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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Exemplary Community Programs For Federally Sentenced Women : A Literature Review

Exemplary Programs

Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies
Coverdale Centre: Halifax, Nova Scotia
Grant House: Toronto, Ontario
Council on Prostitution Alternatives: Portland, Oregon
The Program for Female Offenders: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Genesis II for Women, Inc.: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Community Connection Resource Centre: San Diego, California
Womencare, Inc.: New York, New York

Based upon the criteria described above, a review of exemplary programs available for federally sentenced women released into the community was conducted. It was discovered that while an abundance of information exists on community services accessible to male offenders, the opposite was true for women. While the subject of women's criminality has gained more attention in the past decade, little remains available in the literature on community-based programs. The bulk of research which explores programs for women tends to focus within institutional settings. There were no community-based programs found in the review of literature which exclusively attend to the identified needs of federally sentenced women.

It was further discovered that few services for women were framed to specifically address the needs of female offenders; many programs were willing to accept offenders though the majority of participants were those with no criminal history. Moreover, many services claiming to be available to women, particularly those formulated for Aboriginals, were offered in conjunction with men. Further, most programs were found to target a particular problem area rather than implementing a holistic approach to treatment. This design is based upon a traditionally male-oriented framework. As noted, this fails to adequately attend to the needs of federally sentenced women. Moreover, programs which were discovered were found to be concentrated in urban centres with little or no resources accessible to women in smaller communities. Programs designed to meet the needs of Aboriginal women were also found to be lacking particularly in the Prairie provinces where they are most in demand.

While not specifically designed for federally sentenced women, there were a few programs which offer promising options for women in conflict with the law. While a formalized evaluation could not be conducted due to the limited time allotted to complete this report, the subjective opinion employed by this author based upon the criteria of effective programming recounted above is offered.

 

Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies

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The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) offers a considerable amount of service to women in conflict with the law. Under the ordinance of CAEFS, nineteen independent organizations function across Canada extending a multitude of assistance to women at every stage throughout the criminal justice system. The Societies provide education, counselling, support and a variety of programs to women and their families. Elizabeth Fry Societies are responsible for funding a number of transitional houses, shelters, telephone crisis lines, parenting programs, education and employment workshops, and self-help groups. The Societies attempt to address the multitude of issues uniquely facing women in conflict with the law.

Detweiler House located in Kingston, Ontario, Ellen House in Brampton, Ontario, Fergusson House in Ottawa, Ontario, La Maison Thérèse-Casgrain in Montreal, Quebec, Balaclava Residence in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Elizabeth Fry Society Residence in Toronto, Ontario all function under the direction of CAEFS to assist women in conflict with the law with successful re-integration into society. The transitional houses accommodate 8 to 25 women (individual houses differ) in a supervised environment. Group and individual counselling for issues of sexual\physical\emotional abuse and addiction are available as well as programs to assist in the attainment of employment and educational goals.

Women Growing Employment Project sponsored by Elizabeth Fry of Toronto is an employment training program designed to assist women who have been in conflict with the law with furthering their education and securing employment. Areas of training focus upon teaching the practical skills required for office management or interior landscaping. The program entails eight weeks of life skills, fourteen weeks of interior landscaping or office management training, and six weeks of job search and job placement. Participants receive a wage for the duration of the program.

The Sexual Assault Support Healing and Advocacy Program (S.A.S.H.A.) of The Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society in British Columbia provides support and advocacy to women who are survivors of sexual abuse or victims of recent or past sexual assault. The program operates a 24 hour telephone crisis line and offers one-on-one and group counselling sessions.

The Hamilton branch coordinates a peer support group termed Opportunities for Women which is accessible to women coping with such problems as low self-esteem, parenting difficulties, poor financial management, separation, and divorce. In addition, the group addresses such issues as women's roles in society, developing self-awareness and assertiveness, goal-setting, problem-solving, decision-making, and the utilization of community resources. Meetings are organized on a weekly basis at a mutually convenient time. Elizabeth Fry of Nova Scotia also offers assertiveness training and building self-esteem workshops called 1,000 WATTS (Women's Assertiveness Training and Theatre Sisterhood) held twice a year for a duration of six weeks.

The Elizabeth Fry Societies do not offer services exclusively for federally sentenced women as their assistance is also available to women serving provincial terms as well as women at risk for conflict with the law. Furthermore, due to budget constraints, the Societies have been forced to decrease much of their programming alternatives. Overall however, the divisions of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies offer the most extensive and viable services available to federal female offenders across Canada.

