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Advocating for Rehabilitation in Prisons

Breanna Boppre channeled her childhood experience into a lifelong goal of bringing changes to the incarceration system in order to help people rebuild their lives.

Research  |  Apr 6, 2017  |  By Julie Ann Formoso
Breanna Boppre

Criminal justice doctoral student Breanna Boppre will be presenting her research on racial disparities in women's prisons at the April 4 graduate research forum.

Editor's Note: 

Inspiration, Innovation, Impact is an annual event celebrating graduate student research and scholarship. It kicks off the annual Graduate Research Forum weekend. This year's event — taking place 4-6 p.m. Friday, April 7 inside the Student Union Ballroom — will highlight students from education, sciences, urban affairs, and more. Criminal justice doctoral student Breanna Boppre is among the graduate students presenting her research.


Breanna Boppre spent most of her childhood and young adulthood visiting her father in correctional institutions across the state of Nevada. Her family would often drive long distances to visit him, but faced distinct barriers. Sometimes they would have to talk to her father through glass, there would be limited physical contact even in the visiting room, and they were not to have any possessions. Phone calls to him cost 99 cents a minute and were only allowed during certain hours.

That was the life Boppre grew accustomed to as her dad spent years in and out of local prisons due to drug dependency and substance abuse.

“In some prisons, we couldn’t hug and some didn’t allow us to even sit on the same side of the bench,” the criminal justice doctoral student said. “That’s hard.”

Boppre was tempted to try drugs to relieve the feelings of neglect and isolation of being without her mother and father. She had a strict upbringing by her great-grandparents, who wanted to prevent her from following a similar path as her parents. But researching the effects of narcotics and talking openly with her father about it caused her to think otherwise.

School became Boppre’s escape from home instead. She joined as many afterschool programs as she could, focusing her frustrations on things like painting and clubs. Now, she realizes she was lucky to have loving and supportive people in her life who pushed her to excel in school. 

Today, she’s channeled her childhood experience into a lifelong goal of bringing about changes to the incarceration system — changes like advocating for prisons to have rehabilitation programs headed by professionals to treat those with substance abuse issues and co-occurring mental illnesses.

“It doesn’t make sense to me to house people in prison and not give them treatment for substance abuse or mental health issues and then expect them not to commit crimes when they’re released,” she said.

More recently, Boppre has narrowed her research to examining why women of color are disproportionately incarcerated in comparison to their white counterparts. It’s a result of Boppre working with Emily Salisbury and Mark Harmon, who studied women offenders and racial disparities in the imprisonment of people of color, respectively, at Portland State University.

Boppre combined the professors’ areas of study to focus specifically on how women’s identity shaped by gender, race, and class relate to being involved in the criminal justice system. When Salisbury joined the UNLV Greenspun College of Urban Affairs as an associate professor of criminal justice, Boppre followed her to continue their research together on gender-responsive correctional treatment and assessment.

“I became interested in racial disparities in imprisonment because it’s wrong that just because you’re a different gender and race or come from a different background, you’re more likely to end up in prison,” Boppre said.

On April 7, she will present her research at UNLV’s annual Inspiration, Innovation, Impact: A Celebration of Graduate Student Research on why gender and race matter in the study of crime. She will highlight the distinct experiences of women as well as her research that has revealed racial disparities in female imprisonment over the past 40 years.

The presentation is another addition to a list of talks Boppre does to work toward her goal. She regularly participates in the American Society of Criminology conference held every November and the Western Society of Criminology conference held every February.

“Presenting research at conferences is an invaluable networking experience,” she said. “Other scholars attend the presentation and are able to provide useful feedback. These connections can lead to research collaborations or even potential job connections. Being able to effectively convey research is important towards garnering interest, and ultimately, policy changes.”

Boppre hopes to become a tenure-track professor working with local organizations to help justice-involved individuals receive rehabilitation services to prevent them from returning to prison.

Already, Boppre argues for evidence-based practices in correctional contexts that seek to help justice-involved individuals rehabilitate and change behavior patterns related to criminal involvement. She witnessed the limited programming offered to prisoners in Nevada. While in prison, her dad earned three associate degrees from Western Nevada College. He wanted to keep as busy as he could with school to help him have a shot at a professional life upon release.

In 2009, her dad was released from prison and stayed out of the system for good. He is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in general studies at the University of Nevada, Reno and hopes to become a licensed substance abuse counselor for others who suffer from addiction.

It’s a success story Boppre can’t help but tell with a grin. “I am proud of him,” she said with a big smile.

The father-daughter duo has more in common than their goals, though. Tattooed on their limbs are the words, “Make It Last,” a tribute to the ‘70s song by Montrose.

“He makes me listen to that song during my birthday to remind me to take my time and enjoy life because it does go by so fast,” Boppre said.

Like when she was young, Boppre visits her dad often except this time, there are no rules restricting their affection. The hugs and hang outs can last as long as they wish.