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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"

3 WOMEN'S PERCEPTIONS REGARDING MAXIMUM SECURITY CLASSIFICATION

3.1 Understanding of Reasons for Classification
3.2 Acceptance of Their Classification
3.3 Feelings About Being Classified Maximum Security
3.4 Effects of Maximum Security Classification

    You know what, when you're a maximum - like, I feel like they're sort of saying, like that, well the maximums that are in the federal prisons...are viewed as like the most violent female offenders in Canada. And I don't agree with that. Because not everybody that's maximum is...And I know that for me, it's not in me. I don't see me as being very violent - although I have been. (Kerry)

A number of questions that relate to the women's perceptions of their maximum security classification were explored in the interviews. Generally, the questions asked were concerned with the women's understanding of the reasons for their maximum security classification, their acceptance of their classification and feelings regarding it, and what they considered to be the effects of being classified maximum security.

 

3.1 Understanding of Reasons for Classification

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Several questions in the interviews related to the women's understanding of the reasons for their maximum security classification. Generally, the women were aware of their security classification (n=12, or 86%), provided explanations for their classification (n=11, or 79%), and were aware of dates and explanations for any changes in their classification level over the period of their incarceration (n=10, or 71%). Women identified Institutional Adjustment factors as the leading reasons for their maximum security classification (n=11, or 79%). Six women (43%, or 3 GP, 3 SNP) had, at some point(s) during the period of their incarceration, been classified as medium security. There were marked differences between women in the GP and SNP segments with respect to awareness and understanding of reasons for their maximum security classification.

General population segment

    ˇ All women in the GP segment were aware of their maximum security classification and provided some explanation as to why they were so classified. As well, all of the women in the GP segment could delineate dates and explanations for any changes in their classification level over the period of their incarceration.

    Three women in the GP segment (50%) had been classified as medium security for a considerable proportion of their incarceration. These women admitted deliberately sabotaging this lower security level (e.g. to avoid transfer to a regional facility, to avoid parole). One of these women deliberately assaulted staff in order to have her security level raised to maximum. These kinds of behaviours would likely be reflected in an increase in a woman's Institutional Adjustment and/or Public Safety rating.

    ˇ All the women in the GP segment considered Institutional Adjustment factors as the foremost reasons for their maximum security classification.

    Institutional Adjustment factors identified included assaults, drugs, and attitude (generally negative institutional behaviour).

    I assaulted staff...I wanted to stay here to be with my girlfriend because she was maximum security...and I asked them [staff] at the time if I could stay here until I was seeing what was happening with my girlfriend and that - and they told me that no I couldn't do that - I'd have to more or less do something to become maximum security - which is what I did. (Chris)

    At P4W I was a terror...assaults, being involved in the drug sub-culture in prison. I guess mainly the assaults. I mean, when you got assaults on your record they tend to up your security level. (Kerry)

    ...it was all a deliberate sort of thing...I knew that I had a good chance of getting a parole and I didn't want it - I didn't feel I deserved it - and so I self-destructed so that I would become max. I'm mostly max because I caused it - I put in on myself...That incident [staff assault] and my attitude - refusal of urinalysis...plus being disrespectful, deliberately, having an attitude...my attitude sort of kept me max. (Alison)

    Three women in the GP segment (50%) believed that self-injurious behaviour was heavily considered in determining their Institutional Adjustment.

    They thought I'd be emotionally unstable - and I was back then...that was when I had self-injurious behaviour and eating disorders and all that. (Pam)

    Let's say I was medium - and I was still here - say I burned myself with a cigarette or something - and they see you're unstable - they might knock you back up just for that. But it's only for hurting yourself. (Tanya)

    ˇ With respect to the security classification dimension of Escape Risk, two GP women (33%) raised this as a partial explanation for their classification, although both were ambivalent regarding it's validity. The remaining four women in the GP segment (67%) did not identify Escape Risk as a basis for their maximum security classification, and when it was raised, they neither perceived it as a relevant consideration nor understood it in the appropriate context.

