A Systematic Review of Women Involved in the Criminal Justice System: Intersections with Intimate Partner Violence and the Child Welfare System

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Leyda Garcia-Greenawalt
Shameem Razack
Bradley McLain


In 2017 there were approximately 1.3 million women in the United States involved in the criminal justice system (i.e., in jails, prisons, or on probation or parole). Many women who are in the correctional system have experienced high rates of trauma, such as child maltreatment, intimate partner violence, and mental illness. Such experiences contribute to higher rates of incarceration, as well as a higher likelihood of involvement with the child welfare system. To date, research has examined justice-involved women’s own experiences with the child welfare system, finding women with early experiences in foster care had higher rates of re-incarceration. Additionally, justice-involved women may experience higher rates of child welfare involvement with their own children. An estimated 60 percent of women in prison have a child under the age of 18, and previous research has found incarceration increases the likelihood of mothers losing custody of their children.

In the current study, we will conduct a systematic review to examine how women’s involvement in the criminal justice system intersects with the child welfare system. Additionally, we will examine programs designed to help stabilize the lives of justice-involved mothers and their children. We aim to synthesize the current literature of these intersecting systems and to illuminate ways the systems can become better coordinated. This review also could inform and guide the criminal justice system in strengthening supports to women offenders who are mothers, and who have had a history of child welfare involvement.

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