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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"

Literacy and Education Programs

7.1 Role of Programs
7.2 Program Participation: Motivational Issues
7.3 CSC Core Programs
7.4 Miscellaneous Programs and Activities
7.5 Psychology/Counseling Services
7.6 Women's Suggestions Regarding Programs


In this section, the perspectives of the women interviewed with respect to the relationship of programs to security classification reduction are specifically considered. As discussed earlier, all federal offenders undergo a comprehensive and integrated Offender Intake Assessment (OIA) process. Recall that the OIA has several subcomponents: community intake assessment, initial assessment, criminal risk assessment, the Case Needs Identification and Analysis (CNIA), psychological and supplementary assessments, and a criminal profile. The OIA assessment provides for appropriate classification and contributes specific information for a summary of special concerns (if any), offender treatment needs and treatability, and perceived risk to re-offend.

Through this comprehensive assessment process, criminogenic need areas are identified and targeted for programming intervention (since criminogenic needs are dynamic factors, they are amenable to intervention). CSC has developed what are termed "core programs" to specifically address the criminogenic need areas so that the offender's likelihood of re-offending is reduced. CSC has adopted the cognitive, social learning approach to personal development training.

The Correctional Program Strategy for Federally Sentenced Women (1994) sets out the core programs for women offenders. They are similar to those for men, with one exception: the Survivors of Abuse and Trauma Programs. There is no demonstrated link between surviving violence/abuse/trauma and criminal behaviour; however, the impact of this type of victimization is severe enough to affect women's adjustment and ability to engage/benefit from other programs while incarcerated. The core programs for women are:

1. Living Skills Programs (Cognitive Skills and Anger Management)

2. Substance Abuse Programs

3. Literacy and Continuous Learning Programs

4. Survivors of Abuse and Trauma Programs

Core programs, since they are specifically targeted toward addressing identified need areas, are compulsory insofar as they do comprise part of an offender's correctional plan. Moreover, successful completion of core programs identified on an offender's correctional plan is likely to positively influence parole considerations. Consequently, core programs are distinct from the range of other miscellaneous programs and services offered, such as recreational and leisure programs, multi-cultural programs, and health programs and services. Although these other programs and services are an integral component in the overall program strategy for women offenders and may play a role in the successful reintegration of women offenders, these programs are not targeted toward criminogenic factors, have not been statistically shown to impact recidivism, and participation is interest-driven and of a purely voluntary nature.

Women were asked a variety of questions regarding programs offered institutionally. Questions asked related to their understanding of the role and perceived usefulness of programs in terms of security classification reduction, their participation in programs and factors influencing their participation, their perceptions of CSC core programs as well as miscellaneous programs and activities, their views regarding psychology/counseling, and their suggestions for new programs.



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There were marked differences between women in the GP and SNP segments with respect to their understanding of the role of programs and the degree of importance they then attributed to programs, particularly as a vehicle for security classification reduction. There were also marked differences between women in the GP and SNP segments regarding the types of programs women participated in and found useful.

General population segment

  • All six women in the GP segment considered their participation in programs a factor in security level reduction. When asked their opinion regarding the importance of programs to reducing their security level, four of the six women in the GP segment (67%) considered programs as very important (particularly, although not exclusively, core programs).

    Well, I mean to reduce your factors you have to take programs. If there's no programs, you can't reduce your factors-it takes you longer to get out of max. (Kerry)

    ...see a lot of the mistake they make is, "well, we'll wait till they get down to medium and they can take it [core program] in [name of regional facility]" - but I think the time is now. I mean, you want to get your security level down and if you don't have these programs, you don't really have much to show for it other than your behaviour - which is good - because you have to keep your behaviour good and everything in here - but I think there should be more parts to it than that. (Alison)

  • Women in the GP segment considered programs that were intended to address their criminogenic needs and risks, and/or their emotional distress/behaviour as particularly important. you to realize that you do have talents and you could use those talents to get a job - to feel like you're really worth something - because I think that's a big thing for a lot of women...[programs are] very important - I feel that without them you're just sitting and you're just doing your time and all the problems that got you here in the first place are still buried deep within and there's going to be a time when they come out - there's a big risk to re-offend there. (Alison)

    I think they are very important...Because I think that they contribute in a big way to the transition of being reduced from maximum to medium. To be able to get your behaviour intact, your drug use in tact, your - you know, stuff like self-mutilation. (Kerry)

  • One woman was ambivalent regarding the importance of programs, while another clearly stated that she did not consider programs important.

    I don't find it a really important thing right now. Sure it will give me skills, but I've taken a lot of these programs at another institution - and I got all my certificates from them. And I have a hard time remembering things - so it might not help me in the future, because I might forget it. (Melissa)

Special needs population segment

  • Women in the SNP segment saw the role of programs as much more related to occupying their time with interesting things to do than with addressing their criminogenic needs; three women (38%) did comment on this connection.

    Crafts and art expression. Gym. I like aerobics's good for you to keep busy and learn new hobbies. (Rita)

    Programs are very important - and it shows - it brings up your self-esteem, your self-worth and your education level - and your awareness [of] yourself, for you become more aware of what you need to do on the street. (Tina)


7.2 Program Participation: Motivational Issues

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Interview questions explored what the women considered to be factors affecting their wanting or not wanting to participate in programs. For women in both population segments, program participation was considerably influenced by a variety of motivational variables. Women in the GP segment offered specific factors influencing their motivation, while for women in the SNP segment, the motivational variables affecting their participation in programs were generally more simplistic and situational.

Reluctance to participate in a group model of program delivery was specifically raised by more than half (57%) of the women interviewed. As well, issues of trust and interest had particularly salient motivational impact across both population segments. In fact, issues of trust intersected with most of the motivational variables identified.

