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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Exemplary Community Programs For Federally Sentenced Women : A Literature Review

The Importance Of Assisting FSW

As the numbers of female offenders have typically been minimal, female criminality has traditionally been viewed as inconsequential and has therefore acquired little attention by researchers (Gavigan, 1993:227-228). However, although women constitute a relatively small percentage of the total offender population they remain a particularly important classification of offenders to consider. When women are imprisoned, the ramifications of their confinement are twofold. Not only are they affected, but their children are consequenced as well. It is estimated that approximately two-thirds of federally sentenced women are mothers, the majority of which are sole-supporting parents (CSC pamphlet). The children of incarcerated mothers often find themselves being cared for by extended family or living in foster homes as the fathers are typically unavailable. In the National Prison Survey (1991), 81% of incarcerated men with dependent children stated that their spouse, ex-spouse or partner cared for the children during their period of imprisonment compared to only 19% of women (National Policy Committee on Resettlement, 1993:11). Women tend to be the fabric which binds many families; when they are imprisoned their families collapse.

As such, it is important to consider the implications of children growing up motherless. Research undertaken by Carlen (1988) found that children of incarcerated mothers tend to experience similar disadvantages as their mothers endured during childhood. More specifically, Carlen concluded that children brought into residential care by the state, which is often the case when mothers are imprisoned, are highly susceptible to criminal activity in later years (1988:106). This perpetuates a cycle of criminality in which victimized children habitually become adult criminals.

In addition, female offenders (those with or without children) constitute a population who have withstood lives wrought with violence and abuse. Ninety percent of federally sentenced Aboriginal women and 80% of the remaining women are adult survivors of physical/sexual abuse (CSC pamphlet). These women require programs to aid them in their recovery process and allow them to overcome destructive patterns of behaviour.

Therefore, offering programs conducive to the needs of federally sentenced women not only benefits them, but also their families and society in general. As such, research needs to be initiated in order to determine the most effective programming models. Before research can be initiated, however, a synopsis of the female offender population should be recounted.