Black women parolees are more likely to live in crime-ridden urban areas and as a result isolate themselves to the point of avoiding relatives, says Jennifer Cobbina. "They wanted to stay away from everyone because they felt like if they let their guard down and associated with others, it increased their likelihood of getting in trouble with the law." (Credit: Josh and Eric Silverstein/Flickr)

How to keep women on parole out of prison

As the female prison population grows, more should be done to help women probationers and parolees in poor urban areas remain crime-free, a new study reports.

Black women on probation and parole feel they have little choice but to isolate themselves in their homes or risk getting caught up in the type of criminal activity that got them in trouble in the first place.

Probation and parole officers, case managers, and others should help the women find housing in safer areas and provide access to resources to help them stay clean, sober, and stable, says Jennifer Cobbina, lead author of the study and assistant professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University.

That could be something as simple as transportation to a mental health or substance abuse treatment meeting. On a larger scale, it means reinvesting in low-income communities and confronting discriminatory housing policies and other barriers to living in positive environments faced by racial minorities, she says.

Published in the journal Race and Justice, the study shows that the female prison population in the United States spiked 646 percent from 1980 to 2010, driven largely by drug offenses. By 2010, there were 112,000 women in state and federal prison, which represented 7 percent of the prison population—up from 4 percent in 1980.

Isolation is limiting

Blacks are six times more likely than whites to return to prison and seven times more likely to return to custody for breaking parole, Cobbina says.

The researchers surveyed more than 400 women on probation and parole for felony convictions in Michigan. Black women are more likely to live in crime-ridden urban areas and as a result isolate themselves to the point of avoiding relatives.

“They wanted to stay away from everyone because they felt like if they let their guard down and associated with others, it increased their likelihood of getting in trouble with the law,” Cobbina says.

But isolation limits women’s ability to participate fully in public life and decreases the chances they can engage in positive relationships and networks, Cobbina says.

Cobbina’s coauthors for the study are Merry Morash, professor of criminal justice; Deborah Kashy, professor of psychology; and Sandi Smith, professor of communication.

The National Science Foundation and the MSU Foundation funded the study.

Source: Michigan State University

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