According to the American Civil Liberties Union, there are more than 219,000 women incarcerated across the United States. Many wonder what brought them in contact with the criminal justice system. Oftentimes, women serving time behind bars struggle with co-occurring disorders – the combination of mental health disorders and addiction – which can be a result of unhealthy relationships, dysfunctional home environments and past trauma.

Women face these issues at a higher rate than men, and handle them differently – both mentally and biologically.

That’s why, four years ago, the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MADOC) and Spectrum Health Systems worked together to develop a treatment model specifically for female offenders. The model focuses on the unique characteristics of women and the underlying issues that often result in their involvement in the criminal justice system.

Spectrum currently operates multiple programs for female offenders in the state prison system, including the First Step Program, which provides crucial post-detox stabilization; the Family Preservation Program, which works with female offenders who have children and assists with family reunification; and the Pathways Program which aims to treat the underlying, precipitating issues of each woman’s journey into the criminal justice system.

Recently, Earl Warren – Spectrum’s State Director of Correctional Services in Massachusetts – attended the Department’s Female Thought Leadership Meeting, which brought together researchers and practitioners in the field of women’s behavioral health treatment to discuss this endeavor. The meeting examined the latest research regarding trauma-informed care and assessed the Department’s practices in delivering treatment to the female offender population.

On the whole, it’s important that we review the overall behavior and environmental factors for offenders with substance use disorders. This is a big step in the right direction for MADOC and for treatment providers everywhere.

For more information about Spectrum’s role in treating offenders for drug and alcohol addiction, visit