Research Results - Women Offenders

Federally sentenced women offenders comprise a small and unique subset of the total federal offender population. To meet the unique needs of this population, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has developed a Program Strategy for Women Offenders that is gender-informed, reflects their unique needs and pathways to crime, the importance of relationships and of mothering in their lives, and the higher rates of abuse and trauma they have experienced, among other issues.

Offender Profile

  • As of April 13, 2014, there were a total of 1,098 federally sentenced women offenders – 628 in custody (57%) and 470 under supervision in the community (43%). Women offenders comprise approximately five per cent of the total population of Canadian federal offenders.Footnote 1
  • From 2003-04 to 2012-13, the number of women offenders admitted to federal jurisdiction grew by 14 per cent, although the number of admissions vary significantly from year-to-year.Footnote 2
  • In 2012-13, Aboriginal women represented 33 per cent of all incarcerated women under federal jurisdiction, an increase of 77 per cent within the last ten years.Footnote 3
  • Just over half (56%) of women offenders are serving time for a violent offence, and one-quarter (26%) are serving a sentence for a serious drug offence.Footnote 4
  • As of April 14, 2013, three per cent of women offenders were serving a life or indeterminate sentence.Footnote 5 Between 1998 and 2009, there was a 37-per-cent increase in the numbers of women serving a life sentence.Footnote 6

In Custody

  • Approximately one-third of recently-admitted women offenders are sentenced to 25 months or less; however, these women are likely to present with high levels of risk and need, similar to their counterparts serving longer sentences.Footnote 7
  • Gang-involved women offenders have serious criminal histories and are disruptive in an institution.Footnote 8
  • In 2012-13, the population of women offenders aged 50 or older doubled from five per cent to 10 per cent since 2002-03. Approximately half of these women (48%) received their first federal sentence after the age of 50. Older women tended to have low overall risk and need.Footnote 9
  • Almost all women offenders (93%) report usually getting along with staff in their institution.Footnote 10 Additionally, women perceive the rapport with their psychologists, program facilitators, and primary workers/older sisters as the most positive.Footnote 11

In the Community

  • Although women were more likely to be granted conditional release, both women and men served approximately 40 per cent of their sentences before their first federal day parole.Footnote 12
  • Most community-supervised women were serving a determinate sentence, most commonly of less than three years. They generally demonstrated considerable need in the personal and emotional domain as well as with substance abuse, and had limited previous educational and employment attainment. Almost two-thirds of women who were seeking work were employed.Footnote 13
  • Parole officers reported that many of the women experience challenges to successful reintegration, especially with regard to finances and housing.Footnote 14
  • After release, women offenders re-offend at lower rates than men offenders. When women do return to custody, it is typically due to breaching a parole condition rather than a new offence.Footnote 15

Health Care

  • Common health conditions identified by women offenders at admission included back pain, head injury, hepatitis C, and asthma.Footnote 16 Most older women offenders (50 years or older) identified having two or more physical health problems. Commonly reported physical health problems in older women offenders were arthritis, high cholesterol, hypertension, and osteoporosis.Footnote 17
  • The rates of HIV, hepatitis C, and sexually-transmitted infections for women offenders were greater than rates in the general Canadian population, and were especially high among Aboriginal women offenders.Footnote 18, Footnote 19

Rehabilitation Programs

  • Research has consistently found that participation in correctional programs is associated with improvements in areas such as motivation, self-esteem, and problem-solving skills, and is linked to reduced rates of reoffending after release.,Footnote 20, Footnote 21, Footnote 22, Footnote 23
  • The Women's Modular Intervention (WMI) program for women offenders placed in secure units demonstrated reduction in institutional offences and higher levels of motivation post-WMI.Footnote 24
  • Women who participated in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy improved on a wide variety of measures of psychological symptoms and well-being.Footnote 25
  • About 10 per cent of women participated in the Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program. These women were a very high risk and need group with a high prevalence of mental health issues and trauma.Footnote 26

November 2014

Footnotes

Footnote 1

Offender Management System (April 13, 2014)