    Like just overall, I didn't really feel comfortable about programs... and I find it difficult to trust people that I've just met, both in terms of the other girls and also with the staff... and I think, well, I didn't really give it a chance, I didn't really open up until like just a few months ago. (Pam)

General population segment

Interviews spontaneously revealed four prominent themes among women which affected their motivation to participate in programs:

    1. Discomfort with the group model and group dynamics;

    2. Program considered valuable;

    3. Indifference toward programs; and

    4. Something to do with their time.

Discomfort with group model and group dynamics

  • Four of the women in the GP segment (67%) expressed their reluctance to participate in some, or all, programs that involved a group model. Reasons for this reluctance related to issues around fear of sharing, feeling uncomfortable and anxious, and general difficulties in trusting other participants.

    I wouldn't feel comfortable, I would be very uncomfortable - I'd have anxiety attacks. I don't know - I just don't trust them...I don't trust people here. (Melissa)

    Well I think programming is important - and sometimes I wish I did more of it - but a lot of time it's the groups that keep me away from everything. (Tanya)

  • All four women had participated in at least one program that had been delivered on a one-to-one basis in an effort to accommodate this reluctance.

    ...I requested to be one-on-one because I didn't feel comfortable going to a group...because I've never been in a group setting - I've never been. I don't mind talking one-on-one with somebody, but when I'm in a group thing I just don't feel comfortable talking...especially when it's personal - when it's substance abuse. I just want that to be one-on-one because I don't feel comfortable talking about my alcohol problem in front of people. (Pam)

    Some people really don't feel comfortable in a group. They should have like, more one-on-ones, more one-on-ones would be helpful, yeah. (Chris)

  • One of the women acknowledged the benefits of group programs once reluctance to participate is overcome.

    Because I realized that I'm not the only one that has - like problems - and other people that share - so I don't feel as different. I feel like that people are going to judge me for my alcohol and stuff, but now I don't mind....first I had to get used to talking to somebody about my alcoholism and then I could start sharing it in a group...when I first started going to AA I didn't talk, but after I started seeing [name of substance abuse counselor] in October, I've been going to AA every [week] and I share there. (Pam)

  • Concerns relating to negative group dynamics, particularly disinterested and/or disruptive attitudes exhibited by other participants, were raised by three women as influencing their participation in programs.

    Okay - I guess I felt like I was defeating the purpose or something up in P4W - I didn't feel that it was taken seriously - because I figured - I guess it's the way the environment is - it's us and it's them. I think everybody just more or less was going just to get out on their parole. They weren't really focusing on their needs and getting down to the problem areas. I think they were just listening, or just sitting in the chair and just being there so that it would be down on paper, so it would be acknowledged that they went. I really don't feel that they were being open-minded and they were truly taking in anything. (Alison)

Program Considered Valuable

  • Considering a program to be valuable was the most prevalent motivational variable influencing the women's participation. All six women in the GP segment raised issues related to this variable.
  • Their bases for considering programs as valuable included feeling that they "needed" the program, feeling that the program itself was meritous, and respecting the qualifications of those delivering the program.

    For me, if I know that I need it, then I'm happy to participate. But if I think that I don't need it, then I don't feel comfortable in going. Like, last year I was taking cognitive skills, but I wasn't really good - I wasn't really prepared to take it last year...because I wasn't really ready emotionally back then to take it. Because I didn't think I needed it...I don't think it should be forced upon somebody unless they need it...and I just wish that I had given it a chance the first time because I probably would have been dropped to medium if I had... (Pam)

    I want to participate in cog [cognitive] skills because I really need cog skills...I don't want to participate in substance abuse because I think that substance abuse, as far as I'm concerned, is totally up to the individual. (Chris)

    Anyway, the programs aren't intensive enough. Like, maybe if they were more intensive I would be interested. (Tanya)

    With respect to the qualifications of program deliverers, three women (50%) stated that it is important to them that program deliverers have personal experience with the subject content (especially substance abuse and sexual abuse).

    Well, I think [inmates] will be more willing to listen to someone who didn't just learn from the book - someone who's been there, you know, like with drugs, with corrections, with abuse. Someone who's been where you've been - they know really where you're at and how you're feeling - 'cuz [sic] they've been there. [If they have not been there]...then they might have good intentions but you don't think that they really know where you're coming from - they really don't know what's going on. They have a harder time pinpointing that - 'cuz [sic] they haven't been there. (Kerry)

Indifference toward programs

  • Four of the women in the GP segment (67%) acknowledged that there were considerable periods of time where they were indifferent toward participating in any programming. In hindsight, two of these women attributed this attitude to posturing around the "inmate code." When questioned as to what could have broken through this attitude, the women were at a loss for suggestions, arguing that the whole environment essentially reinforced this attitude and that at times they are "unreachable."

    No, no I didn't [want to participate in programming]...I, myself, just wasn't interested - I was on a real self-destructive bend...I don't know how they [CSC] could have [gotten through the attitude], I don't know . (Kerry)

    I think then I wasn't ready to do anything...I wasn't really interested in much...especially programs. (Tanya)

Something to do
  • Regardless of whether women considered programs important or helpful, three women in the GP segment (50%) commented that, for them, part of the reason for their participation was, quite simply, that it filled the time.

    I want to get paid. I want to do something to keep myself busy too...Anything [any program] - yeah, I'd do it. (Melissa)

    I think, you know, being productive - I think that's an important one for me because I'm the type of person - I like to move around, I like to do things with my time - like I like to have something to do all the time. (Alison)

Special needs population segment

Women in the SNP segment were less discriminatory about participating in programs, provided fewer reasons for participating or not participating in programs, and their reasons for participation were often circumstantial. Participation was commonly influenced by their assessments of whether the programs were "boring," "difficult," or "fun."

