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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Long-Term Federally Sentenced Women: Literature Review

Managing Long-Term Offenders

Overall, the literature identified several areas of concern for managing inmates serving long-terms. Of significance are the discussions on how the system deals with these offenders. For example, Frank J. Poporino, in his article "Difference in Response to

Long-Term Imprisonment: Implications for the Management of Long-Term Offenders", concludes that long-term offenders, and in particular offenders serving life sentences, have routinely been managed as a maximum security risk. This is due primarily to the process that focuses on length of sentence as the main method of determining classification. Little specialized programming for long-term offenders has been developed. He further concludes that release planning for these individuals has typically been postponed until well into the sentence. [ Frank J. Porporino, "Difference in Response to Long Term Impirsonment: Implications for the Management of Long Term Officers." The Prison Journal , Vol. LXXX, No.1, 1990.] 6

Tina Hattem, in her article "The Realities of Life Imprisonment for Women Convicted of Murder", puts forth similar findings. She states that the women who participated in her interviews "...spoke of being denied access to programs or privileges (which they may otherwise have been entitled to) because of their sentence." [ Tina Hattem, "The Realities of Life Imprisonment for Women Convicted of Murder", Forum on Corrections Research , January 1994, Vol. 6, No. 1, pg 43.] Further, she states that "...eligibility for certain institutional programs and privileges is often determined by an inmate's security classification." [ Ibid., pg. 43.] The consequences of using security classification to determine accessibility to programs is detrimental to women serving life sentences because their high security classification is a result of their sentence length. Therefore, any revisions to classification and its relationship to accessing programs need to consider the needs of women serving long sentences.

Other significant contributions of the reviewed literature were those that identified specific issues associated with long sentences. For example, the article "Women Lifers: Assessing the Experience", by Elaine Genders and Elaine Player, found that women who become withdrawn while serving their sentence had a difficult time obtaining parole. They argue that: " (s)uch cases are considered unlikely candidates for release, if only because they are providing little or no opportunity for prison staff to assess the degree of risk they might pose to the outside community". [ Elaine Genders and Elaine Player, "Women Lifers: Assessing the Experience", The Prison Journal , Vol. LXXX, No. 1, 1990, pg 46.]

Their study also showed that the officers' description of women were often contradictory: "on the one hand, the staff demonstrated concern for the women and compassion for their problem and, on the other, expressed cynicism and questioned their integrity." [ Ibid., pg. 48.] Genders and Player point out that out of 26 staff working with women serving long sentences in an institution in Durham, England, only two (2) had received specific training for working with lifers. The significance of the findings, as illustrated by the authors, is that in some instances officers evaluate the conduct of women offenders without having the proper understanding of the difficulties experienced by

the women as they adjust to a life sentence. For example, they may describe a women who sleeps all day as being unmotivated, when in fact she is experiencing depression. Being unable to properly identify the nature of a woman's behaviour will undoubtedly prevent her from getting the support she requires.

Another significant concern identified by Genders and Players was the constant fear experienced by women in regards to the status of their children. For example, women fear that their children would be adopted without their consent; that they will lose parental rights and contact with their children; and/or, that their children would not be cared for properly (although this study was based on long term offender findings such as these are applicable to all women offenders). Other issues, such as the experience of loss reported by the women (loss of liberty, family, freedom to express emotion, and self-identity) were also explored.

According to Genders and Player, there was a significant degree of low self-esteem manifested among the women in the study, not only as a lack of confidence in themselves as people, but also feelings of being personally devalued as women. [ Ibid., pg. 53.] The authors assert that this process was triggered by events that took place prior to incarceration, but that the prison environment perpetuated and reinforced this derogatory status.

The needs and concerns illustrated in this study, it could be argued, are not different than those of incarcerated women in general; however, it is certain that for women who are serving long sentences they are more crucial (even if only because othe length of the sentence means a long term offender may spendlonger periods in a, for example, depressed state). Some of the conclusions that can be drawn from this study are as follows:

• People working with this population need to be aware of and sensitive to issues confronted by these offenders.

• Women need to be empowered with information about their legal rights with respect to their children and rights in general.

• The environment needs to be supportive of women expressing their views, experiences and frustrations.

The literature reviewed identified needs such as " institutional careers" as a major component in providing meaningful choices to long-term offenders. Michael J. Sabath and Ernest L. Cowles, argue that one of the major differences in program planning between short- and long-term inmates is in the vocational skills training and institutional assignment areas. [ Michael J. Sabath and Ernest L. Cowles, "Using Multiple Perspectives to Develop Strategies for Managing Long Term Inmates", The Prison Journal , vol LXXX, No. 1, 1990.] They argue that for individuals spending decades in correctional institutions, many of the traditional job preparation programs have little meaning relative to their long sentences. Long-term inmates often feel frustrated that they are provided little opportunity to utilize their skills productively in a prison career. Examples of meaningful careers ranged from software development to educational video productions. Women long term offenders should have the opportunity to identify jobs that they deem meaningful. Being able to work for the community should be made a viable choice for both women serving long terms as well as all women offenders.

