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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Federally Sentenced Women Maximum Security Interview Project: "Not Letting the Time Do You"

Population

2.1 Study Population and Population Segments
2.2 Study Population Demographics: Personal
2.3 Study Population Demographics: Offence
2.4 Study Population Demographics: Institutional

In this section, the inmate population of this research study is described. This description includes an explanation for having segmented this population in the report as well as a summary of certain demographic information pertaining to participants' personal, offence, and institutional history.

 

2.1 Study Population and Population Segments

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Population

All non-Aboriginal maximum security women offenders were offered the opportunity to participate in this project and all but one agreed to participate (93% participation rate). Consequently, the interview data for the maximum security women offenders are population rather than sample data. Because it is a statistically small population, generalizing data results is highly limited-data should be interpreted as speaking primarily to this population in time.

Population segments

Although the non-Aboriginal maximum security women offender population is limited in size, interviews with both inmates and staff revealed that this population is heterogeneous. Therefore, to consider this population only as a whole would be misleading and problematic. The extent to which this population is heterogeneous is illustrated in the responses of the women and staff, which are often clearly differentiated in terms of sub-populations.

There are a number of possible constructions of sub-populations depending upon the weight assigned to such factors as the degree of cognitive ability/functioning, the degree and nature of mental health issues, anti-social behaviour/criminal attitude, length of sentence, accommodation issues/concerns, and any and every possible intersection of these factors.

This population of non-Aboriginal maximum security women offenders can be differentiated on the basis of the following three identifiable, but not mutually exclusive or fixed, sub-populations:

    1. Those with serious problems regarding anti-social behaviour, criminal attitudes, and institutional adjustment (typically housed in the General Population);

    2. Those with special needs resulting from serious emotional and mental health issues (typically housed as Special Needs); and

    3. Those with special needs resulting from cognitive limitations and basic skill deficits (physically located with either of the two previous sub-populations, but typically considered and/or housed as Special Needs).

These three sub-populations are evident in data generated from the present research and are consistent with Warner's (1998) three "constellations of special needs" groups. In the present research endeavour, it was observed that the distinction between the latter two sub-populations were often blurred by inmates and correctional officers. These two sub-populations were frequently grouped together and considered as "Special Needs." To varying degrees this is also evident in other related research (Rivera, 1996; Whitehall, 1995) designed to consider women with special functioning and mental health needs in comparison to the majority inmate population.

For a variety of reasons including the research population size, the desire not to break this population down into very small categories, the similarities across the interviews of the latter two sub-populations, and common blurring of these two sub-populations by inmates and correctional officers, it was deemed appropriate for the purpose of this report to separate the population more broadly into only two population segments: General Population (GP) Segment and Special Need Population (SNP) Segment. These segments, in part, serve as an organizing parameter for this report. However, while data are organized around these two segments, it is done with the understanding that there are three sub-populations and that any interventions involving this population must consider this context.

Figure 1 visually illustrates the composition of the two segments:

    The GP segment was comprised of women who were classified maximum security because of anti-social behaviour/criminal attitudes or because of anti-social behaviour/criminal attitudes and emotional/mental health issues (there were no women with diagnoses under the DSM-IV Axis I classification5 of Schizophrenia and Other Psychotic Disorders, or with other Axis I disorders that may present with psychotic symptoms (but not as defining features). This latter group could reside for long periods of time in the general maximum security population. The shaded area in Figure 1 represents this GP segmentation visually.

The SNP segment was comprised of women who would be placed in either of the other two sub-populations or any other intersection.6

Finally, with respect to the construction of population segments, there are three points that must be stressed:

    1. Terminology. The term special needs could be viewed as misleading since all the maximum security women should be considered as having special needs. Therefore, the use of the term in this report is intended to capitalize on the practical or operational differentiation that exists between women who can, for long periods of time, function within the general population and those who cannot, with the latter being designated as Special Needs.

    2. Maximum Security Classification. It is important to emphasize that those classified as maximum security are reviewed on the bases of ratings on the three dimensions discussed earlier: institutional adjustment, escape risk, and public safety. To be clear, women are not classified maximum security solely on the basis of having serious emotional and mental health issues and/or cognitive limitations/basic skill deficits.

    3. Sub-Population Construction. The construction of sub-populations and population segments is subjective, and these constructions are not mutually exclusive or fixed. Specifically, there can be considerable overlap and blurred distinctions between sub-populations; while some women's location in a particular sub-population may remain fairly static, other women's placement could move from one sub-population to another based on a variety of fluid and not always readily discernable variables (e.g. medication, situational stressors, overt behaviour). In short, the consideration of sub-populations and population segments is very useful for understanding broad differences in the issues, needs, treatment and management of the maximum security women population, but any such consideration must be done with an eye to subjectivity, fluidity, and context.