In comparison to women in the GP segment, women in the SNP segment raised issues regarding group participation more related to situational incompatibilities between participants.

  • There were differences between women with low cognitive abilities and those who functioned at a higher cognitive level in terms of the types of programs they enjoyed participating in. Namely, women with higher cognitive functioning enjoyed participating in programs that challenged their cognitive abilities and encouraged self-awareness.

    Yeah, I like the programs. Well, I think we all need to keep learning, you know. And the more information we collect in our brain, the more thinking we do clearly, you know. And we can think from day to day what to do. (Susan)

    Things like education programs - well it learns you more things - it learns you more about yourself. (Tina)

  • All the women in the SNP segment enjoyed creative programs, however women with lower cognitive abilities were more inclined to prefer participating in these sorts of programs. In fact, these more creative types of programs were the first kinds of programs women with low cognitive abilities identified. On the other hand, programs that challenged their cognitive abilities were considered "too hard" or dismissed as "boring."

    I like programs...crafts, sewing. 'Cus you make pretty things and you be proud of it when you're done. I picked up a stenciling book today - I hope to paint a bird and flowers. (Rita)

    Art...I like to paint - I don't draw all that well. Or colour, or something like that...those are the programs I like. (Ellen)

    I don't want to be on programs. 'Cus they are too hard for me to answer the questions - and I'm not like them [other inmates] - I only have grade 5 education... I tried a couple of times...a couple of weeks to do it - but it was too hard. (Clara)

    I hate programs...I don't believe in programs. They're too boring. (Denise)

  • Considerations of whether programs were valuable did not play the critical role with women in the SNP segment that it did with those in the GP segment. However, two women clearly identified this as a factor.

    I'm not interested in any of their programs either, but I'll just do what they want me to do. I don't need them...I don't need them, but I'll take them if it means doing what they want me to do...when I go home I don't have to deal with these people. I don't need problem-solving or coping skills. I don't need that. (Kim)

  • The majority of women in the SNP segment commented on the importance of programming in terms of "passing the time," for most of these women, that, along with getting paid to participate, were considered the primary reasons for program delivery and program participation.

    It can pass away time and you can get an enjoyment and learning out of it. [It helps with security level reduction] 'Cus you can get your mind and soul into what you're doing. (Rita)

    Programs helps me a lot. How? It keeps me busy...something to do. (Nicki)

    Why? Money. (Denise)


7.3 CSC Core Programs

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As discussed at the beginning of Section 7, The Correctional Program Strategy for Federally Sentenced Women (1994) sets out the core programs for women offenders. Although not mandatory, core programs are specifically identified on an inmate's correctional plan in order to address criminogenic need areas and are offered accordingly. The core programs for women outlined in the Correctional Program Strategy are offered in the maximum security units. These programs are Living Skills Programs (e.g. Cognitive Skills, Anger Management, Parenting Skills), Substance Abuse Programs, Literacy and Education Programs, and Survivors of Abuse and Trauma Programs.

The women interviewed were asked a number of questions concerning CSC core programs. In particular, women were asked to describe the types of programs that are available to help them reduce their security level; specify what core programs they had participated in and/or completed; indicate whether they had considered these programs useful and if so, to explain why they thought so; and indicate whether they would like to take further programs in any of the target areas that these core programs address, and if so, why. Responses particularly relating to suggestions for improvements to core programs are discussed in Section 7.6.

Table 7 shows the number of maximum security non-Aboriginal women who have participated in CSC core programs. Data for this table were derived from both interview accounts and OMS. The table specifies participation in CSC core programs, rather than completion of CSC core programs. The data are presented in this way for two reasons. First, participation data are more reflective of interview accounts - women commented on particular programs based on their having participated in that program, not on whether they successfully completed the program. Second, there were some minor discrepancies between the interview data and OMS accounts with respect to women's perception of having taken certain CSC core programs. Specifically, in the interviews some of the women implied that they had taken the same CSC core program(s) numerous times (not customary CSC policy), in part because of what they perceived as a lack of varied and alternative programs available to them However, in the process of verifying this potentially distinct trend of repetitive programming in women's corrections, OMS data revealed that the women had not in fact "taken" CSC core programs numerous times; rather, the women in both population segments were particularly likely to have been repeatedly "enrolled" in these programs, but would withdraw, not successfully complete the program, or would not have successfully completed the program due to transfer or parole.

Table 7
Participation in CSC Core Programs

  General Population Segment


Special Needs Population Segment


PROGRAM Participation





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Literacy and


6 5 2* 5 3 1


4 4 3 1 1 1


4 3 5 1 1 2


5 2 4 1 1 0
Survivors of Abuse & Trauma 3 3 3 2 2 1

    * Two women indicated that they would like to take post-secondary courses, but could not afford to.

Overall, Table 7 shows that 12 of the 14 women (86%) have participated in one or more CSC core programs. The list of core programs that the women have participated in are: Literacy and Education, Cognitive Skills, Anger Management, Substance Abuse and Survivors of Abuse and Trauma. None of the women interviewed had participated in the Parenting Skills Program. The mean and the median number of CSC core programs that the women have participated in was 2 (SD=1.7), with women in the GP segment having participated in more programs than women in the SNP segment. More specifically, all women in the GP segment have participated in one or more of CSC core programs, compared to six of the eight women in the SNP segment (75%). The average number of CSC core programs women in the GP segment have participated in was higher than the average number that women in the SNP segment have participated in (3.7, SD=1.0 compared to 1.2, SD=1.3, respectively).

