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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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CHARACTERISTICS OF THE OFFENDER

Age at the Time of the Offence
Race
Marital Status
Living Situation
Number of Children
Employment Status
Main Source of Income
Education Level
History of Substance Abuse
History of Physical, Sexual and/or Emotional Abuse
History of Mental Health Problems

 

Age at the Time of the Offence

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The women in this study who committed homicide ranged from 16 to 63 years old with the majority of the women being 20 to 40 years old (the average age was 31.2 years old). In comparison, the average age of women in the general incarcerated population was between 20 to 34 years old. Nearly one quarter of the women in the study were over the age of 40. Women convicted of homicide tend to be older.

Chart 5 below indicates the ages of women convicted of homicide. It is important to note that the category below of 13 to 18 years old includes the case of a young offender who had her case transferred to adult court when she was 16 years old. The figures below are based on 179 of the 181 women convicted of homicide in this study.

Race

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The majority of women (69.4%) convicted of homicide were Caucasian, followed by Aboriginal women who accounted for 21.1%. Chart 6 provides a racial breakdown of the women convicted of homicide as of December 1996.

 

Marital Status

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Information pertaining to an offender's marital status at the time the homicide was committed was available for 179 of the 181 women included in the study. It is important to note that this information merely states the offender's status at the time of the homicide regardless of whether or not they had been involved in other relationships in the past. For example, a woman who was married at the time of the homicide may have been married before and therefore, she is also a divorcee. However, this type of detailed information was not included, as it was often difficult to obtain and interpret.

Of the 179 women, 33% were single at the time of the homicide. Half were either involved in a common-law relationship (27.9%) or legally married (22.3%). Refer to Table 4 for a breakdown of the marital status of the women convicted of homicide.

Table 4

Marital Status at the Time of the Homicide (N=179)

Status

Number of Women

Percentage
Single 59 33%
Common-law 50 27.9%
Married 40 22.3%
Divorced 17 9.5%
Separated 11 6.1%
Widowed 2 1.1%

 

Living Situation

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Information pertaining to the offender's living situation at the time of the offence was available for 168 of the 181 women. Forty-six percent of women were living in a common law relationship; 19% of these relationships also involved at least one child. Common law relationships in this study included both male and female partners. Refer to Chart 7 for a description of the offenders living situation at the time of the offence. The other category included women who lived in unique situations such as living in a group home or in a federal prison.

Number of Children

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Information regarding the women's children was available for 178 of the 181 women. These numbers do not include children born to the offender after the homicide took place. The majority of women (68.5%) who committed homicide had at least one child either living with them or in someone else's care at the time of the offence. The most children any one woman had was 7. Refer to Table 5 for a breakdown of the number of children the women had at the time of the homicide.

Table 5

Number of Children Offender had at Time of Homicide (N=178)

Number of Children Number of Women with this Number of Children Percentage
No children 56 31.5%
1 child 44 24.7%
2 children 33 18.5%
3 children 21 11.8%
4 or more children 24 13.5%

Employment Status

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Information pertaining to women's employment at the time of the offence was available for 171 of the 181 women. More than half of the women (55.6%) were described as unemployed at the time of their arrest, meaning that it was not reported whether they had any type of job, legal or illegal. Twenty-one percent were employed and their jobs tended to be fairly stable. The sex trade industry was a fairly important occupation with 11.1% of the women working as prostitutes or exotic dancers. Refer to Chart 8 for a description of the types of employment the offenders were engaged in at the time of their offence.

Main Source of Income

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Information pertaining to the women's main source of income at the time of the offence was available for 169 of the 181 women. Forty-one percent of the women relied on social assistance as their main source of income. Social assistance was defined in the study as welfare, family allowance, disability compensation, or any other funds allocated from the government or other such organizations. Twenty-eight percent of the women received their income from some form of legal employment whereas 7.7% met their financial obligations through illegal activities such as prostitution, theft, fraud and other indictable offences. Thirteen point six percent were dependent on others, such as a spouse or parent. Refer to Chart 9 for the breakdown of the women's main source of income at the time of their offence. The category "other" includes a source of income such as an inheritance.

Education Level

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Education level is defined in this study as the last level of formal education the women had successfully completed prior to their homicide conviction. Information pertaining to education level was available for 169 of the 181 women. The majority of women (65.1%) had some form of high school education; however, only 13.6% had completed high school. Twelve point four percent went on to some type of post-secondary education in the form of university, college or trade school with a few women earning degrees from these programs. Chart 10 illustrates the women's education level at the time of their offence.