 

2.2 Study Population Demographics: Personal

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    ˇ The 14 women interviewed ranged in age from 23 to 48 years old, with a mean and median age of 32 years (SD=7.8 years) and included one black woman and 13 white women.

    ˇ Generally, women in the GP segment were younger than women in the SNP segment. The mean age of the women in the GP segment was 28 years (SD=5.9 years) compared to 35 years (SD=7.8 years) for women in the SNP segment.

    ˇ All of the women identified themselves as presently single; five of the women (36%) were divorced. Six of the women (43%) were mothers (2 GP, 4 SNP).

    ˇ The amount of formal education women had completed ranged from Grade 5 to Grade 12. In the GP segment, three women had completed Grade 12, two had completed Grade 10 and the other had completed Grade 8. In the SNP segment, one woman had completed Grade 12, three had completed Grade 8, and the remaining four women had completed Grade 5.

 

2.3 Study Population Demographics: Offence

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Type of offence

    ˇ In terms of their original sentences, all 14 of the women had been convicted of at least one violent offence (according to CSC classification). Included among these offences were: homicide (2 women), robbery (5 women), assaults (2 women), sex assaults (1 woman), and arson (4 women).

Aggregate sentence length

    ˇ Table 1 shows aggregate sentence lengths for women in the GP segment and women in the SNP segment.

Table 1
Aggregate Sentence Length

Sentence Length

GP Segment (n=6)

# %

SNP Segment (n=8)

# %

2 Years 0 0 1 12.5
2+ - 3 Years 1 16.7 4 50.0
3+ - 4 Years 1 16.7 1 12.5
Subtotal _ 4 Years 2 33.4 6 75.0
4+ - 6 Years 2 33.3 0 0
6+ Years 2 33.3 2 25.0
Subtotal > 4 Years 4 66.6 2 25.0
Ave. Sentence Length 5.20 Years (SD=2.0) 4.90 Years (SD= 4.2)

    ˇ The women's sentences range from 2 to 12 years. The average sentence is approximately 5 years (SD=3.3 years).

    ˇ Although there is not much difference in the mean sentence length between the women in the GP and SNP segments, there is a greater amount of variability in sentence length among women in the SNP segment. Specifically, five of the six women in the GP segment (83%) were serving sentences of more than 3 years (three of the women, or 50%, serving more than 5 years). In comparison, three of the eight women in the SNP segment (38%) were serving sentences of more than 3 years (two of the women, or 25%, serving more than 5 years). Most of the women in the SNP segment (five women, or 63%) were serving less than 3 years.

 

2.4 Study Population Demographics: Institutional

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CSC's automated Offender Management System (OMS) was used to extract data related to a number of institutional variables discussed below. Unless otherwise stated, these data were obtained from OMS for the 14 women interviewed. This information was considered in order to provide a more comprehensive view of this population with respect to some of the correctional variables recorded by CSC. Statistical analyses (Chi-square test of significance) were performed to assess observational differences between population segments; not surprisingly, most of these analyses were not statistically significant (due in part to the small number of women considered in this study).

Risk/Need levels

At admission, an overall risk/needs level is determined for each offender ranging from low risk, low need to high risk, high need. The overall risk rating for each offender (either "low," "medium," or "high") is provided by the Criminal Risk Assessment component of the OIA. Data for this assessment are comprised primarily from the Criminal History Record that provides specific information pertaining to past and current offences. Data may also include additional case-specific information regarding any other details pertinent to individual risk factors. The overall rating of criminogenic case needs (again, either "low," "medium," or "high") is obtained for each offender by the Case Needs Identification and Analysis (CNIA) component of the OIA. The CNIA identifies seven criminogenic need area domains, including employment, marital/family, associates, substance abuse, community functioning, personal/emotional and attitude (specific domain areas are addressed in more detail in Section 4). In addition to providing the global rating of criminogenic need, the CNIA provides a statement on the level of need for each domain area. The CNIA is an integral component in determining the nature and intensity of programming necessary in an offender's correctional plan to decrease the likelihood of recidivism.

Table 2 provides a distribution of composite risk/need levels for those women interviewed.