As evident in Table 7, women generally considered the CSC core programs useful (across the five programs 76% were considered useful by the women). In terms of which programs the women were most likely to consider useful, it is once again important to separately review the responses of women in the two segments, particularly given the very low number of programs the women in the SNP segment had participated in. For the most part, women in the SNP segment considered every program they participated in as useful, or 92% overall (the single exception being literacy and education, where two of the five women did not consider the program useful). In comparison, three-quarters of the programs that women in the GP segment had participated in were considered useful by them. More specifically, two programs were considered useful by all women in the GP segment who had taken them: the Survivors of Abuse and Trauma Program and the Cognitive Skills Program. In comparison, the Substance Abuse Program was the program that was least often considered useful (only two of the six women who had participated in the program considered it useful).

Literacy and Education Programs

Institutionally, strong emphasis is placed on improving literacy and education level since training in these areas is considered essential to reintegrating women to the community. Adult Basic Education upgrading is available (educational programs are governed by the regulations of the province). As well, a General Education Development (GED) preparation course that assists offenders who wish to test for their grade 12 equivalency is available. A variety of adult education methods are used, including individualized or group tutoring, and computers. Depending on a number of factors, including their level of education and attention, the women's attendance in education programs ranged from an hour per week to five full days per week.

General Population Segment

  • All six women in the GP segment had participated (n=4) or were participating (n=2) in an educational upgrading program at the time of this study.
  • Five of the six women (83%) enjoyed participating in such a program and found it useful.

    I'm really getting into my schoolwork to get my certificates...I used to hate school, now I'm starting to enjoy it because I feel that I'm doing something and I can see that I'm getting something out of it, and I get some feedback from it. And I don't feel like I'm as stupid as I used to feel I was...I'm going to continue going to school [upon release]. (Chris)

  • Two women completed their Grade 12 equivalent (GED) during their incarceration.

    I think my self-esteem is a lot's building up, you know. When I accomplish I got my Grade 12 Diploma a little while ago - and that gave me a lot. (Kerry)

  • One woman found educational upgrading too difficult to concentrate on given her emotional state. School interfered with her ability to deal with her emotional issues; she appreciated an adjournment from this program.

    School wasn't helpful. Because I had too many other things - I was concentrating on doing programs, like one-one-one counseling and school was getting in the way and school was just too hard for me at the time and it happened to be on my correctional plan...I think they allowed me some time off from it. (Melissa)

Special Needs Population Segment

  • Five women from the SNP segment (63%) had participated in educational upgrading programs; three were still doing so. Four women commented that such programs were difficult and frustrating to varying extents.
  • Three women considered educational programs useful; two women considered educational upgrading programs as beneficial beyond filling time and getting paid.

    I'm trying to get to Grade 12. I just want to get my Grade 12 - it would help me because I would be proud of myself. So when I get to Grade 12 I could show it to me [sic] friends - so that I've done something in my life. (Nicki)

Cognitive Skills

The Cognitive Skills Program is a 72-hour program with a multi-faceted approach and designed to be consistent with the principles of effective correctional treatment. The training attempts to assist the women by focusing on learning skills to help them manage their life more effectively, and by focusing on thinking skills that impact on their behaviour, problem-solving, and decision-making abilities, alternative and consequential thinking, critical reasoning, creative thinking, and social skills.

General Population Segment

  • Four of the women in the GP segment (67%) had participated in cognitive skills programs. All four considered the cognitive skills program as very useful. The women identified cognitive skills programs as particularly useful in helping them deal with their impulsiveness and attitude.
  • Three of these four women, along with another woman from the GP segment, emphasized that they would like to participate in more cognitive skills programming.

    ...because before I never used to know how to deal with a problem. I'm a very impulsive person - when something came up, I just acted immediately. Now I'm learning that I have to sit back, and look at that, and see, well, is this going to cause me more damage, or is this going to affect just myself or like what is the outcome going to be-long-term, short-term-and that's why I feel that that program is very helpful to me. (Chris)

    I think that the priority number one is cognitive skills - that's where your attitude adjustment comes in - your criminal beliefs and attitudes, your social skills... you're not going to deal with your substance abuse if you're not listening. If you're being closed-minded and you're too angry, you're not going to be able to be open-minded and start dealing with your substance abuse if you have all this anger and this attitude inside you. So, I really believe the cognitive skills and the anger management should be first. And then, once you start listening and you start understanding what's inside and what's making you feel angry and what's giving you this attitude, then you could start dealing with why you turned to substance abuse. (Alison)

Special Needs Population Segment

  • One woman from this segment had participated in cognitive skills programming. She considered it useful, although also recognized the negative impact of its degree of difficulty.

    I used to take it - I find that hard...maybe make it not so hard, that would be good. (Nicki)

Anger Management

The Anger Management Program addresses anger issues for women. The program provides participants with a clearer understanding of the elements and sources of conflict, how it escalates and how it is defused, and builds skills that allow the participant to express anger and deal with conflict in a more healthy and constructive manner. The women are presented with techniques in listening and communication skills, anger management, and clarifying assumptions.

General Population Segment

  • Four women from the GP segment had participated in anger management programming; three of these women found the program helpful. Anger management is meant to be helpful in providing women with new skills to avoid violent reactions and to deal with stressful and tense situations. As well, women spoke to the value of learning to understand their anger and identifying what makes them feel angry. One woman suggested that these sessions also provide a place for one to take their anger and express it.
  • All four of these women felt they would benefit from further anger management programming and indicated an interest in taking more such programming.

