that drug treatment was in their top three areas of need.
Employment, Financial Aid, Education/Vocational Skills
Seventy-one percent, 68%, and 52% of the participants felt that they had an “extreme” or “strong” need in these respective areas. Employment, money, education and vocational skills are inextricably linked to one another and the women collectively named them their number second, third, and fourth areas of most need. These are hopeful findings. They imply that almost three-quarters of the women recognize the need to engage in gainful employment in order to support themselves, and over half seem to recognize the need for further education and training in order to secure better jobs. Therefore, they appear ready, if given the chance, to expand educationally. This, in turn, will provide new opportunities for their futures.
Half the respondents felt they had an “extreme” or “strong” need for housing. This
level of need correlates with the 39% who were homeless and 17% who had been living with
family and friends. Only 43% of the respondents in the demographic survey reported that they had a stable living situation prior to their arrest. All categories are contained in Table II.
Needs Related to Children
Seven women (23%) felt an “extreme” or “strong” need for “help getting children back.” Four of these mothers no longer have legal custody of their children and wanted to fight to get their children back. CPS terminated the parental rights in two of these cases, making it virtually impossible for these women to succeed. Three women still had legal custody; yet their children have been with family members for an extended period of time. They expressed a fear of being unable to get them back from family once they are out of prison.
Interestingly, few of the women felt they needed child-care or parenting classes (6). Twenty-two (71%) were mothers of children under 18 years of age and half of them were the sole provider for their minor children at the time of their recent arrest. However, the perceived need for “child care” was the lowest rated need overall. It was anticipated that this need would be relatively low because almost a third of the women either did not have children, or, had adult children. However, only two out of twenty-two mothers of underage children respond that they had an “extreme” or “strong” need for childcare prior to their arrest. There may be a simple explanation for this surprising lack of need.
Central to the heart of ‘Hawaiianness’ is the concept of `ohana or extended family. This is a deeply unifying force for Hawaiians, no matter how distant the blood tie (Pukui, Haertig, & Lee, 1972). Also included in the `ohana are those “adopted in friendship” (Pukui, Haertig, & Lee 1972), expanding the potential circle of support even further. A sense of loyalty and responsibility for one another is at the foundation of this orientation. When single-parent Hawaiian mothers are incarcerated, it is usual that the `ohana will take care of her children. Even before these women were arrested, their families played a large role in providing child-care and other child-related needs.
Regardless of ethnicity in Hawai`i, “local” tradition embraces the concept of `ohana and the locally born non-Hawaiian women are likely to have this support network in place as well. In fact, upon arrest, the extended families of twenty of the women, with varied ethnicities, took over the care of the children. Close friends took the children of the other two mothers.
Slightly more than half (16) of the women responded that they had an “extreme” or “strong” need for domestic violence or sex-abuse counseling. This was a surprising statistic, since the dread of dredging up old memories is generally predominant in this population. Avoidance and denial of a problem in these areas is also common (e.g., “That stuff’s in the past”; “It’s over; why go back there?”; “No way am I going back there! For what?”) That more than 50% recognized a need to deal with these issues is hopeful – especially because it is precisely these unresolved issues that often drive substance-abusing behaviors that so frequently lead to incarceration (Chesney-Lind & Shelden, 1998). Abuse issues are key to relapse and recidivism (Chesney-Lind, 1997).
Sixteen women (52%) stated that they had an “extreme” or “strong” need for “support groups” which included “women’s issues” in addition to AA and NA. Because 94% of the respondents had experienced violence in their lives---many had been raped, incested, and severely and frequently abused as children---and 97% admitted to having a drug or alcohol problem at the time of their arrest, this recognition of need is very positive.
Table II. Level of Need Present at Time of Most Recent Arrest. Listed in order of cumulative participant ranked need.
Numbers in parentheses indicate the number of respondents who ranked each item as their 1st, 2nd, or 3rd greatest need.
These factors and statistics support the argument that violence and discrimination are salient contributions to behavior leading to imprisonment for many Hawaiian women, who are vastly over-represented in local incarceration data. While multiple negative forces have a cumulative impact on their lives, interventions, culturally appropriate or not, are rare. To address this problem, the many needs and circumstances of this population must be studied in order to develop appropriate policies to guide the provision of adequate services.
