Collaborative, relational and responsive: Principles for the case management of women in prison

Marianne Bevan
Senior Research Adviser, Research and Analysis Team, Department of Corrections

Author biography:

Marianne started at Corrections in May 2014, and has completed a range of projects related to the offending, treatment and management of female offenders. Prior to working at Corrections, she conducted research, and implemented projects on gender and security sector reform in Timor-Leste, Togo, Ghana and Liberia.

“It’s just having conversations. You know those conversations where women feel empowered, and they believe that they can do what they need to do to stay out … They might not want to do things in the beginning, but with a little support and encouragement, not only from casemanagement but from the wider team, they quite oftenget through it.” – Case manager

Research on gender and crime has shown that there are important differences between men and women who offend, which have rarely been considered in the design and implementation of prison services (Bloom, Owen & Covington, 2002). Accordingly, international research suggests that the approaches taken to the management of women in prison need to be conducted in a gendered way that takes account of women’s different life circumstances, risks and needs, and ways of behaving and interacting while in prison (UNODC, 2008; Bloom, Owen & Covington, 2002; Schram, Koons-Witt & Morash, 2004). Currently, there is little known about how these issues pertain specifically to the case management of women. Therefore, in 2016, the Department of Corrections conducted a study on the case management of women in prison to explore whether the way case management was operating in women’s prisons worked for women and staff, and how it could be improved. The research involved interviews with 35 women in prison, 10 case managers, and 13 corrections officers, across the three women’s prisons – Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility, Christchurch Women’s Prison and Arohata Prison.

In New Zealand’s prisons, the case management of those in prison is led by the case manager, who assesses the factors driving a person’s offending and plans a programme of actions and work to support them to address these factors and plan for release.

This includes identifying rehabilitation programmes and reintegration activities women can complete, and supporting them to complete these activities and address their offending. Case management is guided by the Integrated Practice Framework (IPF). This is an offender-centric approach whereby decisions are made based on the Risks, Needs, and Responsivity (RNR) factors of the individual prisoner. This means that any interventions people receive should match their level of risk, and be targeted at the factors which have been shown to influence their offending. Corrections officers also play a role in case management, although custodial practice is not guided by the IPF. Each corrections officer has a caseload of women in their unit who they act as case officer to. The case officer supports the case manager by keeping them informed of any issues of concern related to women on their caseload, and by motivating and supporting women to attend rehabilitative and other activities recommended by their case manager. Given the key intermediary role case officers play, they were also included in this study.

This paper brings together lessons from the study to provide five principles for working with women. These are:

  1. Recognising difference
  2. Practicing collaborative planning
  3. Designing rehabilitation pathways that work for women
  4. Practicing relational management
  5. Supporting staff to work with women.

While this work was focused on the role of case managers, these lessons can be applied to wider case management practice, including the ways in which all staff work on managing an individual case.

Recognising difference

Women are far more difficult to manage than men … Women’s needs are quite different.” – Case manager

Staff who had worked with both men and women in prison generally noted that there were many similarities between them. However, there were also differences in three areas: the complexity of women’s needs, their familial responsibilities on the outside, and the ways women relate to staff. There is also a tendency within research on women and crime to portray women as a homogenous group, which is problematic as it can mask the vast differences between women. Feedback from staff and women in this project showed that there were differences between women which affected how they responded to case management, such as age and cultural background, prior exposure to imprisonment, familial responsibilities, and their levels of trust. The differences necessitated different approaches to case management for women, the most successful of which are discussed below.

Collaborative planning

It’s a big issue, women and trust. It’s much more difficult with women because I think they’ve been more damaged and it’s harder for them … That initial engagement, you can’t rush that and you need to take as long as you need to build that trust.” – Case manager

Case managers are required to identify women’s offence-related needs and work with them to plan the best course of action to address these needs and plan for their release. As part of this, case managers work with women to develop Offender Plans, Parole Board Reports and Release Plans. Feedback from staff and women showed that how women are engaged noticeably affected their level of buy-in to the content of these plans and women generally responded well to a collaborative approach to planning.

