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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"


You don't want to look at this population with a narrow lens.

No matter what you do with them, no matter what you say to them, no matter what you tell them, they have to make their own mind up. And when they make their mind up, then they start making that effort.

10.1 Multidisciplinary Team Approach
10.2 Physical Accommodation and Supervision
10.3 Case Management and Programming Interventions

Staff considered there to be various avenues for intervention with the maximum security women offender population in order to address their needs, to assist them in reducing their security classification, and to improve their general living conditions. Preferred forms of intervention recognized the different levels of intensity and methods necessary to appropriately target and reach this population, the importance of a multidisciplinary team approach, and the need for innovation and creativity. Within this context specific interventions include CSC core programming, other programming, psychological services, supervision, and recreational activities. Staff stressed that interventions with this population would inevitably be expensive and intense, and that the importance of dedicated, specialized and familiar staffing could not be overstated.


10.1 Multidisciplinary Team Approach

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The importance of a team approach, specifically a multidisciplinary team approach, in dealing with this population was emphasized in the staff interviews. A multidisciplinary approach draws on the expertise of individual representatives from a number of areas or disciplines. In a correctional context, a multidisciplinary team would include representatives from institutional management, case management, security, health services, psychology, programming, and other staff that interact with the inmates. The foundation of the approach is collaborative consultation, which sets the context for integrated inmate care and management.

The multidisciplinary approach is critical - that way you have information from many angles. There is a danger when there is only one or two opinions on a report.

A holistic view of how we treat the women is critical here...The multidisciplinary team is critical, and the fact that there is communication - a sharing of information so we don't work in isolation - is extremely, extremely important to managing this type of offender [maximum security] - whether it's a woman who's a SHU-type woman [Special Handling Unit], whether it's a woman who's a schizophrenic and anything in between.

As the above quotes indicate, some of the advantages of a multidisciplinary team approach include the sharing of knowledge and information from a variety of sources and experiences as well as reducing staff feelings of isolation in a demanding job. As part of this approach, staff at both institutions commented on the implementation of multidisciplinary meetings (at least weekly) where each inmate is reviewed. Staff considered these reviews integral to monitoring the progress and needs of the women.

Every week - we go over every offender, we have that luxury because of the low numbers - but we review every offender - with the psychologist there, the CMO is there, usually if the case worker is on that day we'll deal with that case...we get a lot of information that way.

In addition to the collaboration provided in this approach, staff stressed the importance of responding to the women in a consistent and integrated team fashion.

One of the biggest things for them [the maximum security women] is manipulation and you have to modify that - and it takes the whole team concept to tackle that kind of problem...we have to provide the consistency.

But you know in my opinion what it is - it's always consistent...the consistency has to be constant like everybody has to treat them the same. So that...she sees that even though she was upset she's still being treated decently, she's being treated as any human being and she's getting the same story - not necessarily a story - but the same talk from everybody: Do good, you'll be out of here.

In short, staff expressed their desire to work in, and supported the value of working in, multidisciplinary teams when dealing with maximum security women.

In the beginning I didn't necessarily want to work here. I wanted to work in the male facility - but the longer I work here, the more rewarding I find it, in a sense. Because I actually have some input in the team concept.

However, a few staff mentioned difficulties in the full implementation of a team approach.

The general feeling is that although we started with a team concept, they [management] have a lot of responsibilities...the decisions that used to be unit decisions are now managers decisions being delegated down by memo - so we've lost the team concept. It changes the dynamics if they don't have the time to spend in the unit...they've gotten out of involving us in the process.


10.2 Physical Accommodation and Supervision

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Another area that staff raised as important with respect to interventions concerned the physical accommodation of the maximum security women. Two issues were especially salient: that there be a physical separation of population segments and that the physical environment support the ability to monitor and supervise the population.

Staff considered the ability to separate the populations, both in terms of accommodation and programming, as critical. Staff stressed that the different population segments were basically incompatible-individuals in each segment often disturbed and agitated each other.

It makes it really difficult if you keep them all together...You need to separate the different groups of inmates, because that's where you run into problems...The higher functioning are very frustrated with the lower functioning because they are higher functioning, but some of them don't have the coping mechanisms to cope with people who are a lot lower functioning. Some of them don't understand why they act the way that they do.

If they mix the higher functioning special needs women with the max women - all they're going to be doing is festering the whole problem that they're trying to crack - and that is getting the max women riled up, getting the muscling going again, getting the power struggle going again - it's just not going to's going to be hell, there's going to be constant yelling, screaming, fighting, this and that and the other thing, there will be major muscling going on - it's the bigger fish eats the smaller fish.

The ability to physically separate the population segments does not mean that there cannot be opportunities for the segments to interact. In fact, several staff commented that such opportunities can be beneficial for all involved. Moreover, some staff argued that accommodating these population segments separately, but in proximity to each other, offered some advantages, such as the effective utilization of resources and not pathologizing or deviantizing the women in the segments. Providing such opportunities recognizes the mental health needs of women in the GP segment and helps to lessen the stigma for women in the SNP segment. Finally, staff pointed out that groupings of different population segments were not fixed and that at different times, due to a variety of circumstances, a woman may be considered better suited to a particular segment.

The general max women have something to offer the special needs women in terms of a stabilizing effect...they also have a surprising compassion with special needs women.