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Footnote 2

Public Safety Canada (2014)Corrections and conditional release statistical overview: Annual report 2013

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Footnote 3

Public Safety Canada (2014)Corrections and conditional release statistical overview: Annual report 2013

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Footnote 4

Public Safety Canada (2014)Corrections and conditional release statistical overview: Annual report 2013

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Footnote 5

Public Safety Canada (2014)Corrections and conditional release statistical overview: Annual report 2013

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Footnote 6

Young, Broom & Ruddell (2010). Offenders serving life and indeterminate sentences: Snapshot (2009) and changing profile (1998 to 2008). Research Report R-231, Ottawa, ON: CSC

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Footnote 7

Lutfy & Forrester (2014). Shorter sentences among federally-sentenced women offenders. Research Snippet RS 14-11, Ottawa, ON: CSC

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Footnote 8

Scott (2012). Women gang inmates: A profile. Research Report R-272, Ottawa, ON: CSC

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Footnote 9

Gobeil (2014). Older women offenders. Research Snippet RS 14-3, Ottawa, ON: CSC

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Footnote 10

Booth, Taylor & Allenby (2011). Spotlight on results of "Twenty years later: Revisiting the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women". Research Report R-222b, Ottawa, ON: CSC

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Footnote 11

Harris, Taylor, Brown & Booth (2013). Therapeutic alliance and offender-staff relations in women's corrections. Research Report R-305, Ottawa, ON: CSC

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Footnote 12

Public Safety Canada (2014)Corrections and conditional release statistical overview: Annual report 2013

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Footnote 13

McConnell, Rubenfeld, Thompson & Gobeil (2014). A profile of women under community supervision. Research Report R-287, Ottawa, ON: CSC

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Footnote 14

Lutfy & Thompson (2014). Reintegration challenges facing women offenders. Research Snippet RS 14-8, Ottawa, ON: CSC

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Footnote 15

Performance monitoring report 2011-2012

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Footnote 16

Nolan & Stewart (2014). Self reported physical health status of incoming federally-sentenced women offenders: Comparison to men offenders. Emerging Research Results ERR 14-5, Ottawa, ON: CSC

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Footnote 17

Michel, Gobeil & McConnell (2012). Older incarcerated women offenders: Social support and health needs. Research report R-275, Ottawa, ON: CSC

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Footnote 18

Thompson, Zakaria & Grant (2011). Summary of the 2007 National Inmate Infectious Diseases and Risk-Behaviours Survey for women. Research Report R-238, Ottawa, ON: CSC

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Footnote 19

Zakaria, Thompson & Borgatta (2010). Rates of reported sexually transmitted infections since admission to Canadian federal prison and associated incarceration characteristics and sexual risk-behaviours. Research Report R-196, Ottawa, ON: CSC

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Footnote 20

Matheson, Doherty & Grant (2009). Women Offender Substance Abuse Programming & community reintegration. Research Report R-202, Ottawa, ON: CSC

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Footnote 21

Grant, Furlong, Hume, White & Doherty (2008). The Women Offender Substance Abuse Programming: Interim research report. Research Report R-171, Ottawa, ON: CSC

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Footnote 22

Derkzen & Allenby (2012). Assessment of the Aboriginal Women's Maintenance Program. Research Brief B-51, Ottawa, ON: CSC

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Footnote 23

Matheson, Doherty & Grant (2009). Women Offender Substance Abuse Programming & community reintegration. Research Report R-202, Ottawa

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Footnote 24

Harris (2014). Preliminary assessment of the Women's Modular Intervention Program. Emerging Research Results ERR 14-6, Ottawa, ON: CSC

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Footnote 25

Blanchette, Flight, Verbrugge, Gobeil & Taylor (2011). Dialectical Behaviour Therapy within a Women's Structured Living Environment.Research Report R-241, Ottawa, ON: CSC

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Footnote 26

MacSwain, Cheverie, Farrell MacDonald & Johnson (2014). Characteristics of women participants in the Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program (MMTP).Research Report R-307, Ottawa, ON: CSC

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