To work collaboratively, staff described needing sufficient time in the planning process to build women’s trust and engagement. Feedback from women and staff showed that women frequently had difficulty trusting people, often on account of having experienced sexual abuse and other forms of victimisation, which diminished their trust. For these women, having their case manager spend time getting to know them, and giving them time to open up, was important. This was the case for Sophie (not her real name), whose case manager, “was so patient with me when I came in and waited for me to open up. She’s been awesome.” Staff used a range of approaches to build trust with women. For example, one case manager described how when she was working with some Māori women she would start discussions about where they were from, which developed a “better foundation” from which to work, as she explained:

“I go back to where they are from … And that is how I start with my girls, getting to know them on that grounding place. What did you do as a kid? Were there rivers that you played in? … To allow them to tell me all about it.”

Ensuring that women felt they had sufficient input into planning processes was also important. Case managers did this by gathering women’s perspectives on what led to their offending, which made women feel valued and listened to, and ensured they felt that their plans reflected their needs. At Christchurch Women’s Prison, they used an “intake panel” which was thought by staff to help facilitate this. The intake panel is a multi-disciplinary approach to case planning where prior to developing the Offender Plan, selected women meet with representatives from case management, probation, Mäori services, custodial, programmes, and psychological services. Women were asked about themselves, what they thought led to their offending. One case manager described how:

“It’s about giving them some of that control back and not making them feel so vulnerable … They are a person and they have value and no-one knows their story better than they do … The ones that have gone through the panel, I think are more motivated to engage with the different activities.”

The one woman interviewed who had been through the process confirmed this, describing how she felt staff on the panel got to know her and what she needed. As she explained:

“They were asking questions about me which felt good because they were getting to know me and what I needed, and at the end of it I felt good …I ended up getting what I wanted to know too and said what I needed.” Overall, women often wanted to feel known by staff, and that staff understood their key issues, which was also relevant when it came to planning for parole and release.

Designing rehabilitation and reintegration pathways that work for women

The study confirmed that women’s needs are generally complex and multi-faceted (Bevan and Wehipeihana, 2015). Along with accepted criminogenic needs such as substance abuse, anti-social attitudes and associates, case managers also included unhealthy relationships, past victimisation, low self-esteem, lack of support, and poverty as factors influencing women’s offending. Designing rehabilitation and reintegration pathways that addressed these needs required that staff identified the “lynch-pin” needs, and recognised and planned for responsivity barriers.

The complexity of women’s needs meant that there was skill required in untangling them. Feedback from both women and staff showed that while women’s needs were often multiple, they commonly had a lynch-pin need or needs around which other needs sat. Identifying and targeting the lynch-pin need was important when deciding what interventions women were best suited to. As one case manager noted:

“The first thing is to identify what their needs are, why they’re here and what they need assistance most with. If they get released, what are going to be the one or two critical things that, if they don’t start working on now, nothing is going to change. For one person it might be abusive relationships, for other people it might be alcohol ordrugs.”

These lynch-pin needs were not always the issues women initially disclosed. One case manager described how a woman’s offending may be assessed as drug- related, with the automatic assumption being that an addictions-focused programme was the most urgent. However, the case manager noted that drug use may be driven by another issue, such as abusive relationships. In this sense, relationships may be the lynch-pin need, meaning a programme with a stronger relationship focus should be scheduled first, such as Kowhiritanga, which is a medium-intensity group-based rehabilitation programme.