Another issue of importance described in the literature is early career planning. Barry Mitchell argues that if career plans are to be an effective managerial tool in establishing a sense of purpose and direction, they should be available at a relatively early stage in the sentence. [ Barry Mitchell, "The Management of Life Sentence Prisoners in England and Wales", The Prison Journal , Vol LXXX, No. 1, 1990.] This, he argues, will give lifers a sense of purpose and will help their prospects for an earlier release.

Lee Axon's study also supports this finding. [ Lee Axon, Models of Exemplary Programs for Female Inmates, Volume I : Report to the Solicitor General of Canada, 1989 .] According to the American survey she conducted, respondents suggested that choice of job assignment, higher wages, consideration for early release and special recognition by means of awards or notations in inmate files were all incentives used to combat the tendency towards apathy found among the long-term population. [ Ibid., pg. 73.] In her findings, she also reported that long-term offenders' mental health was reported to suffer: during the initial stages of incarceration; following unsuccessful appearances before parole; and, after approximately five years of confinement when, for many, family ties begin to dissolve. [ Ibid., pg. 74 .] According to Axon, women serving long sentences received fewer visits as their period of confinement lengthened. The main reasons cited for this was lack of transportation.

Axon also reported that 60 percent of women that responded reported having special pre-release needs. This finding coincides with the findings of the Release Study Survey of Federally Sentenced Women in the Community which also reported that, as an important component for successful re-integration into the community women stated they needed more information and support for their release plan, as well as maintaining family ties (whatever the length of sentence). However, as reported by Timothy Flanagan, the literature in the area of release planning, as well as community reintegration, is lacking in assessing the particular needs of long-term offenders. [ Timothy J. Flanagan, "Long-Term Incarceration: Issues of Science, Policy and Correctional Practice", Forum on Corrections Research , Vol. 4, No. 2, June 1992.] One can deduce from the literature that pre-release is more crucial to long-term offenders since they have to reintegrate into a community after many years of incarceration. However, concrete examples of what is required to facilitate release is wanting.

A significant contribution to the literature on inmates serving long sentences is the 1991 Correctional Service of Canada report of the Task Force on Long-Term Offenders, headed by Jean-Claude Perron and approved by the Correctional Service of Canada Executive Committee in March 1991 (The Perron Report). This Task Force set forth guidelines for the management of long-term sentences. Some of the most important guidelines are the following:

1. Involvement of the inmate in managing his/her sentence.

2. Personalizing programs and the decision-making process.

3. Developing programs adapted to the needs of this target group.

4. Promoting change for a successful reintegration in society.

5. Appealing for an increased involvement by the community.

These guidelines are consisten with the findings of this literature review regarding the needs of women serving long-term sentences. As well, these guidelines are similar to the five principles set forth in Creating Choices. The five (5) principles are:

1. Empowerment: the process through which women gain insight into their situation, identify their strengths, and are supported and provided the opportunity to take positive action to gain control of their lives.

2. Meaningful and responsible choices: options provided to allow Federally Sentenced Women (FSW) to make responsible choices.

3. Respect and dignity: mutual respect among FSW and staff.

4. Supportive environment: an environment which is supportive and positive.

5. Shared responsibility: integration of FSW into the community network. [ See Creating Choices as well as the Correctional Program Strategy for Federally Sentenced Women for a comprehensive description of the principles.]

It is important to assess how the principles in the Task Force Report Creating Choices, meet the needs of offenders serving long-term sentences as identified in The Perron Report. Involvement of the inmate in managing his/her sentence and personalizing programs (perhaps creating their own jobs) and the decision-making process (as stated in The Perron Report) are addressed by the principles of empowerment, meaningful and responsible choices described in Creating Choices. The development of programs adapted to the needs of the target group is addressed in the Correctional Program Strategy for Federally Sentenced Women; all program development will take these principles into consideration. Promoting change for a successful reintegration in society will be addressed by one of the fundamental recommendations of Creating Choices, which is to "expand community based resources for women released from federal custody." [ Louise Ellis, "Implementing the Federally Sentenced Women Task Force Report", Let's Talk , Correctional Service of Canada: February/March 1994, pg. 5.] Appealing for an increased involvement by the community will also be met by the principle of Creating Choices: that of shared responsibility with the community.

Overall, it can be stated that the principles of Creating Choices address the issues and recommendations put forth by The Perron Report; however, the difficulty lies in assessing how well these recommendations are executed within the context of women long-term offenders. For example, how can community involvement be achieved for women offenders serving long-terms in light of the legal restrictions discussed previously? This question is not easily answered at this time in the implementation phase of the FSW Initiative; however, identifying areas of difficulty through this literature review represents the first steps to ensure these issues are dealt with.