Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Criminal Justice assistant professor researches prison recidivism among women

Why do some women return to a life of crime after leaving prison and why is there so little research on female offenders? Those are just some of the questions University of Illinois Springfield Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Juanita Ortiz is trying to answer.

Ortiz has been researching female recidivism rates in Oklahoma, which has the highest per-capita incarceration rate for women in the United States. Now she plans to explore the trend in Illinois to see if women are ending up in prison for the same reasons.

“Illinois is a different picture demographically. I want to see if the needs are the same, if the factors behind recidivism are the same for women in a region that is pretty different,” said Ortiz.

The Criminal Justice researcher began her study by interviewing 22 female repeat offenders at a maximum-security prison in Oklahoma. She was surprised to find out women have historically not been the focus of Criminal Justice research.

“I had never considered the situation that women don’t get a focus in the research. Focus as to why they’re committing crime, what brings them into crime, even some of the contexts like abuse and poverty,” she said.

Ortiz uses her research in the classroom at UIS when teaching her Women and Criminal Justice course. She says students enjoy when she goes beyond the textbook and shares her personal research findings.

“As undergraduates they haven’t had the opportunity to go out and interact with these populations,” she added.

That’s why she’s working with Illinois Department of Corrections to take her students on prison tours. She’s hoping the relationship she’s building with wardens will allow her access to female offenders.

“I have spoken to them about getting into work with their women and they seem really open to that,” said Ortiz.

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