Table 2
Percentage Distribution of Risk/Need Levels

Risk/Need Level

Total

# %

GP Segment

# %

SNP Segment

# %

Medium-risk/Medium-need
3 21.4 2 33.3 1 12.5
Medium-risk/High-need 2 14.3 1 16.7 1 12.5

Sub-total

5 35.7 3 50.0 2 25.0
High-risk/Medium-need 0 ----- 0 ----- 0 -----
High-risk/High-need 9 64.3 3 50.0 6 75.0
Sub-total
9 64.3 3 50.0 6 75.0

    ˇ As a group, approximately two thirds (64%) of the women interviewed were designated as "high" risk, a third (36%) were designated as "medium" risk, and none of the women were assessed as "low" risk. Similarly, with respect to overall need, none of these women were designated as "low", a minority (21%) were designated as "medium" need, and most (79%) were designated as "high" need. This is consistent with Blanchette's (1997) results where maximum, medium, and minimum security women offenders were differentiated in terms of risk and need levels.

    ˇ When comparing the GP and SNP segments, some differences were noted with respect to overall risk level. Whereas half of the women in the GP segment were designated as "high" and half designated as "medium" risk, the majority of women in the SNP segment (75%) were designated as "high" risk and the remainder designated as "medium" risk.

Security classification dimensions:
Institutional Adjustment, Escape Risk, Public Safety

As outlined in Section 1.3, three dimensions are assessed/reviewed for security classification: Institutional Adjustment, Escape Risk, and Public Safety. OMS was used to obtain data on these three dimensions for the women interviewed, both in terms of initial security classification and subsequent security classification reviews. (These data were available for 13 of the 14 women.) The primary sources for this information in OMS were the OIA, Progress Summary Reports and Correctional Plans.

Security classification dimensions while designated maximum security

As a group, approximately three quarters (77%) of the women interviewed were assessed as "high" on two or more of the dimensions. A very small minority (n=2, or 15%) were assessed as "low," and then only on one dimension each (Escape Risk).

When comparing the GP and SNP segments, similarities were found with respect to the dimensions of Institutional Adjustment (all women in both segments were assessed as "high") and Escape Risk (approximately half in each segment were assessed as "moderate"). A significant difference (Chi-square, p<.01) between the GP and SNP segments was found with respect to Public Safety. Specifically, where all the women in the SNP segment were assessed as "high" in terms of Public Safety, only two women in the GP segment (33%) were assessed as "high," with the remainder assessed as "moderate." This information demonstrates high Institutional Adjustment ratings for all women classified as maximum security. Of equal importance for women in the SNP segment are high ratings of Public Safety concern.

Table 3 provides a percentage distribution of security classification dimensions for those women interviewed.

Table 3
Percentage Distribution of Security Classification Dimensions

Security Classification

Dimension:

  Total (n=13)*

# %

GP Segment

# %

SNP Segment

# %

Institutional Adjustment High 12 92.3 6 100.0 7 100.0
  Mod 1 7.7

    0 -----

0 -----
  Low 0 -----

    0 -----

0 -----
Escape Risk High 4 30.8

    2 33.3

2 28.6
  Mod 7 53.8 3 50.0 4 57.1
  Low 2 15.4 1 16.7 1 14.3
Public Safety* High 9 69.2 2 33.3 7 100.0
  Mod 4 30.8 4 66.7 0 -----
  Low 0 ----- 0 ----- 0 -----
    Note: Chi-square test of significance; * p<.01

* Information available for 13 of the 14 women (1 SNP woman missing).

Security classification dimensions while designated medium security

None of the women in this study have ever been designated as minimum security. However, six of the women (3 GP, 3 SNP) had been designated as medium security at some point during their incarceration.

When comparing the GP and SNP segments, one of the more notable differences was with respect to when women had experienced a lower security classification. For these three women in the GP segment, their medium security designation preceded their designation as maximum security. In contrast, two of the three women in the SNP segment had been cascaded down from maximum to medium security; the other woman had initially been classified as medium (briefly) and had her classification increased and lowered twice.

In terms of the women in the GP segment, in all three cases it was their Institutional Adjustment assessments that were increased to "high" (for two of the women, this went from "low" to "high") when their security designation was upgraded from medium to maximum. As well, for one woman, Escape Risk and Public Safety assessments were also increased (from "low" to "high" and from "moderate" to "high," respectively).

In contrast, there was more variability in the three women in the SNP segment with respect to what dimensions had been decreased for a lower security classification. For one woman, Institutional Adjustment and Public Safety were both decreased from "high" to "moderate," for the other two women a decrease from "high" to "moderate" in either Institutional Adjustment or Escape Risk resulted in their lower security classification. After a period ranging from 6 weeks to almost 8 months (mean = 21.9, SD=21.8 weeks), the security levels of all three women were again increased to maximum security.

