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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Program Strategy for Women Offenders August 2004

Part 3 - Aboriginal Programs


In Canada, Aboriginal peoples account for 3.3% of the population. In April 2004, 22% of the population of women offenders were of Aboriginal descent, 40% of which were under some form of release in the community.

Aboriginal correctional programs for women offenders must be delivered in accordance with women-centred principles, but also, within an Aboriginal context. Aboriginal programs for women offenders address the needs as identified in this revised Program Strategy and may be a more culturally appropriate alternative to mainstream reintegration programs for Aboriginal women offenders. The programs for Aboriginal women described in this Strategy are relatively new. Evaluations will determine their long-term effectiveness.

Aboriginal Programs for Women

The Circles of Change Program is a unique and gender-specific program that addresses the criminogenic needs of Aboriginal women offenders. The Circles of Change Program includes three rehabilitative strategies: relational, cognitive-behavioural, and solution-focused. The modules include: the process of change; increasing the knowledge of Canadian Aboriginal culture; communication styles; self-esteem and self-care issues; problem solving skills; woman's role in her family of origin; healthy and unhealthy relationships; and social injustice.

The Family Life Improvement Program is offered as a six-week full-day program and is designed to give women offenders practice in positive living skills and spiritual awareness. It offers exercises that promote a balanced approach to dealing with anger, violence, grief, jealousy, family relationships and holistic living. This program is based on the belief that Aboriginal culture and traditions can provide a catalyst for the healing of Aboriginal peoples. The Program prepares the participants for more in-depth treatment with Psychologists, Elders, or for other programming activities. It offers alternatives for dealing with many emotions and situations that arise in the lives of women.

The Spirit of a Warrior Program was specifically designed to address the needs of Aboriginal women offenders. The Program is divided into four sections: introduction; childhood; adolescence; and adulthood/alternatives to violence. The Program consists of an in-depth intervention that is intended to reduce the risk to re-offend with violence, reduce risk to relapse, improve family relations, improve ability to communicate with others, improve coping skills, and adapt Aboriginal culture and spirituality into all aspects of behaviour and everyday life. It is expected that with a more informed base of traditions, Aboriginal women will be better able to manage their lives.

Guiding Principles for the design of Aboriginal Programs for Women

  • Address the prevention of criminal behaviour;
  • Be culturally appropriate and gender-specific;
  • Be (preferably) developed by Aboriginal people who have recognised expertise in effective correctional service and traditional cultural healing and will include advisory groups composed of Aboriginal members;
  • Collaborate with external partners on program development and in partnership with CSC;
  • Include the means by which the program and participants can be evaluated so as to determine what, if anything, should be changed, developed or modified. When appropriate, the methods used to evaluate Aboriginal programs will be the same as those used for non-Aboriginal programs;
  • Be managed with appropriate consideration given to staff awareness, program integrity, quality assurance, and performance measurement;
  • Delivery by trained Aboriginal program staff, or agency staff;
  • Choose staff that have experiential knowledge of Aboriginal ancestry, program content, and demonstrated ability to impart the knowledge and skills the program aims to deliver.