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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Parenting Roles And Experiences Of Abuse In Women Offenders: Review Of The Offender Intake Assessments


In general, OIAs Review has shown patterns of mothering and experiences of abuse among federally sentenced women similar to those identified in the Survey. The results clearly support the necessity to continue to assist women in dealing with issues that may stem from their histories of abuse, and in their roles as mothers. Correctional Service of Canada has recognized the importance of these issues for women and it is clearly reflected in the fact that both the Parenting Program as well as Survivors of Abuse/Trauma Programs represent core programs for women offenders. However, precisely because of the prevalence of these issues in women offenders, it would be beneficial to re-examine the extent to which these core programs, as currently designed, are effective as well as whether they are sufficiently targeting the specific needs that women offenders may have with respect to parenting and experiences of abuse. More specifically, in relation to abuse, the "Correctional Program Strategy for Federally Sentenced Women" (1994) outlines the necessity of provide both group work as well as individual therapy for women dealing with abuse and violence issues. However, given the significance of this issue and a high proportion of women to whom it may be relevant, more specific guidelines and greater analysis of women's needs and the appropriate correspondence with available treatment modalities seems to be lacking.

As to the Parenting Program, it is important to mention that the authors of the "Guidelines of Parenting Skills Programs for Federally Sentenced Women" state that "... there is virtually no information on the parenting styles or skills of Federally Sentenced Women" (1995, p.8), which in itself indicates the necessity of examining this issue in greater detail. However, parenting practices emerge and develop within a specific context. For that reason it is not sufficient to know solely about the parenting skills that women may have or may need to learn. These skills need to be assessed and understood in relation to women's notions of motherhood, how they perceive themselves as mothers and the ways in which their parenting practices are interwoven with their childhood experiences of being parented. In view of women's possible experiences and notions of parenting, it is clear that the parenting program needs to have a strong experiential component that will allow women to make connections between their parenting practices and their "internal models of parenting" stemming from their childhoods. Another aspect to be considered in connection to women's parenting skills (and needs) is the particular situation of their children in terms of possible behavioral and emotional reactions to their mothers' incarceration and the stigma associated with it.

In summary, given that the general trends regarding women's needs have now been identified with considerable confidence, in order to provide guidelines for a more holistic approach to the process of healing and reintegration, future research is recommended. More in-depth studies should focus on and be more sensitive to the possible interactive effects of various aspects of women's lives. Thus, further research could usefully be done on the following:

  • The likelihood that the patterns of parenting and childhood experiences to which women were exposed shape their own relationships with children and affect mother and child, both during incarceration and in subsequent reintegration;
  • The connections between childcaring patterns before incarceration and women's needs to maintain or establish contact with children during incarceration, with a view to determining the different needs and psychological challenges faced by women according to their circumstances; and
  • The possible specific qualities of the experiences of abuse (and therefore needs) that may characterize this population, given the extremely high incidence of reported experiences of abuse among women offenders.