Community-Based Research with Women in Prison

Desktop News | May 2024

In the world of academic research, certain works stand out not just for their content but for the revolutionary approach they take in addressing complex issues. University of Alabama professors Susan Dewey‘s and Brittany VandeBerg’s upcoming book co-authored with senior South Carolina Department of Corrections administrator Julie Tennant-Caine, Community-Based Research with Women in Prison, is one such exceptional work. It not only explores the intricacies of its subject matter but also redefines the methodology used in its creation.

Dewey’s and VandeBerg’s book serve as a how-to manual for researchers, but its true uniqueness lies in the collaborative and inclusive process that shaped its development. Working closely with incarcerated women and senior prison administrators, the team’s community-based participatory work in prison ensures that the perspectives of all levels within the prison hierarchy are represented. This approach challenges traditional boundaries in research, particularly when dealing with environments designed for control and security.

“Nobody’s ever done anything like this before, and South Carolina deserves great praise for its willingness to innovate by using community-based participatory research to design evidence-based programs tailored to local institutional realities,” said Dewey. “Our work is completely unique because it balances the need for prison to focus on safety and security, because that’s the nature of the institution, with the need for programs to be grounded in incarcerated women’s lived experiences with the goal of helping them to make better choices. It is my greatest hope that someday the Alabama Department of Corrections will allow me to do similarly pioneering and transformative work.

The book sets a model for future endeavors, proving that meaningful collaboration is possible even in environments not traditionally conducive to it. The endorsement by the Director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, another first for academic books about prison, adds credibility and emphasizes its potential impact, fostering hopes for positive changes within the prison system.

This UA team’s work serves as a beacon of hope and a call to action. It challenges us to reconsider how research is conducted in unconventional settings, urging us to embrace collaboration and inclusivity even in environments where it seems improbable. This book will be available in May 2024.