What started as an interest in gender and health within real world settings progressed into a long-term research project examining incarcerated women’s experiences within the criminal justice system from Rhode Island.

Next March in San Fransisco, Calif. Psychology Professor Dawn Salgado will be presenting her research study entitled, “Growth-fostering Relationships and Transforming Self-perceptions: Feminist Principles in the Mentoring of Women in Prison and Beyond,” at the 2015 Association of Women in Psychology Conference under the symposium panel entitled, “Incarcerated Women’s Pathways to and Experiences within the Criminal Justice System.” This year the conference theme is, “Repairing, Restoring, and Reintegrating: Feminism and Restorative Justice.” The keynote speaker is Angela Davis.

In this symposium, Salgado and three other individuals will explore women’s pathways to incarceration, mental health outcomes associated with a trauma-informed, gender-specific curriculum for women serving life sentences and feminist principles in mentoring relationships among community and incarcerated women.

Each of the symposia will be a part of the program and will be highlighted as part of the Feminist Science Symposia Series in the conference.

Previous research examining women’s services and programming while incarcerated have generally been found to be underfunded, inadequate, or inconsistent with empirically based needs of the population. In her presentation, Salgado will examine the relationships between the mentors and mentees highlighting feminist-based practices and principles typified in these relationships.

The analysis focuses on connection and similarities, empathy and acceptance, and empowerment and effectiveness. Her presentation will also include the transformative experiences of incarcerated women and the effectiveness of the program beginning in prison and extending after release.

After being a part of the Institute for Feminist Academic Psychologists in 2012, Salgado was invited to present her research and organize the panel at the National Symposium.

“It is a totally different feeling when you get asked to present your study from AWP, than submitting a proposal online and waiting for a response,” said Salgado.

According to Salgado, each year AWP and the Society for the Psychology of Women team up to organize a series of feminist science symposia at the AWP conference. These symposia are meant to be a showcase for innovative, high quality research on important topics that would be of interest to AWP members and conference attendees.

Salgado’s results from her research were published in the 2010 international book “Working with Women Offenders in the Community.” The chapter that she wrote for this book is going to be a part of her presentation, including what brings women to volunteer, the aspects of a most effective mentor-mentee relationship and results that were most surprising.

The research was based on the accountability from incarcerated women and resulted in becoming a more strength and empowerment-based analysis. In her study, she found that a significant amount of women who returned to prison, experienced sexual abuse in their childhood or recently experienced victimization. Her goal was to move away from a punitive model to more of a rehabilitative model.

Salgado’s study first started as a dissertation research project back in 2006 and later transitioned into becoming a qualitative study focusing more on the risk factors for women in and returning back to prison. This study was originally started by Salgado’s mentor, Dr. Kathryn Quina from the University of Rhode Island. Quina’s study started as a three-year program analyzing and understanding the discharging of women in prison. As a graduate student when Quina’s study began, Salgado worked closely with Quina and the mentoring program coordinator at the time, Judith Fox.

Fox started this mentoring program in the women’s prison on Rhode Island. It was a community program where incarcerated women would be paired up with successful women living in the community. The mentors that participated in the program were affected by the correctional system in some way. Mentors would regularly visit their mentees while they were incarcerated and those relationships and meetings would continue post-release in the community.

In this dissertation study, they worked with over 200 women over time and focused on the risk and resiliency factors that influences returning to prison and successful reintegration in the community.

In an effort to better understand programmatic features that might be beneficial to women in prison, Salgado started her own study. She conducted focus groups with women who were involved in the program as mentees and mentors and focused the questions on what aspects were the most beneficial and meaningful to the incarcerated women.

According to her long-term research, these type of programs helps increase the chances of women being successfully integrated back into the community. “The hope was to give incarcerated women more opportunities and knowledgeable skills when they left prison and the mentoring programs did just that.” Today, mentoring programs has been implemented in many states across the country.

“In the study, my students and I came up with some major themes to what makes a good mentor for women in prison,” said Salgado. “Since we have collected data on this project, mentoring programs within prisons has become one of the best practices.” Not only were the mentors providing the mentees with helpful information about creating a better life after prison, these relationships developed into new support systems.

Salgado has worked with six students from both Pacific University and Lewis & Clark over the years collecting research for her study. “I could not have done my research without the help from my students,” said Salgado. “I really encourage undergraduates to get involved in collaborative or research projects especially in the community.”

The students that did work with Salgado in her research lab have presented their work at local, regional and national conferences. These students have won awards for their efforts, most of which coincided with their senior thesis projects within psychology.

Salgado does a lot of research on community issues and settings. Right now, not only is she still going through a lot of data from her study on the effects of the mentoring programs on incarcerated women, Salgado is also working on a new research project looking at how masculinity influences men’s willingness to seek out mental health services.


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