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Episode 232 - Dr. Elizabeth Allen: Women and Mass Incarceration: Unique Needs and Challenges

Monday, January 29, 2018, 8:02:17 AM

Image of Dr. Elizabeth K. Allen

In this episode, our guest Dr. Elizabeth Allen discusses her experiences as a practitioner and researcher, exploring the unique needs of women involved in the correctional system and how to promote their successful reintegration into their families and communities. Dr. Allen describes the importance of not only focusing on women's individual resources but also accounting for the socio-political structural factors that must be addressed if women are to reconnect with their families and their communities of support.

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Average Rating: 5stars  inspiring , Sunday, February 14, 2021

By Star Richardson :

Mass incarceration is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart. Hearing Dr. Elizabeth Allen, speak so passionately about the struggle women face and changes that need to be made was inspiring. When mass incarceration is discussed women aren’t usually the topic of discussion. Women face different challenges than men such as being mothers and caregivers. Dr. Allen discussed the consequences of women entering the criminal justice system such as their children being placed in child services, losing their jobs, apartments, etc. The consequences of prison affect so many things and can cause a ripple effect. She discussed the need for changes before, during, and after people enter the prison system. I loved the program Sisters Standing Strong and her thoughts behind creating it. I have heard stories from family members who have been to prison or jail and have had a hard time when they first got to prison. Her idea of having the program being run by other inmates was amazing. I loved how she humanized those in prison! Often, they are made to feel like they don’t matter and are just criminals. Their rights are stripped away from them and are left with no hope. When she shared her feelings about being an abolitionist but having worked in the correctional facility for over 20 years I understood where she was coming from. She worked in a system she despised but her reasoning was to create change. She discussed recidivism which is a major cause of mass incarceration. When communities are over-policed and there are no opportunities for people to better themselves when they return home. There needs to revisions made to laws and new policies put in place to help people avoid prison and to prevent them from reentering. I also loved when she spoke about the importance of connections. Even people who aren’t in prison struggle with isolation. With the COVID-19 pandemic, I think more than ever we realize how important connection to others is.

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Average Rating: 5stars  an inspiring call to action!, Thursday, February 04, 2021

By Elizabeth Pokoj :

Dr. Allen’s interview on female incarceration, the barriers experienced by this population, and the importance of the language used to describe them was incredibly engaging and informative. I appreciated how Dr. Allen humanized the women who are so often labeled as inhumane and undeserving. Her acknowledgement of their intense struggles created a feeling of empathy for everything these women go through throughout incarceration. It is no surprise that choosing what issue to solve first is such a difficult debate considering the significant number of unintended consequences associated with female incarceration. In my opinion, the most interesting part of the interview with Dr. Allen, was her discussion on the difference between recidivism and desistance. The empathy and understanding involved in desistance completely changes the narrative of women who find themselves incarcerated once again. Instead of focusing on the incident that caused the individual to be incarcerated again, desistance looks at the progress made in the female’s life overall. Using desistance to change an individual’s identity is empowering and acknowledges their hard work, strengths, and improvement rather than shaming them for making a mistake. Dr. Allen’s use of hope, self-efficacy, and empowerment as tools that assist an individual in overcoming social and structural barriers should be utilized in all prison and jail settings. As a society we should flip the narrative and empower incarcerated individuals to believe in themselves and know they are more than the criminal society has labeled them as. Dr. Allen’s interview shed some well-deserved light on issues faced by incarcerated females and gave great insight for how social workers can enact change throughout their careers to improve the criminal justice system.

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Average Rating: 5stars  women and mass incarceration, Sunday, April 21, 2019

By Amber :

I found this episode with Dr. Elizabeth Allen to be incredibly insightful, engaging, and eye-opening in so many ways. Dr. Allen discusses her experience working with women in the correctional system, emphasizing the unique challenges and barriers that these women face. Dr. Allen highlights the ways in which institutions and structural factors play a role in the correctional system, as well as the difficulties formerly incarcerated women face when they are released. The discussion of recidivism versus desistance as a method of measuring outcomes was something I found to particularly interesting and it changed the way I think. I also really enjoyed Dr. Allen's discussion about trauma and the importance of remaining trauma-informed, even when working in an environment that can be inadvertently re-traumatizing. Overall, this episode of InSocialWork was extremely fascinating and I learned so much from listening! Thank you Dr. Allen for all you do.

