Muskie School of Public Service

Alumni Profile: Jillian Foley

Jillian FoleyJillian Foley has been interested in social justice policy issues for as long as she can remember.  She served as an Americorps NCCC corps member after attending high school in Bangor, worked as a policy intern for Rhode Island NOW while earning her bachelor’s degree in sociology and women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island, and worked as a research assistant in the Justice Policy Program at the Muskie School of Public Service while pursuing her master’s in public policy and management.  “I have just always had an interest in social justice, particularly with social inequalities involving gender, race, and class.  My undergraduate and graduate careers both strengthened that interest.”

This interest in social policy issues, along with her work with Erica King, Muskie School policy associate and expert on program evaluation for the Women’s Center at the Maine Correctional Center, is what led Jillian to her capstone topic, “Gender-Responsive Policies and Practices in Maine: What Incarcerated Women at the Women’s Center Say They Need from the Criminal Justice System.”  While reviewing the policies and procedures that were in place at the Women’s Center, Jillian realized that the women going through the system were in need of a voice.  “The number of women entering the system is growing, and I think it is important to address the differences between male and female offenders with evidence-based, gender-specific programs, policies and services,” Jillian explains.  For her capstone, Jillian conducted three focus groups with 18 residents of the Women’s Center, and recorded and analyzed their perspectives on how programs and policies there could be improved, and which parts of the program were helpful to them in finding their way back to being successful members of their communities when they are released.

With recent attention in Maine on the issues of overcrowding, recidivism, and mergers of jail and prison resources, the topic of how this can impact the female prison population has become even more relevant.   “Since women have always been a small percentage of the total prisoner population, their needs get overlooked.  Females are more likely to be arrested for non-violent crimes (drugs, financial crimes), when compared to men.  Research shows that the current system in Maine and nationwide is not working to reduce recidivism and help these women successfully re-enter the community, and thus it is important to look for best practices that will help these women support themselves, and their children, so they can live independently.”

In addition to her current work as an intern for the Altarum Institute, a non-profit health systems research organization, Jillian is working with Erica King on a commissioned policy bulletin for the National Institute of Corrections on the state of gender-responsive policies in corrections.  Jillian’s capstone will serve as an informational supplement to this broader policy bulletin on a national survey she and Erica conducted.

Jillian hopes to stay in Maine and continue her career in public policy and research, and eventually to attain a joint PhD in sociology and public policy so she can teach.  “I have realized that many institutionalized policies are often at the root of a problem, but can also be the solution to many of those problems—thus my continued interest in public policy.”