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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"


    Your attitude has to change. Without a change of attitude, you're not going to be able to achieve anything or get anywhere. (Alison)

Many questions relating to security classification reduction were explored in the interviews. In Section 5, responses regarding the women's general perceptions of security level reduction are summarized. Specifically, questions considered in this section concern whether the maximum security women interviewed want to reduce their security level, whether they perceive there to be advantages of being classified down, and if so, whether there are advantages associated with a lower security classification. As well, the questions explored the women's subjective level of understanding of how security levels can be reduced.

5.1 Whether Women Want To Be Classified Down

More than three-quarters of the maximum security women (79%) stated that there had been periods of time in which they had not been interested in reducing their maximum security level or had actively engaged in behaviours to achieve or maintain maximum security. As indicated in Figure 4 below, at the time of their interviews slightly more than half of the maximum security women (57%) expressed the desire to be classified down. The SNP segment accounted for 60% of those women who did not want to be classified down.

Figure 4
Whether Women Want to be Classified Down

# Women

  • All six of the women in the GP segment expressed that for a considerable period of time at the beginning of their maximum security classification, they had little or no wish to reduce their security level.

    When I first came here my attitude wasn't that good - I admit... Well, just talking back to the guards - I didn't really care - I didn't really think about the consequences of what I did - that's changed now. I decided that - I realized that I have to try - since I've been on the range [moved from being housed with special needs population to being housed with general population], this happened actually, and I wanted to get myself down to medium - so I just tried harder - I figured that I might as well do it now because it will look better for me in the long run...I don't know...Back then it didn't matter - when I first got here - the first, like six months. (Pam)

    Like I said...I didn't want [to be] medium - I was at the point where I thought there's no point in setting myself up. (Chris)

    ˇ Similarly, one woman who had on a previous occasion been classified down to medium, spoke of not having been ready for the security reduction.

    I think when I was reclassified to medium - I think it was a little too quick...I think if I [had not been reclassified] so quickly - if my security level wasn't lowered so quickly I might have had a little bit more time to address a little more and make myself a little bit more prepared - but I really feel that I was being rushed out the door - I really do. And I couldn't understand it - because I am a violent offender and I am in for a violent crime - so I couldn't understand why would they want to hurry up and get me into society? (Alison)

  • Four of the six women in the GP segment (67%) stated emphatically that they now wished to reduce their maximum security classification and that they were actively involved in this pursuit. Moreover, these four women felt that reducing their security level was a realistic and attainable goal.

    I never, ever saw it as an achievable goal until probably three or four months ago. But now that I see it as an achievable goal, it's worth giving it the initiative to try and reach. (Kerry)

  • Of the two GP women who were ambivalent about reducing their security level, one woman stated that she had not given her security classification much thought. She also expressed ambivalence about wanting a lower classification and about being able to attain such a goal. The other woman clearly stated that she did not want her security level reduced if it meant leaving the unit where she was currently housed.

    I've never really thought too much about my classification, like max, so I don't really know - for me, I've been max the whole time, so I don't think about it...Well, I feel like I'll never achieve it, so what's the sense? (Tanya)

Special needs population segment

  • Five of the eight women in the SNP segment (63%) expressed having experienced long periods of time where they had no desire to reduce their maximum security classification.

    I don't care really - I just would like to get out when it's time to go. (Kim)

  • Two of these women expressed having actively done something (e.g. assault staff) in order to maintain their classification

    ...I never did want to go [to the regional facility] - I act[ed] out - punched out a staff member so I make sure that I won't go...Because I'm used to all the staff here - and I didn't want to change - I didn't want to go...They knew that - they could figure that out. (Nicki)

5.2 Perceived Advantages of Being Classified Down

The women interviewed were asked for their perceptions of the differences between the ways that women who were maximum security and women who were medium security did their time as well as what they considered to be some of the advantages of being classified down to a lower security level. Generally, the women felt that how an inmate was classified did affect how they served their time - from determining where they served their time (i.e. a regional facility or a maximum security unit), to the amount of restrictions placed on their movement (i.e. eligibility for certain types of passes, etc.).

General population segment

Five of the six women in the GP segment (83%) stated that there were differences between the ways that women who were maximum security and women who were medium security did their time. Such differences included not having to wear shackles and cuffs when leaving the institution for ETAs, the possibility of getting passes, being perceived as "worth a chance," and differences in the institutions where women did their time.

All six women listed a number of advantages to being classified down. These advantages included:

  • Increased parole opportunities and/or a more structured release plan (n=6, or 100%).
  • The possibility, though not the mandate of transfer to a regional facility (n=5, or 83%).
  • The possibility of getting UTAs and ETAs (n=4, or 67%).
  • Less stigma attached to a medium security classification - both within and outside of the institution (n=3, or 50%).

    Well, I wouldn't feel like I was such a big threat going outside on my statutory release with this great big thing on my file - "maximum security." (Chris)

  • Feeling that there were greater opportunities for programming at a regional facility (n=2, or 33%).

    Programs, programs, and programs. When you're maximum, you get nothing - I'm telling you. You're thrown by the wayside. You know - they feel you're not worth anything. And you feel like you're going to sit there until your MS [mandatory supervision] or your warrant expiry - which is what maximums do if they don't get reclassified...When you're a medium, then they sort of look at - okay, this program can help you do this or that - you get a chance to go somewhere. When you're a medium you're eligible for ETA - you know, successful completion of ETAs, then you're open for a UTA, then you can get a day parole and then you can get out. You can't work your way out from being maximum - you just can't, all right. Because you can't get any TA's, you can't, you know, get a day parole. Nobody wants to have anything to do with you - you're maximum, you know. They don't know what to do with us... (Kerry)

Special needs population segment

Six of the seven women in the SNP segment who understood this line of questioning (86%) stated that there were differences between the ways that women who were maximum security and women who were medium security did their time.