    ...your anger management is a big one's so stressful and the tensions are usually high because of it - everybody's pretty well in everybody's face...I really feel I benefited from [anger management], but I feel like I could do it more. Well, I guess it sort of gave me a tool to work with. I mean, it's just coming to the realization that there is other ways to cope with your anger - is help right there. If you never knew any other way to cope with your anger other than physical violence or shouting matches. then that's all you know. But just to have the acknowledgment that there is something else there that's different choices - I think it's the beginning of helping yourself. But I think furthering that - like having more regular anger management sessions - it's a place where you can go and take some of your anger - whether it's role plays, or just, you know, the rubber bats or whatever they use, or little dolls or whatever it is - all those things really help because it's somewhere where you can take it and it takes it outside the unit. It helps get the stress down, and helps the girls - kind of, laugh a few minor things off where you wouldn't really laugh them off at one time - you'd probably react to them. But you could laugh things off a lot more and realize that it's not really a big deal. (Alison)

    I'd like more anger management-type programs. I think - people skills - like cognitive-type stuff - like how to deal with situations that you're involved in or without violence - learning how to be assertive instead of aggressive or passive. (Kerry)

  • One woman critiqued the program for being "unrealistic" and "vague" in terms of providing an understanding of the root of her anger.

    I took anger management...I didn't get much out of it. Some of it seemed very unrealistic. Like, sit down and write - well, when I'm really angry I can't sit down and write - I can't do that...I think it's up to me, if I want to stop being angry - and accept the fact that people don't make me angry - I make myself angry. The program was really vague like - I would like to understand more of why I'm going to get angry. (Tanya)

Special Needs Population Segment

  • One woman from the SNP segment had taken an anger management program. She found it useful, but the content difficult.

    Anger management program - yeah, give us more time doing it...It didn't help anybody because we had to do it fast. (Nicki)

Substance Abuse Programs

CSC Substance Abuse Programs are based on the Model of Change (see Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente, 1994). The Substance Abuse Program for Women is designed to provide participants with a safe environment in which the information and skills necessary to change their lives are provided. The program is also designed to help increase positive alcohol- and drug-related behaviour through participant determined lifestyle changes, improved social skills and self-efficiency. Relapse Prevention Programs are also offered; these programs are designed to help women identify and manage relapse warning signs, to develop a schedule of recovery activities that will support ongoing warning sign identification and management, and to support women who want to maintain the positive changes they have made in their lives.

General Population Segment

  • All women in the GP segment had substance abuse identified on their CNIA as a need area. Five women in the GP segment had participated in CSC substance abuse programming. As well, two of the women had also participated in Relapse Prevention Programming.
  • Four of these women indicated that they would be interested in taking additional substance abuse programs; three women expressed an interest in ongoing substance abuse programs.

    It [substance abuse] was a very high need - I don't know how they understand addictions or anything like that, but I get the impression that they think "okay, she'll take this course" - and it's just like a course, it's almost like we're taking a math course or something - "and when she's done she'll be okay." But alcoholism or any kind of addiction is a lifetime issue that you have to continue to deal with for the rest of your life. It needs to be ongoing. (Alison)

  • ·Three of the women indicated that they would prefer receiving a more structured program for substance abuse.

    I think a structured substance abuse program - something that's structured - not something that's so informal. (Melissa)

    You have to have both the literature and the interaction...that's what I'm saying. You have to have the literature along with it...but I don't think I had a chance to really get in touch with my feelings and how I was feeling about things. It was a lot of - you got to do this homework assignment and that homework assignment - which is good and the girls need more of - but I remember I talked to them about that. I said, I really don't feel like I'm getting all that help because all this data I'm not understanding, things aren't being explained to me properly, I'm not getting in touch with my feelings. (Alison)

  • For the most part, women recognized substance abuse programming as important. However, one woman felt that it was over-emphasized: can sit here and you can take substance abuse for 25 years and get out there and take some heroin and go to the bar - you know. I think everybody knows what substance abuse is about and what it does to them...So that's really something that they shouldn't drive at. So we need it, yeah, but it really shouldn't be like the main factor. (Chris)

  • As mentioned earlier, the qualifications of the program deliverers was an important point in the context of substance abuse programs:

    I think, a lot of the programmers...really haven't been through it. They really haven't even abused any substances in the first place. They don't know what it's like to need - like we feel that we need. A lot of people mistake it for a want. I really don't believe it's a want or I really don't believe it's a craving. I believe it's a need, a need to have something - some sort of crutch to get through life. And until they understand that it's something that we need and help us to change the fact and realize that we really have other areas - like we have other choices. (Alison)

Special Needs Population Segment

Unlike all women in the GP segment, substance abuse was not as commonly identified as a criminogenic need area (CNIA) for the women in the SNP segment (n=3, or 43%). Only one woman in the SNP segment had participated in substance abuse programming, and she did not complete the program.

Survivors of Abuse and Trauma Programs

The Survivors of Abuse and Trauma Programs are unique to the women offenders. The programs have been designed to assist women offenders to deal with and work through the violence that they have experienced, including childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault, partner abuse. Use of the term "trauma" allows for consideration of the different forms and the intensity and duration of victimization that women may have suffered. Education/awareness programs about abuse and trauma as well as more in-depth "therapeutic" programs are offered.

  • The women in both population segments (3 GP, 2 SNP) considered the abuse and trauma programs useful.

    ...somewhere down the line, whether it's five or ten years from now, I want to get into a relationship. That's why I need the woman's abuse program: to stay away from an abusive relationship, to know the earlier signs of an abusive relationship - because I didn't know it back then. (Pam)

    ...she [the counselor] came in to deal with sexual abuse...and she's someone, she's going to be using her past - you know, she's a survivor of sexual abuse - so she can identify. She knows what you're going through. Like sometimes, the feedback I was getting from her, I felt like she was inside my head. Like, 'oh my god, this woman knows exactly how I'm feeling' - she knows exactly where I'm at. That was really helpful. (Kerry)


7.4 Miscellaneous Programs and Activities

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As described at the beginning of Section 7, aside from core programs there are a number of miscellaneous programs and activities available to women in the maximum security units. In the interviews, women in both population segments identified a number of miscellaneous programs and activities that they considered beneficial in terms of generally improving the way they spent their time, and improving their overall sense of well-being. They also noted the positive impact these programs or activities have with respect to helping them deal with some of their issues.

