A randomized experimental study of gender-responsive
substance abuse treatment for women in prison
Nena Messina, (Ph.D.)
, Christine E. Grella, (Ph.D.),
Jerry Cartier, (M.A.), Stephanie Torres, (M.S.)
UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Programs, 1640 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Suite 200, Los Angeles, CA 90025, USA
Received 1 July 2009; received in revised form 26 August 2009; accepted 20 September 2009
This experimental pilot study compared postrelease outcomes for 115 women who participated in prison-based substance abuse treatment.
Women were randomized to a gender-responsive treatment (GRT) program using manualized curricula (Helping Women Recover and
Beyond Trauma) or a standard prison-based therapeutic community. Data were collected from the participants at prison program entry and 6
and 12 months after release. Bivariate and multivariate analyses were conducted. Results indicate that both groups improved in psychological
well-being; however, GRT participants had greater reductions in drug use, were more likely to remain in residential aftercare longer (2.6 vs.
1.8 months, p b .05), and were less likely to have been reincarcerated within 12 months after parole (31% vs. 45%, respectively; a 67%
reduction in odds for the experimental group, p b .05). Findings show the beneficial effects of treatment components oriented toward
women's needs and support the integration of GRT in prison programs for women. © 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Women offenders; Gender-responsive treatment; Corrections-based treatment outcomes; Helping Women Recover; Beyond Trauma
A considerable amount of research over the past two
decades has outlined the complex differences between
incarcerated men and women that are relevant to their
rehabilitation. Compared with men, women offenders report
higher rates of childhood trauma and abuse, addiction,
posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), interpersonal violence,
adolescent conduct disorder, homelessness, and chronic
physical and mental health problems (Anderson, Rosay, &
Saum, 2002; Bloom, Owen, & Covington, 2003, 2004;
Grella, 1999; Grella, Stein, & Greenwell, 2005; Langan &
Pelissier, 2001; Messina, Burdon, & Prendergast, 2003;
Messina, Burdon, Hagopian, & Prendergast, 2006; Messina
& Grella, 2006; Peters, Strozier, Murrin, & Kearns, 1997;
Pollock, 2002; Zlotnick, 1997; Zlotnick et al., 2008).
Research also indicates that early victimization and severity
of addiction are stronger predictors of criminal activity and
subsequent mental and physical health problems for women
than for men (Bloom et al., 2004; Browne, Miller, & Maguin,
1999; McClellan, Farabee, & Couch, 1997; Messina, Grella,
Burdon, & Prendergast, 2007).
This body of literature indicates that women entering
substance abuse treatment in prison are at a substantial
disadvantage compared with their male counterparts
(Messina et al., 2007). However, treatment components
that address women's specific needs have not typically
been among the focal points of prison-based treatment for
women. Therapeutic community (TC) programs are the
accepted model of treatment within California and most
institutional settings across the nation (Taxman, Perdoni,
Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment 38 (2010) 97 – 107
Funding source: This study was funded by the National Institute on Drug
Abuse (Grant R21 DAO18699-01A1) and an Interagency Agreement
between University of California, Davis (Contract 07-002467), and UCLA
Integrated Substance Abuse Programs (ISAP). The findings and conclusions
of this study are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the
official policies of the California Department of Corrections and
Corresponding author. UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Programs,
Criminal Justice Research Group, 1640 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Suite 200, Los
Angeles, CA 90025, USA. Tel.: +1 310 267 5509; fax: +1 310 312 0559.
E-mail address: email@example.com (N. Messina).
0740-5472/09/$ – see front matter © 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.