    Because of my offence - my deportation inquiry...I think that was an escape risk - I can understand that one - a bit. But - and I've never been an escape risk before. Like, I used to work out in the yard-two times-and I could have escaped then, but I didn't. So I don't see why they put me down as an escape risk. (Pam)

    [Although having gone unlawfully at large (UAL) while on parole.] Well, I've never had an escape on my record...Well, I think before they might have been able to get away with saying that I was an escape risk. But I've been on a [E]TA [escorted temporary absence]...with no cuffs and no shackles - I didn't run, so... (Kerry)

    [Although admitting: I did escape nine times before, but not from here.] You know, every time I look at my sheets-you know, like my updates-it says like high needs this-this is high, that high-it says escape moderate. Well, what makes them think that? I never tried to escape from here - it should be low. (Tanya)

    ˇ The security classification dimension of Public Safety was neither identified by any of the women in the GP segment as a basis for their maximum security classification, nor when raised, considered relevant. However, it should be noted that these women were disinclined to consider the possibility of any relationship between their institutional behaviour and how they might behave in the community.

    I don't think that I'm going to get out there and harm anybody. (Kerry)

    Public safety - no, that was moderate...I figure that they just think that because of my crimes - that there was threats of violence that maybe I'd be violent in the future...I don't think I would be. It's when I'm on drugs that it makes me be certain ways...I haven't done drugs for over a year. [This woman has twice assaulted staff within the past year.] (Melissa)

Special needs population segment

    ˇ In comparison to women in the GP segment, the eight women in the SNP segment were less likely to know that they were classified as maximum security (n=6, or 75% were aware of their classification), less likely to know dates associated with their classification and changes to it (n= 4, or 50%), and less likely to provide reasons for their classification (n=5, or 63%).

    I never knew it until last week...and I don't know the reason why she [Case Management Officer Institution (CMOI)] said that I was maximum. (Susan)

    Because I might harm myself? That's what I thought, anyway. (Ellen)

    I don't know. I agree with it - I agree with it...I didn't know I was maximum - I thought I was medium. (Nicki)

    ˇ Where women in the SNP segment provided explanations for their maximum security classification, these explanations were limited: Institutional Adjustment and Public Safety factors were the prevalent examples in explaining their maximum security classification.

    Because I'm bad...assaults. (Denise)

    Because of my charge - arson. And because I hurt myself since I been here. And I've been plugging toilets... (Clara)

    High risk - they said I'm high risk because I have a very bad temper and I hurt people... (Rita)

    ˇ Three of the women in the SNP segment (38%) had previously been classified medium security. One of these women deliberately assaulted staff in order to stay classified as maximum and avoid transfer to a regional facility.

 

3.2 Acceptance of Their Classification

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Women were asked several questions pertaining to their acceptance of their classification as maximum security. Notwithstanding criticism the women expressed regarding security classification methods and/or whether or not they felt the maintenance of their maximum security classification level appropriate, 11 women (79%, or 5 GP, 6 SNP) stated they accepted the reasons for their having been so classified. Interestingly, despite their acceptance of their classification, five women (36%, or 4 GP, 1 SNP) stated that they are not what they consider a maximum security inmate to be. Six women (43%, or 3 GP, 3 SNP) felt they are presently ready for reclassification.

General population segment

    ˇ Five women in the GP segment (83%) expressed agreement with the reasons for their maximum security classification at the time they were so classified.

    Despite agreeing with the grounds for their classification, four of the six women in the GP segment (67%) argued that they are not a "typical max inmate."

    Well I'm not like a typical max inmate or something. Like, okay, I might act like one sometimes, but I'm not one. (Melissa)

    I don't see myself as a "maximum security inmate." I know why I'm max, and rightfully so, I guess. I was involved in the yard incident. Two guards got hurt - I assaulted them. (Kerry)

    ˇ Three women in the GP segment (50%) feel they are presently ready for reclassification. A fourth woman stated she was working on being ready for reclassification and feels she is becoming increasingly closer to achieving it.

    ˇ When asked what criteria should be used to classify women as maximum security, all six women in the GP segment identified violent behaviour - outside of the institution - as criteria that constitute reasons for this classification. Two women also stated that escape risk should be considered.

    Well, I think people that have like a violent crime - say like people that hurt children and old people, people like that - that type of crime, that's definitely maximum security. (Chris)

    I think they should only take into consideration violence and escape risk. If you're an escape risk or if you're a threat to safety. (Kerry)

    Although considering violent offences outside of the institution as an important factor in determining security classification, when specifically probed regarding the issue of their institutional violence, four women minimized this violence and its relevance as classification criteria.

