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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"


Interviews explored questions related to the staff's perceptions regarding the identification and needs of women classified as maximum security. Generally, these questions concerned staff's understanding of the methods, bases and reasons for women being classified as maximum security as well as their perceptions regarding the needs of the maximum security women offenders they work with.

In short, staff were generally of the opinion that on the bases of behaviour, attitude and needs, maximum security women offenders can be and are differentiated from medium and minimum security women offenders. Moreover, staff considered the ability to assign different security levels to women offenders as important, arguing that there are population differences between minimum, medium and maximum security women offenders and that the classification system provides a range of options from which to intervene. Specifically, different security classifications allow for the provision of more security (or supervision) and more structure for those classified at higher levels.

Maximum women inmates are ones that are continually assaulting staff, continually disruptive, that just cannot function in another setting, and some of these women are what you would also call special needs offenders...They [the maximum security women] don't abide by the rules...are involved in drugs all the time, things like that - it's a conscious decision on their part to do so.

There is an attitude there - there is an attitude issue there - and a woman has to be willing to let go of that attitude before she's ready to go down - to reduce. She has to be willing to take on the issues and until she does, she's going to continue to try to use, she's going to continue to muscle...she's going to continue to present that attitude.

These [maximum security] women require a greater degree of supervision.

Staff involved in security classification decisions all identified the three dimensions for classifying inmates (Institutional Adjustment, Escape Risk, and Public Safety) as the essence of security classification reviews. Some front-line staff interviewed were less informed regarding the latter two dimensions, but were well acquainted with the Institutional Adjustment factor. Most of those involved in security classification reviews acknowledged that there is a degree of subjectivity involved when applying these three dimensions, however, they found that as a yardstick these dimensions provided a useful measure for security classification reviews. In fact, a number of staff expressed that they appreciated the opportunity for this subjectivity insofar as it afforded them latitude to incorporate consideration of individual contexts when reviewing these women's security classifications. For the most part, staff felt that maximum security women were appropriately classified. Many of the staff admitted to having grappled with distinguishing a maximum security inmate from a maximum security mental health inmate.

When I look at the security classification reviews I pull out my Case Management Manual so that when we're going through the Institutional Adjustment, Escape Risk and Public Safety, I look at each factor in determining which factors apply to the woman that we're reviewing. I take it very view is that I don't have a woman sitting here right now that I don't believe is appropriately classified.

Security classification procedures are appropriate...the [maximum security women] need the secure environment...It's reasonable, it's national standards and if it's adhered to, at least it's a standard we can all live with.

I know that people struggle with the fact that we shouldn't be making a woman maximum security if she has mental health concerns...I think we get too caught up in that labeling - the reality is that these women need to be in an environment that provides for maximum security, intensive supervision...I can deal with the label - the issue is how we manage her...we can add more things to the security classification review process - we can add specifically mental health issues - and we can have a whole section just on that discussion - I don't know that that changes the women's security classification - we can recognize it as an issue, I think that's important.

Almost all staff considered issues relating to Institutional Adjustment as predominant reasons for the classification of maximum security women offenders; staff considered institutional violence, behavioural difficulties, and the degree to which correctional plans are being followed as central in security classification reviews.

We have one offender that's been up and down, up and down, up and down because of Institutional Adjustment - numerous institutional charges and just one bad attitude - it's another case of no consequences...There's actually two [other] women here - that - this is their home. When they get close to their statutory release, they do something to get bumped to have to wait for their next date...

they'll never make their warrant expiry, they're just petrified to go out there.

They need to be following their correctional plan and doing it successfully, Institutional Adjustment, and [taking] the programming that's deemed necessary for them or what they feel is necessary for themselves too.

In short, interviews revealed basic agreement between staff and inmates regarding their perspectives on the bases for maximum security classification. Namely, problematic institutional behaviour (including assaults and failure to follow one's correctional plan) figured prominently. Disagreement in perspectives between the staff and women centred more around issues of the re-classification process. In particular, concerns regarding the duration of maximum security classification were raised. For example, recall that some women felt that the consequences of their actions should only affect their maximum security classification for a short and discrete period of time; staff were of the opinion that consequences for inmates' behaviour be long enough to be viewed as a deterrent.

