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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Long-Term Federally Sentenced Women: Literature Review

Appendix 3 - Long Term Offenders: Needs Identification



According to a census conducted on July 13, 1994, there are 51 federally sentenced women serving life sentences and another 19 serving sentences of 10 years and more. It is important for programs and overall operations to be responsive to the needs of this group. Therefore, areas in which meaningful change can occur must be identified.


Traditionally, there has been concern regarding the management of those serving long-term sentences. Several studies have found that this population is generally neglected by correctional services. Those serving long sentences represent a small percentage of the entire offender population and programs tend not to be sensitive to the needs that stem from long incarceration. In 1990, a task force on long-term offenders (the Perron Report), put forth several recommendations regarding the management of these offenders. It is necessary to explore how those recommendations are applicable to the experiences of federally sentenced women serving long-term sentences. As well, the fulfilment of these needs must be examined in the context of the overall program strategy for the new regional facilities.


Literature on the needs and experiences that are encountered by long-term offenders was deemed sufficient for identifying the issues. There has been a number of studies conducted on the subject. Therefore, it was decided that a discussion paper would be prepared providing an overview of the literature. A draft has been completed, and the needs of federally sentenced women serving long-term sentences are highlighted. Also outlined is how those needs are met by the overall program strategy. To ensure that the findings in the discussion paper reflected the realities experienced, it was necessary to share the findings and have the women decide whether it was an accurate articulation of their needs.

With this purpose, a group interview with women serving life and long-term sentences was conducted at the Prison for Women on September 14, 1994. Presently, there are 22 women serving life sentences and 13 serving terms of ten years or more at that prison. Interviews for these two groups were held separately. Approximately 18 lifers participated in the first interview session and 4 long-term offenders participated in the second. Since the feedback and concerns were similar for both groups, the findings have been incorporated.


Overall, there was little structure to the interviews to allow the women to identify issues they thought as important. Questions and the rationale for those are as follows:

1) Do the findings in the literature regarding the needs of long-term offenders reflect your experiences as a women long-term offender?

Rationale: The main purpose of the interview was to determine whether the literature available presents an accurate portrayal of the needs felt by the women.

2) Are there any specific programs needed in the pre-release phase of incarceration?

Rationale: In the literature there was little information on the needs of long-term offenders during the pre-release phase of incarceration. Asking the women directly may provide some guidance into what is required.

3) Are there other issues and concerns that are not mentioned, that you deem as significant?

Rationale: The purpose of this question is to identify any other issues that may be absent in the literature. For example, since women will be transferred to the new facility, it is important to determine issues arising from the move.


The discussion paper outlined several needs of federally sentenced women serving long-term sentences. The women commented on the findings as follows:

Need identified: Staff training

The literature identified that staff should be trained regarding the specific needs of offenders serving long-term sentences.


• The women agreed with this finding. They felt that staff needed to be more aware of the difficulties experienced due to the length of sentence. In addition, they believed that, at the very least, their case managers should have the expertise regarding legal restraints, as well as sufficient knowledge regarding the judicial review process.

• The women also stated that having one case manager who deals exclusively with offenders serving long terms would be beneficial, for both the case manager and the offender. This would prevent, they argued, case managers from giving priority to those serving short sentences while neglecting those serving long sentences. Also, having to deal only with long-term offenders would enable the case manager to gain experience on their legal constraints and the judicial review process.

Need identified: Programming

The literature asserted that programming often did not met the needs of offenders serving long-term sentences. The duration of programs tended to be short and programs were often postponed to later in their sentences.


• Women agreed with these findings. They stated feeling that due to the nature of their crime they should be given priority in programs such as anger management.

• Women claimed that some programs are given in all-day sessions, and it was felt that there was no connection to the program. Further, this provided no time to reflect on what was being learned and retaining the information given in such a short period of time was difficult.

• Women stated that there should be specific programs dealing with issues regarding parents legal rights.

• As well, they stated needing programs designed to deal with their judicial review. They said the judicial review was their primary goal as it represented a way out of incarceration.

Need identified: Meaningful Work

The literature identified meaningful work as an important need of offenders serving long-term sentences.


• Women agreed that this is an important component. They want to have jobs that will give them the skills to be self-sufficient in the community. Also, they stated needing to feel productive.

• Women felt they could be of assistance to those coming into the institution, since they have experienced the incarceration process. They could be of support and a source of information for the newly sentenced.

• Women were interested in having programs such as the buddy system, in which they can help other inmates orientate to the institution.

Need identified: Mobility

The literature identified the ability to move from institution to institution as an important need since it alleviated the boredom and monotony experienced when serving a sentence in one location.


• The women found this not applicable to them at the moment. They asserted that there are far more pressing issues that must be dealt with. They acknowledged that once those issues are addressed, mobility may become more significant.

• Women also felt that they liked living in one place, so that they can feel like it was their own space.

Need identified: Release and Pre-release stages

There is very little literature dealing with this specific issue.


• The women stated that being able to access programs as soon as they commenced serving their sentence would benefit them when they are to integrate back into the community.


The women made the following suggestions that would assist with the managing of their sentence, these are as follows:

A kit should be developed which contains a list of all the programs available and a detailed explanation of the duration of the programs and what each contains. (The women claimed that they often did not know what the programs entailed and this prevented them from being a full participant in their correctional plan. )

• A kit outlining some of the experiences of women coping with long sentences, as well as information about the judicial review process would be useful. It would

• alleviate much of the uncertainty suffered by the women.

• Lifers and long-term offenders should be given institutional careers. They could co-facilitate some of the programs.

• Women serving long-term sentences should receive a correctional plan at the initial stages of their sentence.

• Since most women serving long-term sentences are usually classified at the highest level, it is important to clearly outline what they can do to lower that classification level.


There were several issues and concerns that arose with regards to the new facilities. The following were mentioned:

• Since the new facilities will have no highly visible perimeters, i.e. no concrete wall, it is necessary to clearly state what is expected of the women. Since most are classified as high security, the restrictions and privileges afforded to them must be known.

• Concern was expressed regarding the information now circulating that in the new facilities they will be moved every six months, from cottage to cottage.

• They wanted to ensure that they were not all housed together. They expressed the need to see new people with whom they could talk about the outside.

• Women stated that a non-smoking cottage should be available for those that do not wish to be housed with smokers. Some have health concerns regarding second-hand smoke.

• Restrictions on belongings should be sensitive to the needs of long-term offenders.

• Levels of pay for women remain low, with some only receiving 40 dollars every two weeks.

• Restrictions concerning parcels should be sensitive to long-term offenders, since this can, at times, be their only contact with families.


Overall, the women agreed with the findings of the discussion paper presented to them. However, they asserted that these findings and recommendations are not innovative. Women serving long-term sentences have been voicing these concerns for a long time. Although these concerns were to be addressed by the implementation of the recommendations of the Perron Report, the women claimed that they have not yet been implemented at the Prison for Women.

Although the women that participated in the interview demonstrated a great willingness to share their experiences, expertise, and feedback, their level of frustration was obvious. It is crucial, therefore, that the findings and recommendations be acknowledged, and that some of the issues put forth be incorporated in the overall program strategy.