Women often had a strong sense of what was driving their offending, be it unhealthy relationships, grief and loss, or anger. For example, Jane’s case manager suggested that she do an addictions programme, but Jane felt that a drug problem was not her key issue, rather that depression and grief were more important factors in her offending, and were what drove her addiction. Consequently, good case management of women required communicating effectively to women how the interventions on offer related to their perceived lynch-pin need(s). The Intake Panel at Christchurch Women’s Prison helped facilitate this. Having a wide range of staff (i.e. programme facilitators and psychologists) present allowed case managers to more accurately gauge what programmes women were best suited to, and for the appropriate staff member to explain how the programmes related to the individual woman’s needs.

The other key area of consideration staff noted was responding to responsivity. Responsivity factors are one of the three pillars of the RNR approach. The concept describes those factors which can affect how people respond to interventions targeted at their needs. For women, these often include recent or historic trauma, low self-esteem and self-efficacy, and mental health issues. One case manager described how, “motivation is a huge thing for men, or lack of, I should say … [for women] it’s not necessarily the lack of motivation, it’s the lack of everything that contributes to it; it’s the other people, it’s the trauma, it’s the unresolved issues from the past”. Responsivity factors influenced women’s willingness to engage in rehabilitation, and affected how they responded to interventions, which meant it was important that responsivity factors were identified and addressed in the development of rehabilitation pathways.

Women were often apprehensive about engaging in group programmes, due to concerns about disclosing personal trauma. Staff noted it was important to ensure that there was sufficient “pre-work” done with women where they had access to the right services to address responsivity factors. This included services like ACC counselling for women with historic trauma so they learned coping strategies for managing the continuing effects of trauma prior to engaging in rehabilitation, if necessary. This was more of a focus now for staff, as one case manager explained:

“I think we’re changing to more of a focus on what is the right pathway for that offender. We will no longer take someone off ACC counselling to do a rehab programme, because while that rehab programme is important, that ACC counselling is also very important. It’s about prioritising and some better thinking and planning around what that person is going to do.”

Case managers also noted that it was important to take responsivity factors into consideration when deciding which rehabilitation programmes women would do. This was to ensure they were not put on programmes which would bring to the surface historical or recent trauma, which the programme was not designed to deal with, as this risked women reacting adversely. In some cases, women’s responsivity factors meant they benefitted from doing individual psychological treatment instead of, or prior to, group programmes. For example, Tina spoke about how on a previous sentence she had been placed on the DTU but had exited prematurely because she found it too “intensive”, and was reluctant to discuss the traumatic drivers of her addictions in a group setting. However, on this sentence she was given the opportunity to complete individual psychological treatment, which had provoked a major mind-set change for her, and as a result she was now properly engaged in a group programme for the first time.

Responding to responsivity issues also included identifying and building on women’s strengths as this would increase motivation and self-belief. For a number of women, attending the Tikanga programme, or the Māori Women’s Leadership programme supported this. Janet described how the Māori Women’s Leadership programme benefited her:

“Just kind of gives you a sense of who you are, and where you’re from and your people … it was just encouraging for me to set in my mind to do something, I can do it … Because in my life I was always told you’re shit, you ain’t going to get shit and so that’s what happened, that’s my thought.”

Developing a positive self-identity has been shown to aid desistance from crime, and therefore identifying interventions to help women build a sense of agency was important.

Relational Management

“Women say ‘I’m worried about my babies, I’m worried about my house, and I’m worried about when I get out’. So there is a lot of stuff goingon for women.” – Case manager

Women are often described as “relational” in research on women and imprisonment; that is, that relationships and building connections are important to their sense of self-worth and so having an environment which promotes healthy relationships between staff and women, amongst staff, and between women and their family/whänau on the outside is crucial. Feedback from women and staff in this research demonstrated the importance of a relational approach in the case management of women in three areas: how staff organise contact with the women, the role staff play in supporting women’s relationships on the outside, and how staff work together.

Relationships with staff

There was a general opinion amongst staff that the quality of relationships women had with staff played an instrumental role in succeeding with women, and that contact needed to be scheduled in a way that took account of this. Women generally responded better when they were given clear and consistent information about when they could expect to start activities, and that staff undertook the actions they had agreed to. This ensured women maintained trust in staff, and that women did not, as one case manager explained, “think you’re just another person from the system who’s not doing anything to help.”

