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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Program Strategy for Women Offenders August 2004

Part 4 - Community Programming


Fifty to 60% of women offenders under federal jurisdiction are on conditional release in the community at any one time. However, offering reintegration programs in the community presents unique challenges as there are so few women offenders and they are geographically dispersed (Community Strategy for Women Offenders). Therefore, it is essential that at the community planning stage the plans be creative and flexible. Also, when approaching release planning for women offenders, the approach must be personalised to the women's projected needs in the community.

Community Programming

Community programming is a complement to, and necessitates, working in partnership with community agencies. The majority of women offenders are involved with CSC for a defined period of time in their lives. It is therefore essential for women offenders to develop a community network to provide them with the assistance they require to lead healthy pro-social lives during their period of supervision and after warrant expiry. Over the years, each parole office has developed close relationships with local partners; these partner-based relationships must continue, as they are an integral part of the present strategy.

Residential facilities in the community are very creative in their approach to programming. They offer locally designed programs to assist women in their safe and successful reintegration. Programs that address a multitude of needs are offered: e.g. substance abuse programs, social skills programs, mother-child programs, relapse prevention programs, etc.

For program development and delivery, the preferred approach is for group delivery, with the flexibility of delivering individual sessions, due to the low numbers of women. Forming groups of more than three participants in the community is rarely possible because of the geographic dispersion of the population. In urban centres, there are rarely sufficient numbers of women offenders under supervision in one area with the same need in the same timeframe. Also, child care issues may interfere with program participation. Therefore, program delivery must be flexible to accommodate both individual and small groups.

Community Maintenance/Relapse Prevention Program for Women

The Women Offender Substance Abuse Program (WOSAP) was designed to offer intervention and support from admission to warrant expiry. It is a program continuum that recognizes that needs are dynamic and intervention is most effective when it reflects context as well as content.

The Maintenance/Relapse Prevention component is multi-purpose. It is intended to sustain and enhance program gains as well as function as a community program for women, based on the risk they represent. The module has been broadened to meet the needs of all women. The program targets all lifestyle factors which are contributing factors in increasing the risk that women face while under supervision in the community.

This module was also designed to offer continuous support and to facilitate the earliest possible release. Women may start CM/RP in the institution and continue in the community. Others may complete it in its entirety prior to release while some may not begin until they are in the community. Continuous entry is also designed to significantly reduce the period women will wait prior to accessing program participation. Given the increased risk of relapse in the first weeks and months of release, early engagement in the group is a priority.

There is no pre-requisite for participation in the Community Maintenance/Relapse Prevention Program.

The Relapse Prevention/Maintenance Program is the third module in the continuum for the Women Offender Substance Abuse Program (WOSAP). It consists of 20 group sessions (which can also be delivered one to one) and targets social skills such as problem solving, conflict resolution, parenting, use of leisure time. The Module is designed around the principles of relapse prevention and acquiring self-management skills. The main goal of the Program is to consolidate continued recovery by providing ongoing skill building, goal setting and support. The Module also includes a transition phase prior to release in the community.

Peer Facilitators for Community Maintenance/Relapse Prevention

Women who have completed CM/RP may be appropriate candidates to play an ongoing role as a peer assistant. This is not a program requirement, but is suggested as another opportunity to promote empowerment.

The following criteria apply to peer facilitators:

  • Peer facilitators must have cycled through the program at least once;
  • Peer facilitators must have been at a high functioning level in the community for a significant period of time.