  • Gym and exercise programs were favourably considered by 12 of the 14 women (86%). The opportunity to get fit, to let off steam and to improve their physical health were all reasons women gave for considering physical activity as important.

    Sometimes I be sore the next day - but it helps with my anger. Yesterday I ran around the gym - I felt like running. (Rita)

    ...we need a nice exercise room with an instructor - because physical activity has a lot to do with a healthy mind - a healthy body is a healthy mind. (Tina)

  • Most of the women (n=10, 71%) felt that it would be beneficial for them to have more physical activities programming and that such programming should be structured.

    Gym - definitely. Sometimes - I mean, we don't get gym really enough to get into any type of program - we don't have much access. If I want to go work out and get in shape and that then I'm going to go at it and I'm going to go at it full force - and if I can't do that then I'm sort of reluctant to even go there. That's the way I am. (Kerry)

    We need some more recreation, far as I see it. I wish we had a recreation staff that could come in and help you with your weights and play pool and stuff like that - there's not very much recreation could be put to better use. (Chris)

    Let's see - I like exercise - a little more exercise in the gym. And gym teachers. (Denise)

  • Other miscellaneous programs and activities women were involved in and found helpful included: arts and crafts, art expression, creative writing, relaxation, Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), and library visits.

    I really like the creative writing because I believe you know - like I like to practice poetry and I like to write short stories - and I believe that helps a lot in the anger management. Well, the feelings and the thoughts that you have inside, that sometimes are buried deep within and maybe sometimes you don't feel like talking to psychology or really anybody about it - you can express it through poetry, you can express it through writing it down. And if you don't like it - or if you want to get rid of what you were thinking or you didn't like that feeling - you could throw it in the garbage - it's gone. It's just being able to express yourself. That and I think art expression is really important, too - just to do whatever you feel to get it out. It's a good, positive way of getting it out. And of course, gym - exercising is a good stress reliever too. (Alison)

Clearly, miscellaneous programs and activities were deemed most useful when they were considered interesting and relevant. As evident in the following quotes, not all women shared the viewpoint that these activities were worthwhile. It is interesting to note that the woman in the final quote qualified her position that if the program were something she were interested in, such as woodworking, it would be beneficial to increasing her self-esteem.

    Art was whoever wanted to go...I didn't really think that it had anything to with me - because you're supposed to express how you feel through the art medium - and I didn't really think that that applied to me. (Pam)

    And then they have these silly little things like, you know, knitting and ceramics and stuff like that - well, as far as I'm concerned, that's not doing anything to help anybody to get out there in the community - learning how to make an ashtray, you know? (Chris)

  • Almost all of the women (n=12; 86%) had participated in employment programs while incarcerated as maximum security. Employment assignments are designed to help the women learn new work skills and develop good work habits and have the additional benefits of providing the women with institutional pay and keeping them active. For the women in the GP segment, fairly continuous employment was part of their correctional plan, while employment for SNP women was more likely to occur, by their own wishes, sporadically. The primary employment assignments were cleaning and housekeeping, although some of the women were employed in yard maintenance and library work. Women in the GP segment considered their employment activities as important, but did comment that they would appreciate more varied assignments.

    My job [yard work] - I really, really like my job. Because I feel like I'm being treated like a normal [person] - like out in society - like I got my own job. I pay for my own stuff, you know - and I feel like someone then - instead of just being like one welfare or a welfare case or so. (Susan)

    ...they gave me a job at the yard and I loved that job. We used to work the yard every day, seven days a week...[here I] clean, clean the gym, clean the trailer...If I didn't change my attitude, I wouldn't have all those jobs...What I really enjoy doing is clean[ing] - [I would like] some place else to clean - something for me to do...Get me out of this unit more. (Nicki)

    The employment is really important because a lot of the jobs that we have here are just like cleaning tasks, so that doesn't do a lot for your intellect level. I mean, you know, sweeping floors and mopping and stuff is, it's good work and everything, but I mean it's not really going to get us anywhere...because I mean, you know, it's good to clean and stuff like that, but everybody pretty well knows how to do that. We need something a little bit more challenging. (Alison)


7.5 Psychology/Counseling Services

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    Well, I need a psychiatrist or something like that to talk to me in depth. Not just someone to say, "Oh, you're having a bad day, oh poor soul, this and that." Like, I've got a lot of things going on with me that I need help with. And I don't feel - I'm not getting that help. And when you're in jail - I thought they were supposed to more or less prepare you for going out into the street. Well, I'm still going out on the streets with these feelings inside of me. Like, I'm not talking about drinking or dope or anything like that - that's got nothing to do with it - I'm talking about feelings that I have inside of myself, that I can't deal with - there's no one here to talk to. That's a big concern for me because I'm - you know - scared. (Chris)

Individual therapy is available at all the women's facilities, including the maximum security units, to address mental health problems and to increase self-efficacy. Frequency of sessions and duration of treatment are determined by the psychologist and the individual woman. Addressing underlying mental health issues or characterological psychopathology that contributes to criminological factors may assist the woman to engage in a more pro-social lifestyle. As well, psychological staff also assist in the provision of a variety of group programs that address issues related to mental health.