    Like this wasn't an incident like - I didn't go and hit the woman [staff] with the wooden part of the broom, I didn't threaten her with any kind of a glass or anything like that - any kind of a weapon - I just kind of approached her with the straw part of the broom and that was it. Went and pleaded guilty, got [number] months and I had to pay legal aid...So I think that's enough - plus I did two weeks in segregation. And I'm still maximum security. (Chris)

    I don't think that they should take into account your behaviour inside [the institution]. I think that inside, the violence is about becoming a product of my surroundings...I mean, I remember, I mean - I've, I've shanked [knifed] a girl, you know - I've seriously hurt, you know - not guards - but - I've never, had a really, really serious assault on guards - I've had one assault where I busted a guard's nose and mouth, but not like to where I'm talking really, really violent, really hurt. But the reason I say product of my surroundings is because I did that out of fear. When it comes down to, you know, are you going to shank this person or is this person going to shank you. Or, you know, are you going to seriously hurt this person or are they going to seriously hurt you...you protect yourself and you do it out of fear. (Kerry)

    But you know what? I don't think of myself as violent - I really don't...I hurt this girl - well, I didn't hurt her bad, but, I strangled her and I got [number] months for it and stuff. (Tanya)

    I'm a violent offender, yes - I was violent, I was very violent - but they have no record of me being violent [in the institution] other than the altercation in the yard which was a minimum-type thing - like I didn't haul off and whack anybody - you know, it was sort of just pulling somebody [a correctional officer] by the arm, that's all it was - I didn't really physically beat them up really up or anything. (Alison)

Special needs population segment

    ˇ Six women in the SNP segment (75%) were in agreement with their classification level (one woman was not, and another did not comprehend the line of questioning).

    Yes, I think that they did extremely well what they did with my situation - I think that I should be a maximum security. I do. Because of my medication...I sometimes flare up and get angry. And so I do agree with their classification. (Kim)

    Well they're good reasons, but if they're going to put me medium I'll try my best on medium. But if they want to keep me a maximum it doesn't matter to me. They can do whatever they think's best for me. (Clara)

    ˇ Three women in the SNP segment (38%) felt they were presently ready for reclassification.

 

3.3 Feelings About Being Classified Maximum Security

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Interviews explored what women considered to be the implications of them being classified as maximum security. As part of this exploration, women described their feelings about being maximum security. This is differentiated from, and yet complementary to the descriptions of the effects of this classification (Section 3.4) as well as the perceived advantages of being classified down (Section 5.2).

More than half the women (n=8, or 57%) felt that there is a stigma attached to being classified as a maximum security inmate. Similarly, five women (39%) expressed feelings of distress in regard to their maximum security classification (with two of these women expressing a great deal of frustration over their classification level not having been reduced). However, six women (43%) expressed apathy and/or ambivalence in relation to their being classified as maximum security. Again, there were differences between the two population segments with respect to their feelings about being classified maximum security, with a greater proportion of the women in the GP segment acknowledging the stigma and feelings of distress regarding their classification while a greater proportion of the women in the SNP segment expressed apathy of this as an issue.

General population segment

    ˇ Five of the six women in the GP segment (83%) acknowledged that there is a stigma attached to their security classification; four of these women (67%) explained that this stigmatization has negative emotional implications for them.

    I feel shitty - and I feel like, you know, I'm a really hateful person, you know, that I'm mean and things like that - which I'm not...I feel like, you know, a real bank robber or a real hardened criminal or something like that. (Chris)

    They make us seem like we're the worst prisoners ever - in the world - I can't believe it...If people got a chance to know us they wouldn't think that. (Pam)

    ˇ Three women in the GP segment (50%) stated that being classified as maximum security was upsetting, frustrating, or of concern to them.

    I was really upset...it really bothered me emotionally too - because I was depressed. (Pam)

    ˇ Two women in the GP segment were apathetic and/or ambivalent regarding their feelings about being maximum security.

    It doesn't mean anything...because to me I don't care if I'm max, medium or minimum - it doesn't matter, right? Because I feel I'll be here - in prison - for the rest of my life - so I really don't care, sometimes. I'm talking about sometimes. (Tanya)

Special needs population segment

    ˇ Three women in the SNP segment (38%) revealed awareness of a stigma associated with their being classified as maximum security as well as negative emotional/self-esteem implications of such stigmatization.

