Ask the Chief is a series of short articles that explain the various aspects of the operations at the Lake County Sheriff's Office. This week's topic is:
Ask the Chief…..
so Unique about Incarcerated Women ?
Today we have 90 women incarcerated in
our jail, roughly 25% of our inmate population.
So I asked Capt. Cynthia Brooks, our Jail Administrator with over 30
years of experience in the field, to explain why so many women are incarcerated
today. Here is what she had to say…..
“In 1989 the Lake County Sheriff’s
Office housed an average of 9 females per day.
By 2007 our daily population of females averaged 57 per day. Today our average female population is
90. In studies concerning this dramatic
increase professionals have cited poor life choices in relationships, low
self-esteem, inadequate education, lack of family support and limited income as
primary factors leading to their incarceration.
Why focus on female offenders? The National Institute of Corrections (NIC)
explains that there are significant differences between female inmates and
their male counterparts. For example,
women are more likely to be victims of poverty, hopelessness, sexual and/or
physical abuse in their lifetimes. When
considering the care, custody and control of women offenders, equal treatment
between men and women should not and does not always mean the same
treatment. In jails and prisons,
structure, design, rules, layout, the colors, the uniforms, the meals and the
programming were all designed for men.
When applied to incarcerated women they may not produce the dame
With such a growing population of
women in jails and prisons throughout the United States most have adopted the
Gender-Responsive Strategies. “Gender Responsive approaches are
multi-dimensional and are based on theoretical perspectives that acknowledge
women’s pathways into the criminal justice system. These approaches address social (poverty,
race, class and gender) and cultural factors as well as therapeutic
interventions. These interventions
address issues such as abuse, violence, family, relationships, substance abuse and
co-occurring disorders”. They provide a strength based approach to
treatment, skill building and encourages women to become self-sufficient which
decreases their likelihood of recidivism.
Facility Administrators are realizing the impact of the high population
of females and the numerous problems that women can create. Ideas
such as treatment programs, substance abuse, mental health, trauma, medical,
childcare, skill building, housing, transportation, accountability and responsibility
ultimately may reduce the cycle of incarceration.
A profile based on national data from
NIC for women offenders reveals the following characteristics:
- Disproportionately women of
- In their early to mid-30s.
- Most likely to have been
convicted of a drug-related offense.
- From fragmented families that
include other family members who also have been involved with the criminal
- Survivors of physical and/or
sexual abuse as children and adults.
- Individuals with significant
substance abuse problems.
- Individuals with multiple
physical and mental health problems.
- Unmarried mothers of minor
- Individuals with a high school
or general equivalency diploma (GED) but limited vocational training and
sporadic work histories.
Why focus on
women offenders? If we get it right with
the women, hopefully it can deter the men from incarceration or be a benefit to
the male population in reducing recidivism.
The women are raising our next generation and approximately 1.7 million
children under the age of 18 have mothers that are incarcerated. Who suffers the most when women are
incarcerated? The children do a harder
jail and/or prison sentence than their mother’s do. Almost 41% of children are being raised by
grandparents (grandparent), typically a grandmother according to PEW Research. About 37% report the minor child lives with
the father, and 11% are placed in foster or group homes.
at the Lake County Adult Detention Facility we created the Women In Transition Through Support Program (W.I.T.T.S.) to offer on-site services and
support for women during incarceration, as well as providing them with
continued resources and linkage to agencies within the area that can assist
them in making a good transition back to the community and to their
mission of the W.I.T.T.S. program is to assist women in reuniting with a
positive environment that minimizes the circumstances that lead to their
repeated incarceration. Our goal is to
reintegrate women into the community and inspire them to be positive and
The goal of the W.I.T.T.S program is
- Increase employment
- Develop positive
relationship values and support
- Encourage education
- Promote self-esteem
- Control choices
through anger management
- Develop strong family
- Encourage drug and
- Enhance Communication
The jail also offers NA / AA, and GED
for the female inmates to participate in as well as a Blast Group that has a
different topic every week and some of the groups meet for 4 weeks. The Blast
Groups such as Peaceful Parenting, Writing to Release and the YMCA Exercise
Leader Class offer certificates if the women complete the 4 week sessions. On a
weekly basis the Blast Group offers sessions such as Dental Hygiene, Housing,
Family Planning or any topic that would assist the females on the path to
the assistance of the W.I.T.T.S. program in collaboration with the policymakers
of Lake County, the women are being educated to learn that they can be
self-sufficient and they no longer have to be casualties of crime, or victims
of circumstances, they can become survivors.
By studying case law, gathering statistics, developing lesson plans,
revising and writing new policies, our facility is keeping up with the growing
trend across the country in gender sensitive care, custody and control of our
“What is so unique about incarcerated women?” If we get it right with the women hopefully
it will benefit the male population and our future generation. Without education on life skills, assistance,
and support, the incarceration cycle will continue and population will continue
to rise in our jails and prisons for female offenders.”
Capt. Cynthia Brooks
Lake County Adult Detention Facility
- NIC: Gender-Responsive Strategies: Research, Practice and
Guiding Principles for Women Offenders
- Hard Hit; The Growth
in the Imprisonment of Women 1977-2004; Dr. Natasha Frost, Assistant
Professor at Northeastern University, Judith Greene and Kevin Pranis of Justice
- BJS,Bureau of Justice Statistics, Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children, Lauren
E. Glaze, Laura M. Maruschak August 8, 2008 NCJ 222984
- Since the
Start of the Great Recession, More Children Raised by Grandparents Gretchen
Livingston and Kim Parker September 9, 2010
- PEW Research Center 1615 L Street, NW, Suite 700 Washington, DC 20036
- Children of Incarcerated Parents: The Child's Constitutional Right, Chesa Boudin