For some women, relationships with staff were seen as purely functional; so long as they were given clear and consistent information they were satisfied. However, other women needed more contact focused on their general wellbeing to feel supported, particularly if it was their first time in prison. One case manager described how contact was important for women:

“I think women want to spend more time with you, like to see you often … Yeah, I think the contact is a lot different, because women tend to want a lot more time than the guys … maybe it’s just [having] a person listening.”

One woman appreciated how, “she [case manager] saw me every six weeks. She wanted to know how you were going and how you were feeling, not just ‘I’m your case manager and here are the programmes you should be doing’.” Another described how this makes “you feel like you matter.” Therefore, some staff would regularly schedule “catch-up” sessions where they would go into the units and be available to those who needed to “check in”:

“You go down knowing that and spend some time just catching up. Sometimes … five minutes is all you need to just let that person know that you’re still on goal with them and you’re still there … I just get out of the office and let them sit and talk for half an hour. They feel someone’s heard them.”

Women who experienced this type of contact found it beneficial because it demonstrated that staff were invested in their progress, which built their engagement in the case management system. This demonstrates the importance of women’s prior experience of imprisonment being taken into consideration as a responsivity factor when the level and type of contact is organised.

Relationships with family/whānau

International and local research has often described how women’s experience of prison is commonly different to men’s, as women continue to manage family and other commitments from the inside. Providing women with practical and emotional support to manage and maintain relationships with family/ whänau meant they were better placed to address their offending needs. Staff often talked about women arriving in prison in “crisis mode”, where they had a range of issues pertaining to child care, family, pregnancy, and property, that needed to be addressed in order for women to feel able to progress with their sentence. These challenges continued to impact women throughout their sentence and affected their motivation to address offending behaviour, for example by making it harder for them to engage in programmes. As one case manager explained:

“If they start a programme and in that very beginning phase of that programme something happens outside or with the kids and family, it would take a bit more work to keep them on that programme and move them through that programme whilst managing the stuff that’s going on.”

In this sense, these issues were a key responsivity factor, and some case managers saw it as their role to help women develop strategies to manage the family-related stressors that they often disclosed. Being successful with women was “not just getting them through the programme as such, [but] teaching them how to manage all the stresses that are going on, not just in here, but on the outside.” This was evident in some women’s descriptions of how they benefited from staff being attentive to situations with family and partners on the outside. For example, Jade found out her son had attempted suicide; as a result she found it more difficult to concentrate on programmes and work. Jade’s case manager was available and attentive to these issues, which helped her get back on track. As Jade explained:

“I can talk to her about everything and anything. And … some of the problems and issues I have are personal, and I take them to her and she’ll give me that five minutes … otherwise she knows I’ll be hysterical and frantic.”

Women also benefitted from practical support provided by staff to maintain or re-gain links with family/whānau. For example, Ashley had been estranged from her children who were in Oranga Tamariki care for a long period of time. Her case manager helped to organise for them to visit her, which she identified as a “watershed” moment. As she explained:

“When I had my visit with my kids, it was just so good. [Case manager] has helped. I thank her heaps for that. We’ve got a really close relationship … we are joined up now. We work as a team.”

Given that relationship difficulties (with family, partners, and children) are a key factor in women’s re-offending (Bevan and Wehipeihana, 2015), working with women on relationship challenges made good case management sense.

Relationships between staff

Relationships between staff, in particular between case managers and case officers, were also important.

Most case officers believed they had a role in motivating women to complete rehabilitative activities. This was seen by women and staff to work well when the role of the case officer was recognised by case managers, and both parties consistently shared information about women’s upcoming activities and any personal issues she may be experiencing. One case officer described how:

“It’s like having a laptop and having a printer, the two of them go together but if you don’t plug the printer to the laptop there’s no point having it. We are the printer, the laptop is the case manager. They can do that all day long but unless they’re attached to the printer what’s the point?”