The majority of this population considered psychological or counseling services to be important for them. Recall from Section 6.3, that all six women in the GP segment considered greater access to psychological or psychiatric services as a means to understanding and dealing with the reasons they are classified maximum security. Across both population segments, most women commented that they needed more psychological, psychiatric or counseling services. The issue here was not with respect to the quality of the services currently provided, but rather the need for greater, or more frequent, access to services.

General population segment

  • Each woman in the GP segment felt she needed psychology, or some form of counseling, to deal with her issues.

    ...It [psychology] helps, sure it helps, it definitely helps... I didn't always have that attitude. It was always the other way around for me - it was like psychology on my back, you know. But now that I've sort of - that things are starting to change for me, I think it is very important for me to deal with my issues. Like the abuse and well, I think I need help with impulse - impulsiveness. How to be not so impulsive. You know, it's like - do it and then think about it. I'm very impulsive, I'm a reactor...A lot of times there's not anger involved - it's impulsive. It's like, it has something to do with thought processes. You get a thought and you just act on it and you don't think about it. (Kerry)

  • Similarly, women identified psychology as having helped them deal with their emotional/personal issues, and as having helped increase their general self-awareness as well as their awareness of their coping strategies.

    Well, my feelings with psychology, you know, it never worked any miracles, never cured me or made me better or anything like that. But it made me understand, made me understand my patterns, made me understand some of the reasons why I do the things I do, made me understand about being impulsive and about the she helped me a lot. Helped me learn more about myself, you know. Learn your cycles, you know, like why you slash or why you react to this, this way, or that way, you know, what your patterns are. (Kerry)

    Well, my old psychologist has got me through a lot...she was really good - helped me learn about my eating disorder - she helped me through that a lot. And a lot of flashbacks she's helped me through. (Melissa)

  • ·Greater access to psychological services was seen as necessary by the women, especially in terms of being able to deal with their mental health issues in more depth. In particular, women suggested that weekly counseling sessions be made available.

    But, there is a big lack, I think...because they are really understaffed. And when you're maximum security it's hard, even when you want to help yourself and you want to talk to psychology and try and deal with things and feel that you are ready to deal with things and talk, then it's hard because they're really understaffed ...But I mean, they don't have the resources staff-wise to really get into counseling, to really deal with things. They can't fit you in often enough to really deal with it. (Kerry)

    ...I need more. Not like here where I see the psychologist once a week for fifteen minutes. (Tanya)

    I still think the psychologist should have more time for you. There's not enough time...I'd like to see psychology at least once a week. (Melissa)

  • One woman commented that regardless of limited resources for weekly counseling sessions, psychology could be counted on to respond to crisis situations.

    Psychology is very, very limited, you know, believe me I know. I mean, if we slash or something - crisis situation - you can usually get them over. They're all in your face then. But if nothing is wrong - if just to work on problems - like issues like abuse, or drug abuse, or anything like that - like once-a-week counseling, it just doesn't happen. (Kerry)

  • There were various other issues that women in the GP segment raised with respect to psychology and counseling. One woman spoke about the importance of inmates having some choice in terms of counselor.

    Like maybe somebody doesn't feel comfortable enough to sit down and talk to a psychologist. Maybe they'd rather talk to the YMCA that comes in, or a counselor, or something like that. They have to make sure that when they're talking to the girls, that they make it clear to them that they have a choice. Like if you had a choice of who you wanted to see and how you wanted to deal with your problems that they're given that choice - because I believe their heart won't be in it - and so they won't be true to themselves or what they're trying to do if they don't have the choice. (Alison)

    · Another woman raised concerns about therapeutic confidentiality and the potential repercussions of being honest and sharing highly personal information with psychology, especially if that information negatively reflects on criminogenic needs.

    Like the big problem I had with psychology is - I found that I was reluctant to be honest because of the consequences that might bring back to me. Like, I mean, 'cuz [sic] they can put everything down on paper and that, like I mean, like if you're - like where violent thoughts are concerned and stuff like that - we're trying to get out of prison. Especially, like when you're in [segregation] and stuff, you know, and they got to do psychological assessment to let you out - like, I found you had to tell them...Like, what I'd do with psychology was - you know, if I had to see them for an assessment or had to see them for this or that, then I would tell them what I thought they wanted to hear to get a good report. And that's not the way that psychology should be used because then it's not helping anybody. It's like - how do I be honest with someone in order to get help if I'm afraid of the repercussions of me being truthful?...Psychology is good - they can really help you - but you tell the wrong thing to psychology and they could really fuck you. Yup, I've been there with a couple of them. (Kerry)

    · Two women raised concerns regarding what they considered as psychiatry's inclination toward "labeling" and "pushing pills." These two women felt that such practice seriously interfered with having their real issues understood and addressed.

    We've only got one psychiatrist...and she comes and prescribes pills. Well, pills don't help everybody - I've been on prozac, and tegretol, and lithium and everything else and nothing has helped me because she's not getting to the root...You know, like pills aren't doing me any good - I need someone to seriously talk to. Because that's how people can kill themselves - suicide - if you're going, you're crying to someone for help. Well I need help, listen to me, "oh well, here's some pills" - well, you know, shit. (Chris)

    I think most of my problems come from emotional-type things - most of them -instead of psychiatric. Like I believe I've been misdiagnosed a few times...I think that professionals shouldn't be so quick to label you - like why does everything have to be a label? Why do I have to be manic-depressive? So I was hyper all last week and this week I'm all depressed. Who cares? It's manageable...But all these diagnoses and everything's drugs. Oh, she's manic-depressive - we'll give her Lithium. She's depressed - we'll get her Prozac. She's hyper, we'll give her Nozenan. She's impulsive - we'll give her Tegretol. We'll give her Chloroform, I've been on Elavil, Tegretol, Nozenan, Lithium, Prozac. (Kerry)

Special needs population segment

    · Generally, while women in the SNP segment acknowledged the importance of psychology and counseling, the distinctions between the kinds of counseling assistance offered by psychological services staff and any staff were often quite blurred. Counseling was definitely viewed by women in the SNP segment as the responsibility of various staff, and particularly the correctional officers. In fact, as alluded to elsewhere, women in the SNP segment felt quite strongly that correctional officers should have an awareness of their mental health needs and be able to address them.


