Women's Experiences of Re-offending and Rehabilitation

This research was focused on the narratives of a group of women in New Zealand who had served sentences managed by the Department of Corrections, had received some form of rehabilitation, but nevertheless had re-offended. It sought to understand what women thought were important factors driving their re-offending, and how approaches to rehabilitative assistance could be improved to support desistance from crime. The study involved interviews with 54 women who were currently serving a prison sentence, had served at least one prior custodial or community sentence in the past six years, and had previously attended a rehabilitation programme.

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The current study focused on women's experiences of re-offending despite having completed some form of rehabilitation. The study explored women's perspectives on what caused them to re-offend following completion of community and/or custodial sentences and the extent to which Department programmes they had taken part in had helped them. The research aims to better understand ways in which women found their rehabilitation interventions useful, including the extent to which interventions were perceived as relevant to issues they believe influenced continued offending. It is hoped that findings will enable the Department to improve the support it provides to women, and thereby to improve effectiveness of rehabilitation. The study employs a qualitative methodology.

The study was based on interviews with 54 women currently serving a prison sentence in one of the three New Zealand women's prisons. These women had served at least one prior custodial or community sentence within the past six years. They also needed to have attended some form of rehabilitation programme during the prior sentence. 

A list of women meeting the first two criteria was generated and the records of these held in the Integrated Offender Management System (IOMS) were analysed to identify whether they participated in rehabilitative interventions while on a community or custodial sentence in the past six years. Eligible programmes and services were those designed to target their criminogenic needs (see Appendix One for details). Women who commenced, but did not complete, programmes were included. Women were also asked about any training/education/work they completed in prison, although this was not part of the eligibility criteria and was not the focus of the research.

Eliciting participation in the research

Eighty-two potential participants were identified and prison staff provided all of them with an information sheet about the research and a consent form. Sixty five agreed at this stage to be interviewed.  Maori women were given the option of being interviewed by a Maori researcher. Interviews were planned with those who indicated a willingness to contribute to the research. Before the interview commenced, the purpose of the research was explained and women were given the opportunity to re-confirm their consent to participate in the research (and be interviewed) or decline their consent, at which point the interview was terminated.


All participants in the research were informed of its purpose, why they were selected and how the information would be used. They were assured that they would not be identified, that any information they provided would be reported in a manner that could not be used to identify them as individuals. They were advised that they could withdraw from the research (and their interview records destroyed) within two weeks following their interview. 


A semi-structured interview guide (Appendix D) was designed to explore the women's perspectives; separate sections focused on the programmes they received on their past sentence(s); the factors influencing their most recent re-offending; and the extent to which they thought programmes helped them post-completion of their sentence. They were also asked about the perceived usefulness of the rehabilitation programmes they were currently taking part in. Interviews were completed from 9 December 2014 to 24 February 2015 by Marianne Bevan, a Research Advisor with the Department of Corrections and Nan Wehipeihana, an independent research consultant.


The researchers took detailed notes during the interviews and, with participants' permission, recorded each interview. The majority of interviews were transcribed for analysis. All data was thematically coded and analysed. Pseudonyms are used for the women in order to personalise their accounts.


The research sought to better understand what women perceived to have been the drivers of their re-offending. It was not intended to specify the causes or drivers of females' offending in a way that might be generalisable across the female offender population, and should not be read as such. Instead, it is an exploration into some women's perceptions of their re-offending and rehabilitation. It was designed to provide insights into how rehabilitation programmes may be better tailored to the needs of female offenders generally. A qualitative methodology was most useful as it allowed us to gather the information needed to accurately represent these women's understandings of their re-offending and treatment. This approach allowed women's re-offending to be explored in its totality; that is, for us to investigate the role various needs factors played in the unfolding offending process, and for the relationship between different needs factors to be explored. It allowed us to explore in more detail the realities of these women's lives, the contexts of their offending and the differences and similarities in their re-offending, and what this may mean for ensuring that rehabilitation can be tailored to the unique needs of each woman. 

With the exception of community-based alcohol and other drug (AoD) counselling which had a high attendance rate, the majority of rehabilitation programmes had been attended by small numbers of people. The research therefore should not interpreted as an evaluation of any particular rehabilitation programme. Rather, it is a commentary of women who have accessed programmes and whether these experiences met their own perceived needs, and why this may have been be the case. It aims to paint picture of the broader approaches to rehabilitation women valued.

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