There's got to be something in place to make these women realize that there's going to be consequences that won't go away overnight...We know that there is an offender here that was put to a medium security classification and purposely struck an officer to go back as a maximum - now what kind of option is that? It doesn't make me feel very good knowing that that type of option is there for an offender...there has to be guidelines set up and they have to follow them...the women have to be held accountable for what they do here...they have to start taking responsibility for their actions and being accountable for them and the consequences that come from them.

The staff interviewed identified at least two population segments within the non-Aboriginal maximum security women population: the "typical" maximum security inmates (GP Segment), and the "special needs" maximum security inmates (SNP Segment). Several staff also identified this latter segment as comprising two groupings of women: women with severe mental health problems and women who are cognitively low functioning. As will be elaborated upon below, staff also viewed some needs of the maximum security women in these different segments as quite distinct.

You have your 'typical' maxs and you have your high need mental health maximum security and you have your low need or lower functioning mental health maximum security. In terms of the criminogenic and institutional behaviour they are all high risk, high need, but to different degrees and different levels - and it's not just criminogenic.

With respect to maximum security women offenders, staff pointed out that the OIA in general, and the CNIA in particular, was useful in assessing certain needs and fashioning, in part, the correctional plan for inmates. The CNIA delineates seven domains that are considered associated with criminal recidivism. Briefly, these criminogenic needs are dynamic risk factors that are associated with reductions in recidivism when targeted with appropriate programming. However, staff did not rely on the outcome of the OIA as a basis for ongoing security classification reviews. Staff stressed that many women with violent offences and/or high needs upon admission were classified down fairly quickly in security classification reviews, often on the basis of favourable Institutional Adjustment ratings.

For example, several staff referenced the importance of knowing whether a woman was given a high need rating regarding substance abuse. This knowledge is important in terms of her programming plan, not in terms of her classification level. However, if a woman is involved in drug use and drug activity in the prison, then they considered this information relevant to security classification reduction, because such activity would be captured in various ways in the Institutional Adjustment rating. As one staff stated:

It doesn't make any difference to me if someone comes in with problems around using or not - maybe they want to deal with that while they're in, maybe not. But if drugs are coming over the wall and an inmate kicks a guard in the face because she's [the inmate] on the ground trying to put the drugs down her pants - that's a problem - call it drugs, call it violence - but call it.

In terms of case needs, staff considered that all women in this population had needs relating to impulse control and poor problem-solving or coping skills. With respect to women in the different population segments, staff felt that the predominant needs of women in the GP segment were around substance abuse, cognitive skills, and anger and emotional management, while the predominate needs of women in the SNP segment were around community functioning and basic living skills.

In discussing the needs of maximum security women, staff often raised the importance of addressing women's needs with respect to community reintegration or community release issues. Staff argued that this area presented challenging issues for the maximum security population. These issues ranged from a maximum security woman adapting a posture of not wanting to cascade down to a lower security level and thereby not benefiting from some of the environmental differences afforded medium and minimum security inmates, to the preparedness of a woman's community release from a maximum security environment if she has maintained that level throughout her incarceration.

Community reintegration is a huge issue - a need that is so strongly out there right now - these women tend to go towards what they know.

I've heard inmates say that it's scary - living outside of here. They don't want to. Here they are told what to do, when to do it, when to eat. They get their food - they don't have to decide those kinds of things - it's scary to them to think about having to do them. So some of them want to stay maximum.

It's a long way to the community from maximum security for these women.

Finally, staff emphasized that maximum security women all require intensive supervision and structure. Staff felt strongly that it is CSC's responsibility to ensure the safety of the inmate population as well as the safety of staff. It should be stated that although the women inmates interviewed appreciated the need for structure and supervision, perceptions regarding the intensity of and reasons for supervision and structure differed between staff and inmates.

They're here because they've acted out - they've assaulted guards or inmates - whether or not they have, like mental problems.