7.6 Women's Suggestions Regarding Programs

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Throughout the interview process, women contributed their ideas and suggestions regarding current and potential core and miscellaneous programming.

Suggestions Related to Improving Core Programs

In addition to the suggestions to improve core programs noted in Section 7.3, the following suggestions were made:

  • When programs are delivered they could incorporate a type of group-specific needs analysis, and the relevance of the program to each woman's criminogenic needs be individually explained.

    The program director whoever it is, the coordinator - should talk to the inmates more about what they really need - something useful - not something that they already know...yeah, it if were explained - why it would be helpful in terms of your crime and re-offending. (Pam)

  • Substance abuse programming needs to be offered continuously. Specifically, women would like the opportunity to participate in some form of substance abuse programming close to their release date.
  • The programming format could be developed to involve a variety of ways for women to engage with the content.

    I guess with cognitive skills - I guess it's the way that they approach the program - like, I found there was a lot of literature - which is good - it's good to have the literature - but I think that a lot of role-playing is a lot better - to really interact... Actually that could go with most of the programs. (Alison)

  • Issues relating to group dynamics need to be addressed so that those serious about participating are not disrupted. In particular, expectations around confidentiality need to be clearly presented and breaches attended to.

    ...maybe I'm not feeling comfortable with who's in the group, maybe they're not feeling comfortable with me. And if we can't be truly honest when we're speaking in those sort of sessions - those counseling sessions - they're really not going to do anybody any good. I do well with one-on-one, I do really well. And I am good in groups, but I'm good in groups to the point of if I feel comfortable with the people who are there and with the confidentiality. Because let's face it, not everybody's really serious about dealing with their addictions. They're doing it for the program, they're doing it for the fact that they have to get out, and then when they get out they end up right back in. But if you're really serious about it and somebody's snickering in the corner about what you're talking about - it's gonna really affect how it is. So, I think they have to really make sure that if they're going to be doing group sessions at all - that the people that are there are all comfortable with it - and that if they see the situations where confidentiality is being broken - that that person no longer be allowed in the group, and stuff like that. (Alison)

Suggestions for New Programs

Every woman had at least one suggestion for a new programming option not currently offered in the facility she resides in. Again, there were marked differences between women in the GP and SNP segments regarding the extent and nature of additional programming options.

General Population Segment

  • For the most part, programming options suggested by women in the GP segment were related to their criminogenic needs, their general mental health, or to particular sources of emotional distress. Common suggestions included programs to enhance self-esteem, address abuse issues, address self-injurious behaviour, and enhance communication and social skills.

    Say, people that have been raped and abused and stuff like that - well, they don't have anyone to talk to these women - no programs - like they go [say] "we have these drugs and alcohol [programs]" - okay, fine - but things go deeper than that, you know. (Chris)

    I would like to see an abused women's group - I think that's important - and that's on my correctional treatment plan. (Pam)

    I would like to see more programs that are dealing with some abuse know what? Most of the women that are in prison have been abused. (Tanya)

    Self-esteem - I think that's a big thing. There should be a lot of programming around self-esteem. Because when someone's got no self-esteem - you know, they cut - they ain't got a hell of a lot to work with, you know. (Kerry)

    I think that they should have a program for people that self-injure. Because there's nothing. You do it, they fix it, and then that's it. One psychologist might come and talk for a few minutes, but the feelings are still there. (Tanya)

    Interacting, I guess - with other people - because there's a lot of people that they just really don't know how to get along with people - so, you know, something around those lines there would be real helpful. (Chris)

  • As well, women made suggestions for stress management or relaxation programs, assertiveness training, and programs to enhance job skills (e.g. computer training).

    Managing my money - because I'm very poor with that. Budgeting, definitely, yes, because I find myself, I'm really bad when it comes to budgeting...and that's when I can get into trouble. (Chris)

    Stress management - there's no stress management. (Melissa)

    We don't have anything in the way of trades or anything - like I know that the guys have a lot of automotive opportunities for trades and electrical and stuff - and we really don't have that - so maybe some computer skills. I think is really important...we need something a little bit more challenging. (Alison)

  • Three women thought a peer support program would be beneficial for both the women providing the peer support and for the women who would make use of it.

    ...I believe like a peer support would be really great - where I mean inmates who don't feel like they want to talk to psychology - or they don't want to talk to a guard - that they could have somebody trained - an inmate trained - through psychology - to deal with major problems like slashing and stress and you know, suicidal tendencies. (Alison)

  • Two women also commented on the importance of having some programs offered that are delivered independent of CSC.

But I think that it is important to have more programs that are not given by CSC people...a lot of them were given by people that are directly linked to CSC - like they would report back to CSC. And they do a report of how your program went - it goes right to case management. I myself, enjoyed going to programs like Alternatives to Violence Program - 'cuz [sic] it had nothing to do with CSC - you know, you went there for you. (Kerry)

Special Needs Population Segment

  • Every woman in the SNP segment suggested new programs which related to leisure activities, such as various sports and other physical activities, and arts and crafts.
  • Additional suggestions included: a program to help inmates quit smoking (Kim), a program for helping women deal with inmates I don't get along with (Nicki), or conflicts with other inmates, and self-esteem courses (Tina).