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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Exemplary Community Programs For Federally Sentenced Women : A Literature Review

Research Studies Of Female Offenders

I. Lives and Futures (date unknown)
II. Creative Alternatives to Recidivism (1987)
III. The Release Study (1991)


I. Lives and Futures: A Report on Community Program Alternatives for High Risk/High Need Women in the Criminal Justice System (date unknown)

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Elizabeth Kappel conducted a study to examine the services necessary to address the needs of high risk female offenders. She surveyed forty-six federal and provincial women who had either never been granted parole or had been paroled with subsequent revocation. Her results concluded that programs available in the community did not correspond to the special needs of the women (74). She found that the definition of "risk" varied between community agencies to mean dangerous, high need, or at risk for re-offending (46-47). Such varying definitions influenced the ways in which women were responded to; the more disadvantages or problem areas identified for the woman, the more difficult it was for her to receive service in the community (47). This finding becomes particularly true for women who have served federal sentences.

Kappel explored the concept of an individual program model which strives to revolve resources around the woman to meet her individualized needs within the community (64). This model recommends that services be developed in response to the woman rather than attempting to assimilate the woman into existing programs. Kappel stresses that therapy is a primary aspect for success and all areas of the woman's life must be assessed and evaluated for need. Kappel further expounds that women should have a choice in the selection of program(s) and recommends that services be provided based upon the following framework:

1. Programs should be formulated to match the needs of women rather than women fitting the programs;

2. Programs should follow a holistic approach and consider such issues as housing, employment, therapy, services, relationships, and her full rights as a citizen;

3. Services and the change process should begin at the point where the woman is at in her life and progress at acceptable pace for her;

4. Services and the change process should advance in the direction the woman wants to head not where others want her to proceed (59).

Kappel accepts that this individualized model would likely prove to be costly as compared to group paradigms, though argues in response that it is less expensive than extended periods of incarceration (70-71).


II. Creative Alternatives to Recidivism (1987)

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A second study completed by Crozier and Van Nispen (1987) also found that existing programs for women in the community were inefficient to meet their identified needs. The researchers surveyed male and female offenders in Saskatchewan and concluded that female offenders were found to be among the most socially and economically disadvantaged groups of people within the province (7). When the variable of race was introduced the results became even more astounding; 83% of Saskatchewan's female inmate population was discovered to be Native as compared to a provincial total of 6% and programs were not suited to reflect this ratio (14). The researchers concluded that more adequate programs were necessary to sufficiently meet the diversity of needs presented by the female offender population.


III. The Release Study (1991)

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The Release Study conducted by Shaw et al. (1991c) interviewed fifty-seven federally sentenced women on conditional release from prison. They identified several central needs of the women surveyed:

1. relations with family members including problems with child custody and access

2. employment

3. financial difficulties

4. housing

5. substance abuse

6. physical and mental health problems

7. problems with criminal justice personnel (1991c:16-21).

Shaw et al. determined that services provided to federal female offenders released into the community were inadequate to meet their needs. They found that the women were insufficiently prepared for release without having had the opportunity to arrange such crucial concerns as employment and accommodation. Based upon their discussions with the women, the authors recommended the following:

1. more information regarding release planning;

2. greater flexibility and availability of half-way houses and community programs;

3. less conditions imposed for women released on full parole;

4. the ability to switch supervisors without judgement;

5. the option to decline treatment programs or counselling;

6. greater availability of low-cost housing; programs for employment, substance abuse and physical\sexual abuse; and

7. financial advice and support (1991c:24-25).

As is apparent by the review of research studies, federally sentenced women released into the community pose a multitude of diverse risks and needs which are not being sufficiently met by existing programming services. Needs/risks are further influenced by the race or ethnic background of the women. Moreover, women present further demands based upon their gender and society's response to women as a whole.