A New Orientation: Recommendations for Policy and Programming
Clear policy and action directions can be gleaned from an analysis of the characteristics of this population of female offenders. The following recommendations are offered to improve conditions for incarcerated women by embodying a proactive stance toward their unique needs. The areas of greatest need articulated by these womens’ voices inform the recommendations.
· Alternatives to incarceration that include substance-abuse treatment and counseling services for non-violent female offenders should be investigated and utilized. These alternatives should include community-based diversion programs and post-incarceration transitional programs, drug-court programs, and intermediate sanctions.
· A female prison model should be established, modeling more appropriate means to address the special needs and circumstances of incarcerated women (i.e., multiple victimization and its links to substance abuse, the importance of maintaining contact with children, etc.).
· The goal and orientation of incarceration for women must change from containment and punishment to preparation for successful release and reunification with children.
· Women must leave prison with some resolution of traumatic experiences from their pasts so that they can add their strength, courage, and incredible capacity to survive to our communities.
· Training related to the unique needs and circumstances of female inmates should be available to (and/or required for) all judges, adult-corrections officers, prison medical personnel, parole-board members, probation and parole officers, and social workers both in prison and community programs serving this population.
· Training should include culturally appropriate material this population and provide an analysis of the overrepresentation of this population in the penal system (Bloom & Covington, 1998).
· Community education that promotes rehabilitative practices over punitive sanctions should be available to address the fears and change the attitudes of the public. Areas of consciousness-raising should include these issues: the reasons women are becoming more vulnerable to incarceration, the link between trauma and substance abuse, and recently emergent, effective models of compassionate intervention. This effort must also include the understanding of the correlates of recidivism and hence the need for shared community responsibility for the reintegration process after release (Austin & Irwin, 2000).
· Wrap-around services for incarcerated women should include the following components:
· Gender Specific Programming addressing “the unique needs and issues of women . . .” (Bloom & Covington, 1998, p. 9) should be included in wrap-around services.
· An incarceration plan should be developed with each inmate, guided by her needs and goals. Women should be encouraged, and provided the opportunity, to participate actively in both the planning and goal-setting aspects of this plan. Emphasizing their strengths, rather than their deficits, will empower them to take a strong hand in changing their lives.
· Substance-abuse screening and treatment should be readily available during or prior to incarceration.
· Psycho-educational opportunities should be provided that encourage women to complete their high-school-equivalency requirements and beyond. Therapeutic life-skill-enhancement courses should be included.
· Work opportunities in prison should focus on providing expanded opportunities to develop skills that will translate into gainful employment in the work market.
· A coordinated release-planning component should be developed that will assess treatment, housing, medical, mental health, employment, and other exiting needs in order to link women with referral services well in advance of their release.
· Family-focused services are necessary to meet the needs of mother’s and children (Bloom & Covington, 1998).
· A system of follow-up should be implemented and maintained to ensure that women are receiving the services to which they were referred after discharge.
· Affordable, convenient, safe, clean-and-sober, transitional housing should be made available to all women leaving prison that allows for reunification with children.
· Culturally sensitive models – Hawai`i has the unique opportunity to design and implement culturally appropriate models to work with Hawaiian and local populations. The use of indigenous spirituality, value systems, and traditional teachings could offer very important alternatives leading away from the “white-male” models that currently dominate treatment services. The Hawaiian community must be involved in, and inform, all aspects of this endeavor.
· Native Hawaiian counseling and healing approaches, including ho’oponopono (Hawaiian mediation), should be made available to all Hawaiian women in the prison system.
· Substance-abuse treatment programs should incorporate cultural identity, morality, and spirituality in the curricula for Native Hawaiians (Alu Like Action Plan, 1995).
· Mental-health services must be sensitive to the victimization issues so prevalent in the lives of female prisoners. Women should have the opportunity of assessment for common mental disorders related to victimization and repeated trauma, such as PTSD and depression, so that they can be treated appropraitely.
