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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Long-Term Federally Sentenced Women: Literature Review

Specific Needs of Women Serving Long-Term Sentences

1. Staff Training
2. Programming
3. Meaningful Work
4. Mobility
5. Release and Pre-release Stages

Overall, many of the needs and concerns identified in the literature will be addressed by the overall philosophy and framework set out in Creating Choices, and in its successful implementation. However, there are some recommendations that need to be acknowledged since they apply more particularly to women serving long-term sentences, and are present consistently throughout the literature on long term offenders. These findings were shared with FSW currently residing at the Prison for Women and serving a life or long sentences. Approximately 22 women provided their

feedback to these findings. [ See Appendix 3 for report on the interviews with FSW serving life and/or long term sentences.] The needs identified in the literature, as well as the women's responses, are as follows.

 

1. Staff Training

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The literature identified staff training as a major component for a healthy relationship between FSW and staff. Staff training programs should focus on the unique problems of long-term inmates as well as problems faced by women offenders in general. This will help them to recognize and respond appropriately to situations arising from the experience of long confinement. This recommendation was found in both the Genders and Player study, and Cindie A. Unger and Robert A. Buchanan's guide for managing long-term inmates. [ Cindie A. Unger and Robert A. Buchanan, Managing Long-Term Inmates: A Guide for the Correctional Inmates , U.S. Department of Justice: Fall 1995.] Staff training was also one of the recommendations of The Perron

Report which states "(t)hat CSC ensures that the staff working with inmates serving long-term sentences receive continuous and relevant training to meet the specific needs of these inmates...". [ Task Force Report on Long Term Sentences , (The Perron Report), Correctional Service of Canada: April 1991.]

The training should perhaps be two-fold. First, it should be aimed at training all staff to work with women serving long-term sentences, articulating the special needs of the women with regards to support and issues associated with serving a long sentence. Second, the program should train staff to acquire some expertise on judicial reviews and legal issues so they may provide information and multiply possible sources of support for the women.

Feedback: The women agreed with these findings. They agree that knowledge of both the difficulties in coping with the sentence, as well as of the legal restraints faced by FSW serving long sentences should be part of the staff training.

 

2. Programming

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The literature disclosed that programming must meet the specific needs of women serving long sentences. Programs typically last 12 to 24 months and are intended to prepare the participants for imminent release. This is not appropriate for a population that may be incarcerated for many years, yet it is equally undesirable to have their programming postponed until late in their sentence as is the general practice. Meaningful occupations in conjunction with longer programs are more beneficial. The opportunity to pursue this should be available to women. [ Unger and Buchanan, pg. 15.] This is also supported by the recommendations of The Perron Report which states, "CSC, besides facilitating the access of these inmates to the programs offered to the population in general, develop programs meeting their specific needs." [ Perron Report.]

Feedback: The women agreed with this. They felt that immediate access to programs was important, especially to programs dealing with their frustration and parenting (primarily in regards to legal issues).

 

3. Meaningful Work

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Meaningful work is closely related to programming needs. The literature consistently acknowledges that there is a tremendous need for women serving long-term sentences to feel that they are contributing to society. Developing institutional careers in which women can utilize skills they have or have learned in programming will contribute to their own self-worth.

Feedback: Women agreed that this is an important component. They felt that they can use their experiences to help others in similar situations.

 

4. Mobility

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Unger and Buchanan recommend that consideration be given to female long-termers experiencing boredom and monotony that stem from being housed in the same environment for most or all of their sentence. This can be alleviated by early release or transfers between institutions.

Feedback: The women who participated, stated that this issue is not relevant at this time. They felt that program accessibility and work opportunities are far more pressing issues that need to be addressed. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the question of mobility merits further consideration, since choice is an important component for women overall. Further, with the closure of the facility that currently houses them, all women will be relocated, therefore it is understandable that this issue is not paramount; however, in the near future it may be a factor.

 

5. Release and Pre-release Stages

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This is an area that lacks adequate information, yet it is paramount that the needs of women serving long-term sentences be clearly identified so that they can successfully reintegrate into society. Community support needs to be assessed in this area.

Feedback: Women stated that being able to access programs as soon as they commenced serving their sentence would benefit them when they integrate back into the community.