 

Coverdale Centre: Halifax, Nova Scotia

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Coverdale Centre has been in operation as a community-based agency since 1980, though has been involved in working with women in conflict with the law since 1923. The centre adheres to women-centred principles and functions from a team-oriented approach comprised of two social workers, one therapist, and one addiction counsellor. Coverdale operates on a continuum of care commencing from the moment a woman enters the criminal justice system, through to incarceration and release. There are no time restrictions placed upon help accorded; a woman can access the centre indefinitely. Services include court support, family violence and addiction counselling, mental health services, and child care assistance.

 

Grant House: Toronto, Ontario

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Grant House is a long-term, residential facility designed specifically for ten female offenders with substance abuse problems. The house encourages women to attain sobriety in an environment conducive to healing and growth. Participants are assigned a primary worker to discuss specific issues during regular one-on-one counselling sessions. A principal component of the program centres upon groups which focus upon feelings, independence, literacy, life skills, and art therapy. Community resources are also utilized including Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Cocaine Anonymous. Following completion of the program, participants are offered an aftercare support program to assist with on-going concerns.

 

Council on Prostitution Alternatives: Portland, Oregon

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The Council on Prostitution Alternatives provides a four phase, non-residential program for women who desire to escape from a lifestyle of prostitution. Approximately 84% of the participants are convicted felons. The staff include survivors of prostitution and other forms of abuse and/or recovering alcoholics/drug addicts. Program facilitators emphasize empowerment and healing and regard prostitutes as survivors/victims of long-term abuse. Women are offered individual and group counselling, emotional and practical support (clothing, food, financial assistance), education, and advocacy. The program begins with a stabilization stage followed by the reorientation, rebuilding and mentoring stages. A variety of issues are addressed including sexual abuse counselling, substance abuse treatment, life-skills training, parenting classes, and education on health-related concerns. The duration of the program is approximately eighteen months followed by admission to a transitional home. Shorter-term assistance includes emergency services (food, bus tickets, referrals to shelters) and drop-in support groups.

 

The Program for Female Offenders: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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The Program for Female Offenders provides day treatment as well as a residential program for women with serious criminal records in need of job training and employment. Participants learn word processing, data entry, research skills and marketing and are employed as telephone sales operators following completion of the program. Other services include GED preparation, life-skills training, substance abuse treatment, and mental health counselling. A day care centre is available for children and programs which attend to their needs are also offered. An aftercare program monitors the progress of participants and provides support, child care, and referrals to alternative community resources.

Genesis II for Women, Inc.: Minneapolis, Minnesota

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The Genesis II for Women program offers day treatment to women offenders and their children. Thorough assessments are conducted in order to formulate a highly structured individualized plan which takes into account each women's needs. Parenting/family services, education, and counselling are stressed as well as specific issues relating to addiction, sexual abuse, domestic violence and relationships. Daily schedules consist of individual and group therapy, parenting classes, life-skills training, GED preparation and career development. Genesis II also operates a child development program available to newborns and children up to twelve years of age. Aftercare includes a bi-weekly support group and staff maintain regular telephone contact for two years following completion of the program.

 

Community Connection Resource Centre: San Diego, California

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The Community Connection Resource Centre (CCRC) provides day services for female offenders re-entering the community which stress employment and group support for independent living. Services include life-skills education, family services, referrals for clothing, food and childcare assistance, vocational assessment, job training, and job placement. Specific programs include Freedom First (a support group for ex-offenders facilitated by ex-offenders), We Can (an employment motivational group), Jobs Plus (a support group for job maintenance), an employment skills workshop, an alcoholism\addiction recovery group, and a victim\offender reconciliation program. The duration of the program varies with each individual though typically lasts two to six months.

 

Womencare, Inc.: New York, New York

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Womencare is an advocacy program administered by volunteer mentors for mothers released from state prisons. Mentors provide support and assistance during the reintegration period for women and their children into the community. Womencare contacts mothers ninety days prior to their release and connects them to volunteers based upon the needs of the women and her children and the abilities of the mentor. Volunteers consist of ethnically diverse ex-offenders, prison staff, homemakers and professionals who undergo extensive orientation and training on such issues as cultural sensitivity and equality. Volunteers are also aware of community resources and assist women in referrals to housing agencies, social services, employment centres, and family counselling.