History of Substance Abuse

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Substance abuse was a problem for many of the women convicted of homicide. Substance abuse is defined in this study as the abuse of alcohol and/or drugs at any time in the offender's past. History of drug use includes the use of illicit drugs such as marijuana and heroin, as well as the abuse of prescription drugs, such as valium. It does not include social drinking or the occasional use of substances.

Substance abuse information was available for 177 cases. The majority of women (67.2%) had a history of substance abuse (Table 6 below).

Table 6

History of Substance Abuse

(N=177)

Yes

119

67.2%

No

58

32.8%

An attempt was also made to determine exactly what substances were being used. Of the 101 women for whom the nature of the substance abuse problem had been reported, 26.1% only used alcohol while slightly fewer women, 15.1% used only drugs. The majority of the women (58.8%) had histories of substance abuse that involved both alcohol and drugs (refer to Chart 11 below).

History of Physical, Sexual and/or Emotional Abuse

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Experiences of abuse were common in the lives of the women who were convicted of homicide. Abuse was defined in this study as physical abuse (beatings and assault), sexual abuse (sexual assault and molestation), and emotional abuse (verbal attacks and neglect). The three forms of abuse have been grouped together since it was difficult to determine which type of abuse the file information was specifically referring to and the level of severity of this abuse. Therefore, one, all or any combination of the three forms of abuse and any level of severity has been included.

As displayed in Table 7 below, 82.3% of the women had reported experiencing some form of abuse. In 17.1% of the cases, there was no indication of a history of abuse8.

Table 7

History of Physical, Sexual, and/or

Emotional Abuse

(N=181)

Yes

149

82.3%

No

32

17.7%

In addition to determining whether or not there was a history of abuse, an attempt was made to determine the nature of the relationship between the abuser and the offender 9.

For 49 cases, the exact relationship between the women and the abuser was not identified. Of the remaining cases, 37.1% of the women who experienced abuse were abused by an intimate partner. An intimate partner includes common-law and marital spouse, ex-spouse, current spouse, and boyfriend/girlfriend. As well, this category could include abuse from more than one individual. For example, the offender may have experienced abuse from a current husband, as well as, an ex-husband.

Abuse also came from a variety of other sources including the following: the offender's parents (one or more biological or step-parent); family members and relatives; and other non-relatives such as school kids and strangers. Refer to Chart 12 for a breakdown of the sources of abuse the women experienced prior to being convicted of homicide.

It is important to note that over one third of the women seem to have experienced some form of abuse during both childhood and adulthood.

History of Mental Health Problems

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Although, information was available for 178 of the 181 women pertaining to a history of mental health problems, it was limited in nature. It is often difficult to determine precisely what the mental health concern is. 10 Different doctors or mental health workers may have different interpretations about the same case and assign different labels to the same condition. It is important to keep in mind that this information pertains to an offender's entire history of mental health problems, which may or may not have contributed to the perpetration of the homicide.

The majority of women (64.7%) included in this study did not have a history of mental health problems (refer to Table 8).

Table 8

History of Mental Health Problems

(N=178)

Yes

61

35.3%

No

112

64.7%

Of the 61 women who did have a history of a mental health problem, information was available for 51 of the women regarding the type of mental health problem (see Chart 13 below). Depression was the most common mental health concern accounting for 29.4% of the cases. The next most common mental health concern was borderline personality disorder, which accounted for 15.7% of the cases. A few women were diagnosed with schizophrenia (7.8%), multiple personality disorder (5.9%), bipolar disorder (5.9%), and one woman was diagnosed with passive aggressive personality (2.0%).

A third of the women (33.3%), were diagnosed with more than one disorder or other disorders not captured by the categories included in this study. Refer to Annex 1 for the definitions of the above mental health concerns.

8 This may mean there was, in fact, no abuse or could possibly indicate that it had yet to be revealed/documented.

9 The abuser was not necessarily the homicide victim.

10 It should be noted that a variety of mental health services are available to women during their incarceration. These range from one-to-one counselling with psychologists, other mental health service providers or Elders, to different groups based on the "wellness model". An Intensive Healing Program is also available at the Regional Psychiatric Centre in the Prairies for those with personality disorders who voluntarily request treatment. In regards to women who are supervised in the community, mental health intervention, as well as community counselling services, are accessible.