Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Rosemary Gido, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Jamie Martin, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Alida V. Merlo, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Maureen C. McHugh, Ph.D.


Over the past twenty years, the number of female inmates incarcerated for drug offenses has dramatically increased. This surge has led to a large portion of the female prison population coming into the corrections system with substance abuse problems. Currently, drug relapse is the number one reason for female recidivism. Robert Johnson (2002) has suggested that if inmates learn mature coping skills, while in prison, they will be better prepared for the world outside and will be less likely to return to the criminal justice system. Johnson’s concept of mature coping includes three elements: one must be able to accept the problem at hand, work through the problem without resorting to violence except in cases of self-defense, and learn to live in a community environment where one can assist others and empathize with their problems (Johnson, 2002). The therapeutic community is a program that has been adopted in many prison systems that appears to implement Johnson’s concept of mature coping. This research specifically examines a therapeutic community for women within a Pennsylvania prison to better understand if the women are indeed learning positive coping skills that will replace their prior negative coping skill of substance abuse. A combination of quantitative and qualitative methods was used to examine the differences between women in the therapeutic community and women who were on the waiting list for treatment. Data from this study suggests that women involved in the therapeutic community were able to improve their problem solving and seeking social support skills, while many still struggled with avoidance techniques. This study concludes by suggesting several policy implications. First, participants need to spend longer periods of time in treatment to learn and practice their positive coping skills. Second, more therapeutic communities need to be implemented within the prison to address the large number of women who are on the waiting list. A final suggestion involves adopting residential programs for these women, upon their release from prison, to provide them with support systems within their own communities.