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WCSS Toolkit

Introduction to the WCSS Toolkit

Welcome to the Toolkit for the Women's Correctional Safety Scales. The WCSS is a rigorously validated survey designed to assess incarcerated women's perception of safety across multiple dimensions. The WCSS utilizes a battery of distinct, but related scales to measure inmate economic conflict, physical safety, sexual safety, and other concerns. The Toolkit software provides guidance on proper use of the WCSS, and automation of the more technical aspects of the WCSS, such as data management, analysis, and reporting.

Contemporary correctional agencies increasingly rely on data and other information to make sound management decisions. Collecting and analyzing such data, however, can be a challenge. Connecting these findings to operational practice by developing strategies that will improve such practice represents another, often unmet, challenge. The WCSS Toolkit addresses these challenges by providing software-based automation as described above, and guidance on the necessary partnership/collaboration between facility managers and independent survey administration teams.

The Toolkit is appropriate for both standalone application or integration with other assessment activities, such as sexual safety or gender-responsive assessments. It provides practical tools and guidance to assist facility managers in action planning and the application of findings, as well as a structured approach to improving safety for incarcerated women throughout corrections.

3 women filling out the survey

The role of the National Institute of Corrections

The WCSS Toolkit and its underlying evidence base is a product of the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) and is tied to several important NIC initiatives. First, the WCSS Toolkit and its approach to solving problems in correctional practice is based, in principle, on the concept of evidenced-based decision-making (EBDM).

Although originally designed to improve system-wide practices, EBDM, as defined by NIC, is a strategic and deliberate method of applying empirical knowledge and research-supported principles to justice system decisions at all levels. The EBDM framework posits that outcomes will be improved when justice system stakeholders engage in truly collaborative partnerships, use research to guide their work, work together to achieve safer communities, and, for our purposes, safer facilities. The WCSS Toolkit builds on the principles of EBDM by employing research-practice partnerships, structured data collection and systematic application of findings in developing and implementing change within correctional facilities for women.

The WCSS process is grounded in the overall goals of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). The original empirical and validation work, as well as this Toolkit, was supported by NIC's PREA funding and is tied to the goals of the PREA legislation.

PREA was enacted unanimously by both houses of Congress to address the problem of sexual abuse of persons in the custody of U.S. correctional agencies. PREA was the first United States federal law passed dealing with the sexual assault of prisoners and addresses the sexual abuse of individuals in custody. The law requires correctional facilities to comply with and enforce federal PREA standards.

PREA cover, the NIC Seal, The NIC logo, and the PREA resource center logo

NIC has been a national leader in improving sexual safety in corrections since 2004, providing assistance to many agencies through information and training resources and through its partnership with the PREA Resource Center and other collaborations. The WCSS Toolkit is part of that effort, with a unique focus on justice involved women.

This Toolkit advances NIC's efforts in the arena of justice involved women and gender-responsive practice. NIC has long supported the development of gender-responsive practice through evidenced-based strategies, training programs, collaborative work with researchers and experts in women's services, and assessment protocols such as the Women's Risk and Needs Assessment (WRNA). NIC's gender-responsive programs apply evidence-based, gender-responsive tools and practices to provide better services, implement effective management, and achieve successful outcomes for incarcerated women. Other critical NIC initiatives address agency and strategic planning, trauma-informed classification, discipline, health needs, staff misconduct, case management, and assessment.

Other tools, such as the Gender-Informed Policy Assessment (GIPA) and the Gender-Responsive Policy & Practice Assessment (GRPPA) are tools designed to guide assessment of research-based, gender-responsive policies and practices in jails, prisons, and community corrections programs for women. This Toolkit is among the gender-responsive tools offered through NIC services.

While designed as a stand-alone process, the Toolkit fits squarely within these overlapping NIC initiatives of EBDM, PREA-related, and multiple women's services activities. The Toolkit and its final critical step, "Acting on the Results" (action planning) can be employed as part of a wide array of assessment processes, such as the GRPPA or various sexual safety protocols. Other potential uses include NIC sponsored and other technical assistance activities.

This information and resultant enhancements of policy and operational practice are also designed as stand-alone activities. For example, some correctional facilities have used earlier iterations of the WCSS as part of culture change initiatives, strategic planning or internal inquiries regarding conditions of confinement or claims of staff sexual misconduct.

A Collaborative Process: Partnering with a Survey Team

The WCSS Toolkit utilizes a collaborative process involving a partnership between facility management teams and independent survey teams. This partnership, which is vital to the successful administration of the WCSS, begins in the initial planning stages with close collaboration between the facility management and survey teams. In the middle phases, conducting the WCSS and data collection, it is critical that the survey team operate entirely independent of any facility staff involvement. Our experience has shown that facility staff cannot have any involvement in the actual WCSS survey administration in order to maintain confidentiality, inmate trust, and data validity. In the final stages, reporting and acting on the results of the WCSS, the Toolkit provides options for either the continued involvement of the survey team (or other outside experts), or for independent planning and action by the facility management team.

Early in the planning stages, the two teams should discuss their respective roles, and communication should occur regularly throughout the WCSS process.

Various photos of the survey team and facility teams meeting and working with incarcerated individuals

Development and Validation of the WCSS

Researchers developed the WCSS with early support (2006-2008) from the National Institute of Justice, and later refined and validated it with support from the National Institute of Corrections (2010-2013). Results from these studies supported the idea that sexual violence itself is embedded in the broader context of violence and safety in women's facilities and that this context is gender-based.

