Reentry For Girls: A Path Forward

By Melissa K. McDonough, BA 2009/MPP 2010

barbedwireWhat does a girl’s experience into and through the juvenile justice system look like? The story that follows is a composite drawn from my research. Dana and her father got into an argument and he raised his hand as if to hit her. She caught his wrist mid-air and pushed it away. He immediately called the police, who came and arrested her. Dana was charged with assault and battery and taken to prison. During her incarceration, Dana only met with a caseworker once. She did not receive any special programming or services. Upon leaving the facility, a staff person gave Dana a national list of services. List in hand, Dana returned to her community. Like Dana, many girls enter the juvenile justice system for minor offenses that are often in reaction to adult-initiated violence. Many incarcerated girls have had more frequent and severe experiences of trauma than their male counterparts[1]. The list that Dana received when leaving detention—that was her reentry program. Reentry is any program or service used to help ease the transition from incarceration back into the community. It can be a comprehensive program providing different services tailored to an individual girl’s needs, beginning while she’s incarcerated and continuing after her release for as long as needed. Or it can be as simple as an anger management or drug rehabilitation program she is required to enroll in upon release.

At the time of my research (2009), the juvenile corrections youth authority for the State of Texas, the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), was reviewing its existing policy regarding reentry for girls. The TYC did not have a formal juvenile reentry program. Instead, case managers connected juvenile offenders with services on an individual basis. The intent was for a case manager to individually assess a youth’s needs and then work with her family liaison to locate and connect the youth with appropriate services. This posed some equity issues. For example, a situation might arise where an overloaded case manager would be unable to provide a comprehensive range of services for the youths in his or her charge. Also, in the case of female juveniles, not all case managers were necessarily equally knowledgeable about gender-specific issues and programming. Finally, when a youth returned to a service-poor community, there were not always appropriate services available, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1.

FIGURE 1. Sources:  M.K.McDonough, 2009; GIS shapefiles and source data, University of Texas Libraries, Undated..

Additionally, girls’ reentry is an area where there is relatively little research. In the absence of data on best practices specific to girls’ reentry, my analysis is based upon best practices common to criminal justice programming for reentry, juveniles, and girls. These best practices provide the foundation for my recommendation—development of a model girls’ reentry program. Under this program, girls will receive services in a timely manner. They will be individually assessed, matched with services that target each individual’s unique needs, and then connected with those services. Whenever possible these services will be community-based so that each girl can continue to receive services upon release for as long as necessary. Throughout her time in detention, each girl will be re-assessed and have her “plan” (i.e. the services she receives) adjusted accordingly. This re-assessment can also ensure that she is actually receiving the various services before her release date. Upon release, each girl will become an asset to her community and be less likely to return to the criminal justice system. Over the long-term, the program structure will help ensure independent healthy adulthoods for every participant.

In order to develop a program structure which would lead to these outcomes, several steps must be followed:

  1. Decide where the program will be housed within the agency (i.e. the TYC).
  2. Conduct an informal internal survey of all personnel and the girls currently within the TYC’s jurisdiction, asking them to list three things that work well and three they would change. Use this information to develop a program building on existing strengths and accounting for weaknesses.
  3. Call counterparts at other girls’ reentry programs and set up a regular conference call to share tips and ideas.
  4. Outreach to multiple stakeholders—including nonprofits, service providers, other government agencies and churches. Ideally, the TYC will coordinate the reentry program with other partners taking on daily responsibilities and services.
  5. Acquire gender-specific and culturally appropriate training for all TYC staff and personnel by asking other girls’ reentry programs for training recommendations. All personnel should be aware of and sensitive to the developmental and societal standpoints and issues that may be part of the reality of incarcerated girls.
  6. Use best practices as base program criteria[2]. These include assessment of and targeting of services to individual offenders, providing aftercare, collaborating with the community, providing employment training and/or job access, providing education programming, involving the family, and using a cognitive-behavioral approach.
  7. Collect data throughout the process from planning to implementation and beyond. Without good data, steps 8 and 9 become very difficult.
  8. Schedule assessment. Resist the temptation to put this step off. Many funders require programs to include assessment or evaluation components. They also help determine what’s working and what may need to be adjusted.
  9. Identify and acquire funding.  There are multiple streams of funding available for a girls juvenile reentry program— including those targeted towards health issues, juvenile delinquency prevention, and gender equity.  Ideally, the TYC would identify funding for its own efforts, and work with partner nonprofit and community-based reentry programs to secure appropriate support. Additionally, it would ensure adequate capacity within the correctional facility itself, on the ground in each girl’s home community, and for each reentry program or service.

Using these steps to develop a girls’ reentry program will provide a cost-savings to the TYC: For fiscal year 2007, the TYC reported a 56.8% rearrest rate and a 26.1% reincarceration rate—each offender behind these numbers directly costs the state money in terms of police services, detention facilities, contracted care, and court costs[3]. Effective reentry reduces recidivism. Several studies looking at specific types of juvenile reentry programs (e.g. community-based services, restorative justice approaches, mentoring, and wraparound services) all showed a reduction in recidivism rates[4]. Of these studies, those that looked at other measures such as time lapse before reoffending and type of offense found improvements as well.