· Parenting classes should be provided, where desired, both pre- and post-arrest, and should include culturally appropriate material.
Many of the women in this study have become increasingly aware that they are “caught” in a cycle that is very difficult to break. Most have been incarcerated before; many, numerous times. This suggests that incarceration alone is not a sufficient deterrent to recidivism; neither is it efficient or economical. It is readily evident that current “get tough” policies of locking up non-violent female offenders to “inspire” them to return to society and live productive lives is failing miserably. It appears obvious that if the greatest needs and deficits of this population are not addressed while they are incarcerated, the likelihood that they will be “punished into” becoming productive members of society remains, at best, guarded. We must keep in mind that “female offenders that are returned to the streets facing the same issues they faced when they were sentenced have little choice but to use the same survival tactics that precipitated their incarceration” (Singer, Bussey & Lunghofer, 1995, p. 9).
We now condemn child physical and sexual abuse and take strong measures to protect children who are “at risk.” The women in this study are the abused children of past generations. Their median age of 39 places them in childhood long before this abuse was widely recognized as a problem. Their lives are vivid pictures of what child abuse and violence without intervention does to women. Even though they are the unquestionable victims of violence, 95% of them are non-violent offenders. Their crimes are undeniably linked to their drug involvement which is, most often, related to the trauma they have experienced. Because they are non-violent, they pose little real threat to our communities. Society must ensure that programs are offered to help them overcome, at a minimum, the effects of their violent victimization and their self-destructive coping strategy of drug use. It is imperative that we consider the hardships and violent circumstances of their lives and provide them with opportunities for healing and change. These factors should be considered at the time of sentencing and must begin to guide policy reform.
Relapse for drug addiction is common without effective treatment. In order for treatment to be truly successful it must include long-term, easily accessible and affordable aftercare. Lack of employability and low wage jobs leads to poverty and homelessness---major deterrents to living a sober and productive life. Safe, affordable, and convenient housing must be made available to these women as they transition back into our communities if they are to overcome the myriad challenges facing them. Educational and employment opportunities are needed that will lead them to a living---not minimum---wage. Childcare and transportation must be available to women seeking treatment and related services. Such obstacles must be addressed and eliminated if these women are to thrive as mothers, partners, and family members of our communities.
Because Native Hawaiian women are represented in local prisons at a rate four times greater than in the actual census, it is incumbent on both policy makers and service providers to take corrective action. The factors contributing to this disparity are many; yet most stem from one undeniable reality. Colonialism is responsible for the forced disconnection from, and suppression of, the incredibly rich and spiritually imbued indigenous lifeways of these people The ramifications of this are seemingly endless and tragic: loss of connection to self at both the individual and collective level, poverty, racism, abuse, violence, drugs, crime, and incarceration have been common results, generation upon generation. This cycle of destruction was not begun by Hawaiian people---but many are caught in its cycle. They alone are not responsible for their plight. And while no one currently living caused this reality, every member of every community in Hawai`i shares in the responsibility to make it pono -- right, fair, and equitable.
It is time that we acknowledged that the re-offense of non-violent, substance-abusing women is both predictible and preventable given their characteristics and situations prior to incarceration (Morris & Wilkinson, 1995) . Does this not imply that, if we collectively refuse to act responsibly on this knowledge, that we are also culpable for the revolving door of reincarceration and the generational cycle of crime?
We have an obligation to future generations to respond proactively to the unique needs of female prisoners. The women in this study have provided us sobering insight into their needs and circumstances prior to their incarceration. If left unaddressed those needs and factors will act as certain triggers for recidivism and relapse. To continue to punish these women without providing the tools for change is to guarantee that our communities will remain filled with families plagued with problems. We must not forget that prisoners are not the only ones who pay a price for the crimes they commit. The escalating human and financial costs of these occurrences are devastating to our society. We can no longer afford women and mothers of children leaving prison with their needs unaddressed. The participants in this study have told us what they need, loudly and courageously. Their needs are neither complicated or frivolous. We must open our hearts along with our ears so that we can truly hear them – and respond.
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