    Makes people not trust me...And you know, to be classified [a] maximum security inmate - it goes with some low self-esteem as well. (Tina)

    I didn't feel good about it. Because I'm not a high risk anymore - I'm not dangerous. (Susan)

    Two women (29%) were concerned with or upset by the classification.

    It was hard.... It was kind of [a] scary feeling, being maximum. (Rita)

    Four women in the SNP segment (50%) expressed apathy about their maximum security classification.

    I don't mind. It don't matter to me. (Denise)

    It doesn't make any difference to me what they consider me. I really don't care. (Kim)

 

3.4 Effects of Maximum Security Classification

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Thirteen women provided responses to questions regarding the effects of a maximum security classification on how they served their time (6 GP, 7 SNP). Ten women indicated that being classified as maximum security did affect how they served their time; however, two of these women considered the effects to be positive. Three women (23%) stated that being classified maximum security did not influence how they served their time.

The effect most frequently mentioned by the women (n=9, or 69%) related to issues of institutional placement and restriction of movement, including concerns regarding the restriction of movement and activities raised by women respondents housed at Springhill Institution.7 Four women (31%) clarified their position by stressing that although their institutional placement affected how they served their time, at best they were ambivalent about wanting to be transferred. Approximately one third of the women expressed the opinion that being classified as maximum security affected their opportunities for programming (n=5, or 39%) and believed that their classification level meant that opportunities afforded other federally sentenced women are not available to them (n=4, or 31%). As well, four women (31%) raised issues relating to their lack of eligibility for passes and the possibility of unfavourable parole consideration as effects of being classified maximum security.

General population segment

    ˇ In explaining how their maximum security classification affected how they served their time, five of the six women in the GP segment (83%) addressed issues relating to institutional placement

    ˇ Two of the six women in the GP segment (33%), both from Springhill Institution, considered the lack of available programming a result of being classified maximum and housed at Springhill.

    Well, I had to come to a male institution for one thing...we don't have very much movement because we are in a male institution and we are such a small part of it...There's no programs here... (Kerry)

    ˇ Three women in the GP segment (50%) argued that their classification level means that they are precluded from opportunities afforded other federally sentenced women.

    ...that's where they put you and forget about you...the emphasis is always put on the minimums and the mediums - like they're all the priority...because they're considered the ones that are going somewhere. (Kerry)

    ˇ Three women in the GP segment (50%) addressed issues of eligibility for passes and being perceived negatively for parole as effects of being classified maximum security.

    Just that in all likelihood I won't be looked [on] very positively for ETAs, UTAs, parole. Well, it affects me in terms of placement - which institution I can be in - but I don't want to go to the new institution anyway...If I had to [I'd re-offend again in order to stay]. (Melissa)

    ˇ Only one woman in the GP segment (17%) stated that being classified as maximum had no bearing on how she served her time.

Special needs population segment

    ˇ Women in the SNP segment were much less negative in their responses about the effects of being classified maximum security. Specifically, two of the seven women in the SNP segment who answered this question (29%) felt that being classified as maximum security positively affected how they served their time and two other women (29%) claimed that being classified maximum security did not affect how they served their time. This is also consistent with responses in the previous section, where half the women in the SNP segment expressed apathy or ambivalence regarding their classification.

    Because I'm more safer maximum. I like to be with people that can help me. (Clara)

    ˇ Four of the seven women in the SNP segment who answered this question (57%) addressed issues relating to institutional placement in their responses. However, as indicated in the quote above, some women stated that they preferred not to be in a regional facility or qualified their answers by stating both the positive and negative consequences of being housed in a maximum security environment.

    They said they had to take me here - I had to go because I was maximum and they don't hold maximum in [name of regional facility] anymore. (Rita)

    Maximum inmates [are] not allowed to be at the new facilities - so we all gotta be here. (Nicki)

    ˇ Three women (43%) felt their classification level affected their opportunities for programs.

    ˇ One woman thought that being classified as maximum security would be perceived negatively for parole.

    It would look better in my parole board not to be maximum. (Susan)

7 The restriction of movement and activities as a result of being housed in a men's facility are of particular significance for the women housed at Springhill. Since CSC does not endorse co-corrections, there are great lengths taken to ensure separation from the male inmate population in terms of accommodation, programming, and recreation areas (e.g. prohibiting any movement of the male population when women are moving from their unit to another facility in the same compound).