The Rhode Island Senate Commission on Reducing
the Incarceration of Women
Spring 2022

Qualitative research, visual design

How can Rhode Island better support the wellbeing and rehabilitation of justice-involved women and their families?

The Gloria McDonald Women’s Facility is the only women’s prison in the entire state of Rhode Island. In FY2021, it reported an average custody of 86 women, with annual cost of ~$190,000 per woman— twice as much as the cost for male inmates. Some legislators have proposed shutting down the facility and sending the women to prisons outside of Rhode Island, while others propose directing funding to the creation of in-state programs and alternatives to incarceration.

The Rhode Island Senate Commission on Reducing the Incarceration of Women was formed under Senator Kallman to “study justice reinvestment proposals with an eye toward reducing incarceration of women in Rhode Island.”

My team and I partnered with the Commission to research community-based alternatives to incarceration and the experiences of women formerly incarcerated at Gloria McDonald Women’s Facility.

Research Process

Role: Researcher, Visual Designer

In Conversation With:
    - Brown University
    - Formerly Incarcerated Union of Rhode Island 
    - Rhode Island Senate Commission on Reducing the            Incarceration of Women
Outcome: A body of research to better understand the lived experiences of formerly incarcerated women and inform the Commission’s future policy work in the realm of women’s decarceration.

*In an effort to observe ethical research practices and protect the confidentiality of our participants, some of our findings have been omitted and names have been changed. Please feel free to reach out if you’d like to discuss this project more in-depth with me!

Reported data from academic sources and RIDOC.

Secondary Research

What makes effective diversionary programming?

What role do these programs play in creating more equitable justice outcomes?

We reviewed existing literature surrounding women’s diversion programs in the US and abroad. 

We also reviewed internal reports by the Rhode Island Department of Corrections regarding the population and operations at Gloria McDonald.

Click images to enlarge!


What types of challenges do justice-involved persons face while incarcerated?

What types of support do they need to successfully re-integrate into their communities?

We worked with the Formerly Incarcerated Union of Rhode Island to draft 2 surveys: an online survey to be circulated among FIU members, and a print survey to be circulated among the women at the Gloria McDonald Facility. 

Focus Group

What are the lived experiences of women formerly incarcerated at Gloria McDonald?

What are the long-term impacts of their incarceration?

We held a focus group interview with women formerly incarcerated at the Gloria McDonald Women‘s Facility.

Key Findings

Centralization of services within the prison makes help inaccessible to those who need it.

High turnover rates in addition to high demand for services within Gloria McDonald make its programming and services inaccessible to most of its residents. Diversion programs present an opportunity to more effectively address unmet needs and reduce recividism as a result.

In 2021, most of the women at Gloria McDonald served sentences of less than 6 months (80%), with almost half of sentenced to less than a month (49%). This extremely high turn-over rate makes it incredibly difficult for residents to access the care or services (health services, vocational training, or substance abuse treatment). 

Diversion programs are uniquely suited to address the unmet needs of justice-involved women by providing a range of health services, basic needs support, and other programming to all participants. Many of the diversion programs we reviewed report drastically reduced re-arrest rates when compared to the national average (35% rate of re-arrest within one year for recently released women).

Aim to meet the needs of a family, not just an individual.

Justice-involved women don’t serve their sentence on their own. Children undergo immense stress, and often endure their own trauma, as a result of parental incarceration.

Focus group participants reported being overwhelmed or incapable of addressing their children’s complex mental health needs, due to lack of resources and because they were also dealing with their own complex trauma.

Community-based alternatives to incarceration, such as the Women’s Prison Association, offer immense benefits for both the child, who is spared psychological stress, and the parent, who has other opportunities for rehabilitation outside of the carceral system.


Exerpts from our final presentation of research to the Commission.

Our team compiled a report of our research findings and activities, as well as a resource guide for women’s diversion programs in the US and abroad.

Our findings will continue to inform the Commission’s upcoming policy and advocacy work in the realm of women’s decarceration. 

Our report discusses how women experience the criminal justice system uniquely from men, which contributes to unequal outcomes after release.

We share special considerations for diversionary program creation, outlining specific needs that must be considered when working with justice-involved women. For example, BIPOC women, women engaging in sex work, or women facing housing insecurity may all require targeted programming in a successful diversion program.

︎︎︎ See the exerpts from our presentation here.