As mentioned above, without a formal reentry program, approximately 25% of girls released by the TYC recidivate and are reincarcerated[5].  This means that for every 100 girls released, 25 return into the system and subsequently cost the state approximately $1,304,875 per year for services, supervision, housing, etc.  Assuming a girls’ reentry program would cost $27.40 per girl per day (i.e. $10,000 per girl per year, which is the cost of the most expensive girls’ reentry program there is information for) it would cost $1,000,000 to provide reentry services for 100 girls per year. As show in the table below, providing a girls’ reentry program with low effect would represent an additional cost, but would also help reduce the recidivism rate and associated incarceration costs.  Comparatively, a highly effective girls’ reentry program would dramatically reduce the recidivism rate and associated incarceration costs—resulting in a lower total cost (i.e. $1,260,975) than the State is now paying.

figure9-2Sources: (M.K.McDonough, 2009; Kuttler & Punch, 2007; Bouffard & Bergseth, 2008; Carney & Buttell, 2003; Chung, Schubert, & Mulvey, 2007;36 Latimer, Dowden, & Muise, 2005; Rodriguez, 2007)

Even if a girls’ reentry program only cuts recidivism by a fraction, the cost savings is multiplied by the other costs that would be avoided, including those associated with the police force, the courts, TYC staff and parole officers. Texas has a unique opportunity to be a frontrunner in the development of a model reentry program for girls. It can build on best practices and the experiences of other pioneering programs to forge a new path in juvenile justice. As described, a cohesive reentry program can be developed for the state of Texas by keeping some simple goals in mind: tailor services to individual needs, begin reentry services and program features on day one, and ensure that all personnel are appropriate both culturally and with respect to gender. At most, the TYC will have provided a model for the nation, created safer communities and helped in the healthy development of independent young women. At the very least, by following the steps presented here, the TYC will be able to provide invaluable evidence as to what does and doesn’t work in girls’ reentry. A true path forward will ensure that “Dana’s” experience—no reentry until the day of release and then, only a cursory attempt—does not continue to be the norm. In this example, a good reentry program would have assessed her needs as she entered the juvenile justice system. Based on the assessment results, it would have provided her with a mentor to help model healthy relationships, taught her conflict management to help her discover different ways to rectify differences with others, and connected her and her family with therapeutic services to help repair their relationship. These services would have remained in place until Dana no longer needed them. Instead of a list, she would have a support network of people, services and knowledge. Instead of entering her community much the same as she left it, Dana would have returned as a healthier young adult.

blue ribbon
Melissa K. McDonough is a project planner, dividing her time between zoning codes and environmental impact reports. She is passionate about using qualitative methods to evaluate the consequences of enacted policy and to inform the creation of new policy. In her free time, she keeps bees and conducts independent research examining the impacts of the economic downturn on recent graduates.
[1] Acoca, L. (1999, October). Investing in Girls: A 21st Century Strategy. Juvenile Justice , pp. 3-13.
[2] Seiter, R. P., & Kadela, K. R. (2003, July). Prisoner Reentry: What Works, What Does Not, and What Is Promising. Crime and Delinquency , pp. 360-388; Johnson Listwan, S., Cullen, F. T., & Latessa, E. J. (2006, December). How to Prevent Prisoner Re-entry Programs From Failing: Insights From Evidence-Based Corrections. Retrieved March15, 2009, from Federal Probation:; Kings County District Attorney’s Office. (Undated). Girls Re-entry Assistance Support Project (GRASP). Retrieved April 6, 2009, from Kings County District Attorney:; Goodenough Gordon, K. (2004). From Corrections to Connections: A Report on the Amicus Girls Restorative Program. Minneapolis: Amicus USA; Southern Oaks Girls School. (Undated). Short Term Re-Entry Program for Juvenile Girls. Retrieved April 20, 2009, from Wisconsin Department of Corrections: Juvenile Corrections:; Zahn, M. A., Day, J. C., Mihalic, S. F., & Tichavsky, L. (2009, April). Determining What Works for Girls in the Juvenile Justice System: A Summary of Evaluation Evidence. Crime and Delinquency , pp. 266-293; Castro Rodriguez, G. (2009). Youth Justice Initiative (Draft). San Francisco: Unpublished.
[3] Kuttler, K., & Punch, B. (2007, November). Texas Juvenile Probation Commission & Texas Youth Commission Coordinated Strategic Plan: Fiscal Years 2008-2009. Retrieved February 20, 2009, from Texas Youth Commission:
[4] Bouffard, J. A., & Bergseth, K. J. (2008, June). The Impact of Reentry Services on Juvenile Offenders’ Recidivism. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice , pp. 295-318; Carney, M. M., & Buttell, F. (2003, September). Reducing Juvenile Recidivism: Evaluating the Wraparound Services Model. Research on Social Work and Practice , pp. 551-568; Chung, H. L., Schubert, C. A., & Mulvey, E. P. (2007, November). An Empirical Portrait of Community Reentry Among Serious Juvenile Offenders in Two Metropolitan Cities. Criminal Justice and Behavior , pp. 1402-1426; Latimer, J., Dowden, C., & Muise, D. (2005, June). The Effectiveness of Restorative Justice Practices: A Meta-Analysis. The Prison Journal , pp. 127-144; Rodriguez, N. (2007, July). Restorative Justice at Work: Examining the Impact of Restorative Justice on Juvenile Recidivism. Crime & Delinquency , pp. 355-379.
[5] Kuttler, K., & Punch, B. (2007, November). Texas Juvenile Probation Commission & Texas Youth Commission Coordinated Strategic Plan: Fiscal Years 2008-2009. Retrieved February 20, 2009, from Texas Youth Commission:

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