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Average Rating: 5stars  women and mass incarceration, Sunday, February 10, 2019

By Amanda McGraw :

Dr. Elizabeth Allen offers the listener a chance to think about a variety of issues surrounding the incarceration of women. Among the most informative topics was the discussion around social work and criminal justice. I appreciated that Dr. Allen admits that she sometimes feels overwhelmed. She states that the prison system is in need of massive change, and “voices have been silent for too long.” She wonders aloud where to put in the most efforts when it comes to women who go to prison and the marginalized communities they often belong to—early childhood? Young adulthood? During or post incarceration? She makes the salient point that you can’t fix one area without fixing another.
Dr. Allen’s candid honesty helped me identify with her. For example, she says that she finds treatment with the currently incarcerated to be most rewarding but wonders if she is “condoning this system, as a social worker, by working in it?” Dr. Allen offers listeners strategies and food for thought. Regarding micro-level work with the incarcerated, she suggests helping them to create a “pro-social identity” and working to shift their core identity from their actions and subsequent labels, such as “persistent offender.” Dr. Allen also notes that micro-level work is not enough, because the macro/mezzo system can undo any progress made. Finally, she emphasizes how important it is that child welfare workers help kids maintain connections with their incarcerated parents. I appreciated Dr. Allen’s genuine love for her field, and her willingness to admit that the work is not just rewarding but also complicated and messy. As a social worker I gained strategies and a surprising amount of knowledge from Dr. Allen’s clarity and expertise.

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Average Rating: 5stars  great insight for future practice. , Sunday, February 10, 2019

By BMG :

This was an extremely informative podcast. I personally did not consider the different aspects that an incarcerated/ previously incarcerated woman could endure. I appreciated Dr. Allen’s explanation of the unintended consequences from an arrested/ incarcerated woman’s perspective. This helped me to view her example from a trauma-informed perspective; arrest and incarceration negatively impact the person’s family, amongst other facets of the person’s life. Moreover, I also appreciated how she highlighted the belief that reoffending should not discourages any positive milestones that someone might have made. Highlighting milestones can be used as a strength perspective approach while helping clients.

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Average Rating: 5stars  women and mass incarceration , Saturday, February 09, 2019

By Tracyjoab :

I enjoy listening to this interview. It was informative and educational especially from a social work perspective. Over the years the focus seems to be on the mass incarceration of men especially minorities and the challenges their face upon re-entry to their communities. Dr. Allen identified some of the challenges and talked about the systematic social-political structures that have been in placed that act as barriers to these women successful re-entry to their families and communities. I applauded Dr. Allen for the amazing work she did with the women she works with. There were many points that she shared that were very important. One such point was her holistic approach used in supporting and empowering these women. This was evident with the unique program she created called Sisters Standing Strong. This mentoring program which was created by the women allowed them to support each other in ways that only they could relate to. It provided an outlet for the mentors to be empowered and empowered their fellow sisters. I believe this is a program that should be adopted and implemented in our nation’s prison system. As social workers in training, this is important to know because we may feel as if we must do all the work when supporting clients, but Dr. Allen embodied what it means to be able to empower others and develop a cycle of empowerment where the empowered is now able to empower others. Another point that resonates with me is that “we cannot fix the system with the same mind and the same oppressive paradigm that created the system, that sometimes we just need to blow the system up and start from the ground up.” This was a profound statement, and one that she admits is not easy, but as social workers, we must work endlessly to change the oppressive system that acts as barriers for not only incarcerated women and men but for all those vulnerable people who need us to advocate for them.




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Average Rating: 5stars  a broken system , Monday, February 04, 2019

By Sarah Baker :

This is an issue that I feel very strongly about and it is something that I feel deserves way more attention than it is receiving. The fact that the United States has more people incarcerated than any other country in the entire world just goes to show that we are doing something wrong and the fact that we keep building more prisons and jails goes to show that the system not only is broken but it isn’t the deterrent that they want you to believe that it is. I believe that Dr. Allen makes an excellent point when she brings up the fact that many times the women that are incarcerated have custody of their children so not only does their incarceration affect them but it has unintended consequences on the children that depend on them. If they don’t have support from family then those children end up in the foster care system and in many cases end up in jail themselves at some point in their lives. The fact that we see such an increase in incarceration in poor and marginalized communities goes to show that over policing these areas and recycling these individuals throughout the court systems and jails is just further degrading the neighborhoods. Finding a job with a felony record is almost impossible so you have these young adults who have made mistakes, many of them having to do with non-violent drug offenses, and they get released with absolutely no chance of being able to get a job where they will make enough money to support themselves so what do we expect them to do? I think that she is exactly right when she says that the system is broken and that in this case it would probably be best to blow it up and start all over but the fact that they are starting these programs, like the one that she discusses, that empower individuals to take control of their own lives and have the programs in place to help them do so.