In developing and validating the WCSS, researchers administered the survey instrument at dozens of diverse sites around the country, collecting data on more than 8,000 cases. Extensive analysis of the data revealed impressive results from the WCSS survey, as described in Commonwealth Research Consulting (CwRC)'s final report to NIC (2013). More information on the development and validation results are provided via the various links in this section, the Toolkit User Guide, WCSS Bibliography, and other resources included under the Help & Resources menu above.

Since the 2013 report, the WCSS has been utilized in other jail and prison settings where there was interest in improving the safety of women and addressing sexual abuse and assault. CwRC (the Toolkit developer) has worked as a research partner with a range of correctional agencies to measure the impact of multiple initiatives, such as positive culture change and staffing improvements. The WCSS has also been used to measure improvements in safety as a result of training and programming initiatives.

a photo collage of incarcerated individuals filling out the survey

Given the increasing utility of the WCSS in assessing the climate of female housing units and facilities, the National Institute of Corrections funded the development of this Toolkit for use by correctional practitioners. The software and resources in the WCSS Toolkit make the WCSS survey more accessible to correctional administrators and promotes development of gender-responsive strategies to address conflict and violence in their facilities.

The Content of the WCSS Survey and the WCSS Toolkit

The WCSS Toolkit makes survey planning, administration, analysis, reporting, and action planning more accessible to correctional practitioners via a combination of guidance and software automation. This Toolkit is structured in a manner similar to the sequential steps of survey research. It provides guidance on how to: 1) plan the survey administration, 2) conduct the survey, 3) collect/enter data from it, 4) generate reports, and 5) take action based on the report. It also provides guidance on how to avoid or respond to common problems and situations encountered during WCSS administration. Some features, such as data management, analysis and reporting are fully automated (other than basic user preference selections.) The Help function includes resources such as FAQs, a User Guide, and a Reference Manual.

The WCSS Survey used in the Toolkit consists of three sections. Section One measures six general areas of conflict or violence, including: inmate economic conflict, inmate sexual violence, inmate physical violence, staff verbal/sexual harassment, staff sexual misconduct, and staff physical violence. It does this by asking inmates or detainees to rate statements according to the perceived seriousness of problems they encounter in their current housing units.

Section Two of the WCSS measures inmate perceptions in three broad areas: the likelihood of violence and harassment, reporting climate, by asking inmates or detainees to rate the extent to which they agree or disagree with various statements about their experiences in the housing unit. The final section of the WCSS gathers demographic data and concludes with two questions about retaliation concerns.

By using the data collected through the WCSS Toolkit, correctional practitioners can plan for a safer environment for female inmates and detainees. Let's look at an example most correctional administrators are already familiar with, in the video below:

The WCSS Toolkit can assist correctional administrators in collecting data to answer such questions as:

  • What are the women's primary concerns about their physical and their sexual safety?
  • What are some of the underlying problems associated with inmate-on-inmate physical and sexual violence?
  • Is staff sexual misconduct a problem?
  • Why has there been an increase in the number of complaints about physical and sexual safety?
  • Are there any particular housing units that are experiencing specific kinds of problems?
  • Are we doing enough to develop a gender-responsive approach to managing our female facilities?
  • What are women's perceptions of safety in terms of inmate/inmate conflict, staff misconduct, and their opinions of facility safety procedures?

a photo collage of the survey team reviewing survey data

The WCSS Findings and their Application to Improved Practice

While systematically collected data can be valuable for a myriad of reasons, the overall goal of the WCSS process is the application of data to improve correctional practice. Findings from the WCSS can be used by correctional administrators to identify the potential risk of conflict and violence in any particular housing unit and the factors associated with such violence. Most importantly, the process is intended to culminate in data-driven, evidence-based action.

For example, results from the WCSS can be used by administrators to: 1) assess differences between various housing units at a specific point in time, and 2) examine change in individual housing units over periods of time. The WCSS can also be used to study the results of policy change, because it will provide an indication of the differences in safety or violence before and after the policy change.

a photo collage of the survey team discussing the survey

Most importantly, results from the WCSS can be used to develop improved operational practices in furtherance of PREA and gender-responsive goals. Here are some specific examples of such use:

  • As a pre-test/post-test measure of outcomes associated with safety-related interventions such as inmate education programs
  • In concert with gender-responsive and other assessments as conducted by NIC and others
  • Identifying and responding to operational needs such as developing staff training or improving reporting and investigative mechanisms
  • Exploring inmate perceptions before and after mission changes
  • Informing strategic planning, program development and staffing needs.

The WCSS Toolkit also provides guidance for interpreting the results in practical operational terms. There are two options for this Action Planning step. This last step can be undertaken in partnership with the Survey team leader and the Facility team or by the Facility team alone. Action planning connects the WCSS findings to operational practice by suggesting a range of approaches to improving safety within women's facilities. This process is outlined in the Results/ Reporting Module and the Action Planning module.

an officer reviewing survey data


We welcome feedback

We invite you to leave a comment or suggestion on how you use the Toolkit or how you would like to see the Toolkit improved.


Download the Windows .exe programs

Important: These are Zip files containing windows executable programs (.exe files) for Microsoft Access. They require Access 2013 or newer to run on a computer. The downloads are quite large (4GB) due to the inclusion of the videos included in this guide. Installation of this version of the program is slow and can take a while during the first installation procedure. You may also receive a warning popup from Windows that it prevented the program from installing. In that popup, you can choose to install the program anyway by clicking on the additional details button. The error occurs because the software is "unsigned", a security measure implemented by Microsoft after the program was created. "Unsigned" simply means that the program has not been registered with Microsoft and pre-scanned by them for use on Windows.

How to uninstall: To uninstall the program, go to Add or Remove Programs in your computer's settings and search for WCSS. The program should show up there.

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