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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Healing The Relationship Between Federally Sentenced Women And Communities

Introduction

Background
Focus of the Discussion Paper
Methodology

 

Background

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The Church Council on Justice and Corrections (CCJC) has had a longstanding concern for the situation of women who become caught up in a criminal justice system that is not equipped to be responsive to their context and realities - even less so than it is for men. In supporting the announced closure of the Kingston Prison for Women, the Council has remained mindful of the need, well documented for the Solicitor General by the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women, to move away from traditional "correctional" approaches for women and to look for ways to involve Canadian communities in creating more effective means to address the issues important to "victim", "offender" and "community".

The Church Council's goal is to advocate for a community-based planning mechanism for women in conflict with the law, that could potentially be activated prior to sentencing at the provincial level, and could enable community participation that would help to avoid incarceration as much as possible. There are, however, numerous social and legal barriers to this objective at this time.

CCJC is presently working towards this objective by advocating for a federal planning strategy that ensures that every federally sentenced woman is placed in the community at the earliest possible date. We believe that this has implications not only for the preparation of each federally sentenced woman herself, from the very beginning of her sentence, but also for community participation to carefully prepare community members, including victims when appropriate, to accept, and if possible facilitate, the woman's successful integration when she is eventually released.

This is a particularly timely subject to integrate into the government's planning for federally sentenced women, given the pressures on current Correctional Service Canada capacity in the new regional facilities for women, the philosophical approach advocated by the Task Force Report "Creating Choices" which CSC has officially adopted, and the corporate task it is about to undertake to consider options for the appropriate "community strategy" component for the implementation of the federally sentenced woman program.

Studies have found that many women in conflict with the law have never felt part of the mainstream community in the first place: the terms "rehabilitation" and "reintegration" do not adequately describe the experiences and needs of all women upon their return from prison. At this particular juncture of planning and implementation, there is both a need and an opportunity to think creatively about how best to provide optimum practical conditions for each woman's possible "habilitation" and "integration" into the community to which she will be released; and how to provide the possibility of incorporating such a community-centered focus into all the planning and decision-making of each woman. There is also a need (and an opportunity), because of the small numbers and great diversity of federally sentenced women, to think of how to provide for this capability, or "response-ability", on an "as needed" and "where needed" basis, without creating a needlessly cumbersome, costly and marginalizing additional "correctional" infrastructure.

 

Focus of the Discussion Paper

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In keeping with the above, and in collaboration with the Federally Sentenced Woman Program of Correctional Service Canada, CCJC undertook to produce the present discussion paper on approaches and strategies for creating what was termed, for provisional working purposes, a "community advocacy network for federally sentenced women".

The paper develops the concept of a "vehicle" or "mechanism" for community planning and support that could contribute to a healing relationship between a federally sentenced woman and the community, including those who have been affected by her offence and sentence, such as victims who may wish to participate, family, friends and other community members. In considering the potential implications for concerned parties, the paper examines the strengths that emerge as most important in selecting an option for implementing this concept, as well as the aspects requiring greatest vigilance in order to avoid critical potential pitfalls. It emphasizes implications for preparing federally sentenced women, as well as community members, in a way that empowers them and encourages their active participation.

The paper also addresses itself to some practical considerations in organizing and resourcing the implementation of a plan to make such a process available to federally sentenced women, including ideas for a realistic strategy and concrete steps towards achieving such a strategy.

 

Methodology

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The work began with a review of findings concerning the release planning needs of federally sentenced women as identified in the studies carried out in the process of developing and planning the implementation of Creating Choices, as well as in a number of other sources (a list of references is provided in Appendix 1). Consideration was then given to the emerging concepts of "restorative justice" and "transformative justice" particularly for the understanding they may offer of "victim" and "community" and the needs that may have to be addressed if there is to be healing in their relationship with an "offender" (a partial bibliography of readings on "restorative" and "transformative" justice can be found in Appendix 2). A selection of program examples was also reviewed for their strengths and weaknesses in relation to the aims of the present exercise, as outlined in this introductory section of the discussion paper (see list of programs considered in Appendix 3).

The above information then served as material for a process of reflection and analysis of the most critical barriers to healing the relationship between federally sentenced women and communities. On the basis of these observations, a set of "guiding principles" and "points for vigilance" was tentatively formulated. A "working model" was then created, for what was termed, for discussion purposes only, a community advocacy response-ability mechanism (to be activated as needed for each federally sentenced woman).

This provisional working model was then sent out for reaction and review to a variety of community resource persons (approximately 30) in regions across Canada, who were selected because of their interest in federally sentenced women (including several of the women themselves), and in strengthening their community links. The purpose was to draw out the issues that needed to be addressed in the discussion paper, through follow-up correspondence and telephone calls.

In Section A, the paper looks at prior research which has drawn conclusions about the gaps in services to federally sentenced women vis-à-vis their planning and release; the needs of communities including the victims who have suffered from the effects of illegal activity; and the concept of healing their relationship. In Section B, the paper analyses the current "crisis in understanding" of criminal justice issues as it may impinge on the selection of a community strategy that is helpful to that healing. Section C describes a mechanism proposed for discussion and consideration which we believe reflects many of the concerns raised in the previous sections. Section D discusses a number of issues that have been raised through initial review and critique of the working model.

In conclusion, the paper makes a number of recommendations for further discussion and planning.