All the women present with mental health needs. It's important not to stigmatize environment. We all have things that we learn from each other - and there's always components of both - components of both groups in both populations...

With respect to the need for the physical accommodation of the maximum security women to support effective intervention and monitoring, this is particularly important given that Institutional Adjustment factors figure so prominently with this population. Specifically, the physical environment must allow for the staff to easily monitor the women. Often the physical environment and the staffing model work complementary to each other in providing opportunities for structure and supervision.

Aside from the programming as intervention, certainly structure is important...there is a need for intensive structure, intensive supervision and not just from correctional officers.

The [maximum security] women need more supervision and structure and it's questionable whether they can function without it.

What has made a huge difference with this population has been having something more 'superviseable'...the smaller numbers are also good because these women need more individual attention...being able to monitor better has also meant the place is cleaner - less opportunity for drugs and muscling.

I think they [the maximum security women] get a better quality of interaction here - there's more structure here - because of the set-up, they see the staff all the time here...we can give them the time they need - we're staffed appropriately for that.

Regarding supervision and structure, staff emphasized the importance of having guidelines in place in terms of establishing limits and expectations in dealing with the maximum security women.

Without guidelines, it hurts the women - it hurts them tremendously because they don't have to be accountable for their actions and we're not making them take the hurts them because once you mess up their routine, then they're messed up too - but you've got to have a good routine in place and they've got to follow it.

With respect to rules and guidelines, we are reinstating something that always should have been in that we create some orderliness here to get things that need to get done, done...routine needs to complement work

Correctional staff, particularly at Springhill Institution, identified accessible supervision as a strength in their correctional interventions.

    ...we're always here - they know that anytime they can come to the door, or we can go to their cell and talk with us or ask us questions - or advice - we're available. We offer our presence - literally - it helps - we make ourselves available - we take an interest in them and their families.

Moreover, this supervisory model empowers women by encouraging them to make their own decisions.

    We reinforce a lot that it's important for them to do their own time - you can be supportive of the other inmates, but you have to make your own decisions, you can still be supportive - but bottom-line, you have to do things for you.

Front-line staff at both institutions expressed their pride in being able to provide opportunities for observational learning, or "modeling."

There's a lot of one-on-one with the staff. They offer a lot of support to the inmates. There's been a lot of crisis intervention and just by offering the support and being there when the inmate needs them - it's gone a long way to stabilize a lot of behaviour.

I also think that the staff provide the inmates with the communication they need, the interaction they need, the emotional support. And being able to be positive role models is huge.


10.3 Case Management and Programming Interventions

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When intervening with the maximum security women, staff stressed that a greater degree of individual tailoring, creativity and innovation was necessary with respect to case management and developing/offering programs to this population.

We ask ourselves: What do we need to do with this woman to get her to the next point? Is it these core programs? Is it one-to-one intervention? Is it a psychiatric assessment? It might be a long road to get her there, but we're immediately thinking of that.

It didn't seem to matter what I did or what I didn't do - nothing seemed to work for me and I thought something sooner or later has to work. And I found that getting rid of the traditional way of doing things and starting to be a bit more creative, a little more innovative...then it started to come together.

There is a distinct difference between Springhill Institution and P4W in the availability of appropriate programming. All staff at Springhill regretfully acknowledged the limited programming, employment and movement (outside of their living unit) opportunities available to women there.

Because the counts are so low, therefore programming is limited because for most programming we don't have the numbers to have a group. Similarly, work wise [inmate institutional employment opportunities] - we are very limited in what we can allow. We can't really offer them meaningful employment - there's menial tasks of cleaning or going to the library for a couple of hours to work down there. It's frustrating because some of them really want to work and they can't. It's hard for us to have to work through that and we appreciate how hard it is for them to have to live through it. It's the no co-corrections policy12 - that really, really, really limits what we can do with them.

Those delivering programs to women at both institutions identified the unique needs of women in the different population segments. This was a challenge for the management of programs in Springhill where the GP and SNP segments are (sometimes) mixed when delivering programs.

Those involved in delivering programs recognized the issue of attitude and motivation and the role these factors can play in limiting positive change.

There's the whole issue of attitude and motivation- neither of which we can force.

We need to do our job - by getting through to them and telling them what their advantages are by going to a lower security level.

A number of other themes revealed in the staff interviews are summarized below:

  • Staff at both P4W and Springhill advocated the need for programming that specifically addressed the trauma and abuse issues faced by women in this population.
  • Staff supported increased recreational programming.
  • Where there were BSTs working with special needs women, both BSTs and the rest of the staff noticed improvements in the ability of these women to function. In particular, enhancements in basic living skills were noted.
  • Where there were BSTs, correctional officers commented favourably on their ability to use these BSTs as a resource in a crisis.
  • Finally, perhaps because of its relatively new status, Springhill Institution's women's unit has allowed for some innovative practices and attitudes by staff, particularly correctional officers. Correctional officers working with the maximum security general population at P4W are inclined to follow their more traditional model. This is particularly evident in the limited staff presence and interaction on the range. However, supervision of the Special Needs population at P4W is considerably more accessible and interactive.

12 Recall from Section 1 that measures have been taken (physical renovations and separate staffing) to ensure that women housed in units at men's facilities are separated from the male population in terms of their accommodation, programming, and recreation areas.