Offences While Incarcerated/Additional time

According to information from OMS, nine of the 14 women (64%) committed and were convicted of new offences while they were incarcerated. In total, these nine women were convicted of 64 new offences with an average of 7 offences per woman (median = 5, SD=7.3).

All nine women had time added to their sentences as a result of new convictions; this additional time ranged from 30 days to almost 4.5 years (average = 18 months, 10 days; SD=21 months, 15 days). Four of these women increased their time by at least one third of their original sentence.

As illustrated in Figure 2, 70% of the additional convictions were assaults. Moreover, all nine women had at least one new assault conviction during their incarceration: seven women were convicted for assaults against peace officers or uniformed staff and five women were convicted for assaults against other inmates. Overall, there was no pattern with respect to the point in their incarceration that these assaults occurred. However, women in the SNP segment were much more likely to incur an assault conviction (as well as new charges) toward the approach of their release date.

In terms of assaults against staff, this group of women account for a significant portion of such incidents occurring in the institutions. Although comprising less than 10% of the entire incarcerated population, in the past 3 years these women accounted for approximately 60% of all staff assaults (even though not all 14 women were incarcerated for this entire time period).

Further information regarding offences while incarcerated/additional time is considered below, separately for the two population segments.

General population segment

Five of the six women in the GP segment (83%) were convicted of new offences committed while incarcerated. In total, these five women were convicted of 25 new offences. On average these five women were convicted of 5 new offences each (median = 2, SD=5.6).

The amount of time added to the sentences of these five women ranged from 30 days to 3 years, 8 months and 7 days. The average amount of time added to the sentences of these five women was 19.5 months (median = 8 months, SD=22 months).

Each of these five women was convicted of assault in these additional convictions: four women for assaults against peace officers and/or uniformed staff (a total of 12 convictions); three women for assaults against other inmates (a total of 4 convictions).

Special needs population segment

Four of the eight women in the SNP segment (50%) were convicted of new offences committed while incarcerated. In total, these four women were convicted of 39 new offences. On average these four women were convicted of 9.8 new offences each (median = 6.5, SD=9.1).

The amount of time added to the sentences of these four women ranged from 3 months to almost 4.5 years. The average amount of time added to the sentences of these four women was 17 months (median = 6 months, SD=24 months).

Each of these four women was convicted of assaults in these additional convictions: three women for assaults against peace officers and/or uniformed staff (a total of 27 convictions), and two women for assaults against other inmates (2 convictions).

The 10 non-assault convictions remaining were for uttering threats (6 convictions), attempting an indictable offence (1 conviction), escaping lawful custody (1 conviction), causing a disturbance (1 conviction), and mischief (1 conviction).

Generally speaking, women in the SNP segment received less time per new conviction than women in the GP segment. However, given that they committed more offences, the overall time added to their sentences is comparable.

Percentage of sentence served as maximum security

Data from OMS were used to compile the percentage of these women's sentences that were served as maximum security.

Overall as a group, these women had served the majority of their time as maximum security (81% of time served). Approximately two thirds (64%) of these women had spent at least three quarters of their time as maximum security.

On average, the percentage of time spent as maximum security was greater for women in the SNP segment (89%, SD=20.2) as compared to women in the GP segment (70%, SD=33.6). Similarly, this is reflected in Table 4, where all the women in the SNP segment had spent 55% or more of their time as maximum security, compared to half of the women in the GP segment having spent less than 55% of their time as maximum security.

Table 4
Percentage of Sentence Served as Maximum Security

Percentage of Sentence
Served as Maximum

Total

# %

GP Segment

# %

SNP Segment

# %

< 35.0% 1 7.1 1 16.7 0 -----
35.0 - 55.0 % 2 14.3 2 33.3 0 -----
55.1 - 75.0 % 2 14.3 0 ----- 2 25.0
75.1 - 99.9 % 1 7.1 0 ----- 1 12.5
100.0% 8 57.2 3 50.0 5 62.5

5 The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV), presents a multiaxial classification system for assessment of mental disorders. According to the DSM-IV, Axis I is for reporting all the various clinical disorders in the Classification except for the Personality Disorders and Mental Retardation.

6 Although structurally, both Springhill Institution and P4W have the capability to separately house those who are deemed "Special Needs" inmates, and both are currently doing so, this was not the basis for determining which sub-population women would be grouped in for this report. Rather, the bases for determining women's sub-population placement in this report was their rationality as exhibited in the interview procedure and their cognitive ability/functioning as assessed through a variety of sources (OMS files, staff interviews). Nevertheless, only three women were placed differently in this report than where they are currently being housed; in other words, there was 80% agreement between their population segment placement for the purpose of this report and their current unit housing.