Recidivism among justice-involved women: A combined variable- and person-centered analytic approach to understanding the role of mental health

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Pettersen, Cathrine




The current two-study program of research had two major aims. Study 1 – a comprehensive meta-analysis – was conduted to quantitatively summarize existing empirical knowledge of the relationships between mental health factors and recidivism among justice-involved adult women. Study 2 - a latent class analysis (LCA) – aimed to contribute to the development of mental health-focused correctional profiles that could advance our understanding of justice-involved women and support progress in correctional policy and practice. The meta-analysis included any studies of adult women that examined the association between any mental health factor and recidivism. A comprehensive literature search revealed very sparse empirical data (k = 18). The resulting significant albeit modest aggregate effect sizes revealed elevated recidivism rates among women who suffer depression and PTSD, as well as women with any psychiatric diagnosis and more extensive psychiatric histories. Conversely, anxiety, psychoses, and (unspecified) personality disorders were not significantly related to recidivism. A history of externalizing behaviours such as self-harming and suicide attemps did not predict recidivism. Study 2 - the mental health-focused LCA - involved a sample of 920 women incarcerated in Maine state prisons with complete risk/need assessments including mental health data on the SPIn-W (Orbis Partners, 2006). Three latent classes best decribed the sample in terms of nature, severity, and complexity of mental health needs; Class 1 “severe needs” (30%), Class 2 “moderate needs with severe externalizing behaviours” (20%), and Class 3 “low needs” (50%). Women in the severe and moderate needs classes had higher recidivism rates than women in the low needs class. The findings support the recommendations of contemporary women-centered correctional scholars; holistic, trauma- and mental health-informed assessment, management, and treatment approaches are required to meet the needs of justice-involved adult women.


Psychology - Social




Carleton University

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