Six of the women stated there were advantages to being classified down, included among the advantages listed were:

  • Structural and organizational differences between where they are currently being housed and the regional facilities (n=3, or 43%).

    You live in a house and you don't have no staff members telling you what to do. You cook your own meals. And the girls do whatever you want to do in the house. But here - you can't do nothing - just spending time. (Nicki)

  • The opportunity to be transferred to a regional facility (n=2, or 29%).
  • Feelings that there are more programs and more things to do for medium security women (two women linked this to being at the regional facilities) (n=3, or 43%).

    Get more things to do. (Denise)

      One woman felt that a medium security classification would look better for the parole board and, because of programming opportunities, also provide a better chance of successful reintegration to the community.

    ...if I was classified medium it would give me a chance...In [name of regional facility] you get to have an open house, real bed to sleep on, no locked have free roam. And you get to learn cooking can't just expect a maximum security inmate, who's been max all during her sentence, and not learning no trade, no life skills, been incarcerated for a long time, and they go out - how long do you think a person who's been in prison for a couple years - and there's another person who's been medium and who's learned all these skills - medium person will go out and the other person will just fall on their face. (Tina)

  • Less restriction of movement within the institution for medium security women (n=2, or 29%).

    It's hard to do your time in a maximum - it's easier to do your time in a regular jail, like [name of regional facility]. Like they got more things to do. Like from walking in the night [being able to walk around in house] - like you gotta be watched here all the time, being maximum. You can go to the gym - and they have crafts everyday almost. (Rita)

  • Absence of shackles and handcuffs for medium security women when leaving the institution to go to the hospital (n=1).

    ...if I was medium I wouldn't have to get shackled when they take me to the hospital outside - mediums don't get shackled. (Clara)

5.3 Women's Understanding of How Security Levels Can Be Reduced

As indicated in Figure 5 below, more than half the maximum security women (57%) rated their level of understanding of how security levels are reduced as poor. Exhibiting good institutional behaviour was identified by all women as an important factor in the reduction of security classification. There were marked differences between GP and SNP women both in respect to how they rated their level of understanding and the extent of their understanding, with women in the GP segment perceiving and demonstrating a greater degree of understanding.

General population segment

  • Most women in the GP segment considered the reduction of their security classification as contingent upon exhibiting a certain pattern of conformity that included good institutional behaviour and following their correctional plan.

    Exhibiting a pattern of good institutional behaviour was identified by all the women in the GP segment as an important consideration for security classification reduction. This was explained in terms of staying charge-free, being respectful of staff and inmates, having a positive attitude, not being reactionary, and being consistent.

    I think I was really on a self-destructive pattern when I was there [at P4W]. I was digging my hole deeper and deeper - I didn't give a fuck about relocation, I didn't give a fuck about getting out of prison. Most of the times I didn't give a fuck about staying in - most of the times I didn't give a fuck whether I'd live to see the next morning, you know. I mean, I was really suicidal. I didn't think I'd ever get out of prison, I thought that my life would be - like, you know - that I'd be 50 years old looking back on my life in prison. (Kerry)

  • Five of the women in the GP segment (83%) identified following their correctional plan, especially in terms of actively participating in programming, including attending programs and working, as important for security classification reduction.
  • Aside from programming, three women (50%) stated that it was important to be seen as working on their issues (e.g. not self-injuring, staying clean, and not exhibiting ups and downs) in order to be favorably reviewed for a lower security classification.

    I knew what I had to do - number one was complete attitude adjustment...Well I guess, a maximum woman - I guess it's basically your behaviour, your attitude...if you're going around and you're saying well this is me and I don't care what you say...and I don't need any help because I got it all together - I think that's the big difference - as soon as you start realizing that you don't have it all together and you start reaching out for help - then you can become medium. But the big thing is your behaviour - violent outbursts, of course you're going to be maximum - dirty urinalysis, attitude, if you're not being productive, if you're not going to work, if you're not participating in programs, integrating with other inmates very well - I think that keeps you max. (Alison)

    Well, I think that if I stopped threatening people - hitting people - did the programs, go to the gym with the girls - the Y comes in, do that - if they see me participating, doing things, then I think that that would help. Then I think that within three months I could have my security lowered. (Tanya)

    Just try not to, you know, let history repeat itself... (Chris)

Special needs population segment
  • Exhibiting good institutional behaviour was also identified by all the women in the SNP segment as an important factor in security reduction. However, they did not view this as an overall pattern of attitude and behaviour per se, but rather more directly in terms of being "good," "taking one's medications," being "polite" to guards, "follow[ing] orders," and not incurring charges.

    Okay, let me see, don't get no charges, be polite to the guards. (Denise)

  • Four of the women in the SNP segment (50%) mentioned participating in programs as important for security classification reduction.

    If I wanted to get lower status [I needed] - to do my programs, take my medication, and treat the officers with respect and that's about it. (Kim)

    Not to hurt anybody. Don't break the crimes or the rules. You can get charged from here too - you can get charged for breaking crimes...I gotta [sic] be good here - no charges. (Rita)

    To behave myself and not to throw things or plug toilets and do what the guards tell me to do and ignore the girls if they try to get me upset...well they want me to go to programs - but they're too hard for me. (Clara)

Figure 5
Women's Understanding of How Security Levels Can Be Reduced

# of Women

Level of Understanding