Women appreciated when this happened. For example, women in the DTU consistently perceived there to be excellent communication between staff because it was a therapeutic environment and the custodial staff were more involved in women’s treatment. One woman explained that, “they play a different role in the DTU, the officers are in the loop of what’s going on” which built women’s trust in the process. Therefore relationships between staff were also important in keeping women engaged in the case management system.

Supporting staff to work with women

Staff described a different experience working with women, and a need to be properly supported to optimally conduct this role. Through years of frontline experience, staff working with women developed valuable information about women’s unique needs and responsivity factors, how to best identify them, and how to build and maintain women’s motivation to address their offending behaviours. They noted that it was important staff entering women’s prisons were properly trained on how best to work with women.

As is evidenced above, case management of women worked best when the complexity of women’s needs, their familial responsibilities on the outside, and the different ways women relate to staff, were factored in, and staff had sufficient time to perform their role. Staff noted that while they were available to listen and assist with family/whänau issues, they were not counsellors, psychologists, or social workers. Therefore, supporting case managers to work with women also required providing clarity about what constitutes the bounds of the role, and ensuring that the right services – such as counsellors and social workers which are now available in women’s prisons – were available for case managers to refer women to for specialist assistance.

Conclusion and going forward

Case management practice is guided by the Integrated Practice Framework (IPF) which allows the flexibility for staff to work appropriately with women. This study identified five lessons in what works in the case management of women:

  • Women need a different approach to men which is relational, collaborative and responsive to their unique needs, and which is also sensitive to the diversity of their needs and characteristics
  • Women benefit from collaborative approaches to planning where staff have sufficient contact time for trust and engagement to be built, and meaningful input sought
  • In designing rehabilitation and reintegration pathways that work for women, their lynch-pin need(s) and responsivity factors such as prior exposure to trauma, need to be properly identified and targeted in the right order
  • Women’s management should be relational; having good relationships with staff where women felt informed and valued, and able to address issues with family/whānau helped build their engagement and put them in a better place to address their offending needs
  • Staff need to be properly supported to work with women by receiving specialised training on women’s unique risks, needs and responsivity factors, and by having clear bounds around their roles.
  • The Department of Corrections recognises the need for a different approach to women’s treatment and management, and as a result has launched Wāhine – e rere ana ki te pae hou: Women’s Strategy 2017–2021. The strategy states that women’s management should be relational, trauma-informed and empowering, and should meet women’s unique risks and needs. There is a range of activities which have been, or are soon to be, implemented, as part of the strategy, which will enhance case management practice with women. These include:

  • Support for staff working with women will be enhanced through the implementation of training on trauma-informed practice for staff
  • Rehabilitation pathways that work for women will be enhanced through the development of new programmes and services including a “primer” programme for women on arrival to prison, healthy relationships programmes, a high-risk women’s programme, the expansion of current programmes, and the continuing development of a rehabilitation pathway founded on kaupapa Māori therapeutic values
  • Relational management will be enhanced by the continuation of social workers and counsellors in women’s prisons, the introduction of trauma-informed practice and investing in staff development.
  • References

    Bevan, M. and Wehipeihana, N. (2015). Women’s Experiences of Re-offending and Rehabilitation. New Zealand Department of Corrections.

    Bloom, B., Owen, B., and Covington, S. (2002). Gender-responsive strategies: Research, practice and guiding principles for women offenders. Washington DC: National Institute of Corrections

    Schram, P. J., Koons-Witt, B. A., and Morash, M. (2004). Management Strategies When Working with Female Prisoners. Women & Criminal Justice. 15(2), 25-50

    UNODC (2008). Handbook for Prison Managers and Policymakers on Women and Imprisonment. Criminal Justice Handbook Series. Vienna: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.