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Average Rating: 5stars  making change, Sunday, February 03, 2019

By Anonymous :

Dr. Elizabeth Allen has had incredible experiences with women who have been incarcerated. Dr. Allen has created many different programs that have helped incarcerated women in her many years of service. I appreciated how she mentioned that these programs have been created through the use of talking in interdisciplinary teams. I know in my MSW program group work and interdisciplinary activities are encouraged, because social work is interprofessional work. It important for MSW students who may be listen to hear this and have it be reaffirmed positively. Terms such as recidivism and desistance were defined and discussed and are huge in the criminal justice system. Desistance looks at the other variables in the client’s life and recognizes what they are doing well that is keeping them from reoffending. Not only is it important to encourage the client to continue to do what is making them successful, but we could also use this information to help others. Dr. Allen is making such an impact, but I do notice how frustrated she is with the system. It is difficult to know that the system is so wrong and there is no way of truly changing it. I wish she would have touched upon that more in the podcast. She did leave us listeners with ways to help those who have been in said system, by creating programs that support not only male felons, but women too. Training programs and child care are a must! The most perplexing comment she made was regarding labeling those who have been released from prison. She says that after one action they are labeled a felon or convict, but how many good deeds does it take for that label to disappear? There are no amount of good deeds that can erase this label. I had never thought of these labels like this before. This is something we can address ourselves as it at least can stop this former inmates from internalizing their label.


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Average Rating: 5stars  insightful and empowering, Wednesday, April 18, 2018

By Lyndsay :

Dr. Eilzabeth Allen discusses the unique needs and experiences of women during incarceration and afterwards. As she speaks of these women's experiences, she also speaks about the unintended consequences of the mass incarceration of women. Women are the fastest growing population in the criminal justice system and when they are arrested, their children more often than not are seeing them arrested. This traumatic experience then trickles down into schools and creates a cycle of poverty. I thought it was very important that she talked about the fact that you cannot fix one system without the others, which will take a long time. Social workers and academics have been working together to try and prevent incarceration but all of the other systems also need to put in an effort to break the cycle. Since our criminal justice system is one that wants people to be quiet and do as they are told, when empowered women become incarcerated they are seen as trouble and are then punished. Due to this, they leave prisons with a diminished self-esteem and identify as a criminal. Social workers can help this by creating a pro-social identity for these women and helping them keep connections with the community while they are in prison. Having community connections has proven to help women not return to prison and keep a positive attitude. It is important to keep all of this in mind as 98% of people get out of incarceration so people in the community have to ask themselves who do they want living next to them-a rehabilitated person or an "animal"? This podcast has definitely given me a deeper understanding of the uniqueness of incarcerated women.



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Average Rating: 5stars  engaging and inspiring!, Sunday, February 11, 2018

By Sarah :

Dr. Allen provides her professional experience in regards to a 21-year career as a practitioner within the correctional system. She shares her story of implementing support groups within the prison community which allowed for reciprocal rehabilitation. Female prisoners who had suffered their own traumatic events were given the opportunity to serve as mentors to other inmates and provide one another with valuable information and support through transition period to their newly changed life within prison walls. The population of female inmates is often disregarded by society. This podcast gives listeners information that is often overlooked or unknown by outsiders. Allen explains that it can be extremely difficult for prisoners to adjust to a long-term sentence, different lifestyle, and living with mixed populations of individuals. Dr. Allen provides the unintended consequences of mass incarceration of women which involves severing ties to community resources which makes it difficult for women to re-integrate back into society. Overall an very enlightening podcast which engages the listener and provide an avenue for more personal research on this marginalized population!!


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Average Rating: 5stars  truly amazing work with an overlooked population , Sunday, February 11, 2018

By Caleigh Ames :

I found Dr. Elizabeth Allen’s podcast enlightening because it offered listeners a new perspective towards women involved in the correctional system. I found her research on how women can reintegrate into society successfully, refreshing and unique. She points out that while there are many factors that contribute to a woman being detained, there are just as many factors that affect them even after their incarceration. In the end, the women themselves have to have the want to change but also, the community around them, for example, police officers, need to accept them as well. Dr. Allen’s description of how change is not a “yes” or “no” answer truly changed my way of thinking about recovery. You have to allow for mistakes within the recovery period; it is a process. This reminded me of my work with domestic violence and sexual assault survivors; they have to accept that recovery is a lifestyle. It is sometimes hard for these survivors to just walk away from their abusive situation and while that might frustrate them, they work on little by little. Women offenders are a population that I think is overlooked in the social work community and some may fear to take it on. Dr. Allen's work is truly inspiring. I will definitely be keeping up with her further research with this population.

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DISCLAIMER: The content shared by the presenter(s) and/or interviewer(s) of each podcast is their own and not necessarily representative of any views, research, or practice from the UB School of Social Work or the inSocialWork® podcast series.