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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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FEDERALLY SENTENCED ABORIGINAL WOMEN IN MAXIMUM SECURITY: WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PROMISES OF "CREATING CHOICES"?

5. Federally Sentenced Aboriginal Women's Perspective

Intake Assessment and Correctional Plan

  • 100 % of the Aboriginal women and the staff interviewed identified the need for "one to one" counselling. The Aboriginal women reported that they could not disclose certain information in group counselling. CSC staff indicated that "one to one" counselling was the best form for disclosure for Aboriginal women.

  • 100% of the Aboriginal women identified the need for more contact with Elders. Elder counselling must be made available on a full-time basis and be recognized in the Correctional Plan. Elder intervention must also be available when disagreements arise.

  • 13 of the Aboriginal women (76%) identified the need for individually based Intake Assessment and Correctional Plans. Some Aboriginal women have special needs such as: fetal alcohol syndrome/effects, battered women's syndrome characteristics, suicidal tendencies, etc. that require individual assessment and a specialized correctional plan. These tools are also used in gauging parole requirements.

  • 13 of the Aboriginal women (76%) stated that parole hearings are delayed or waived because the Intake Assessment information was dated and Correctional Plans were incomplete. It is imperative that the Intake Assessment and the Correctional Plans be timely and up to date.

  • 13 of the Aboriginal women (76%) indicated security levels are not explained to them. In order for the Aboriginal women to work on lowering their security level, reasons for changes in security levels needs to be explained, as well as deciphering how the Correctional Plan relates to increase or decrease security levels.

Discussion

  • Young Offender records are included in the Intake Assessment. Some women felt that there is no recognition of personal growth, change in behaviour and emotional maturity. Many Aboriginal women are 25 to 40 years old and feel they have made changes in their behaviour in the last 10 to 25 years.

Programs and Delivery

  • 100% of the Aboriginal women stated that Aboriginal ceremonies need to be recognized as part of the Correctional Plan (for their healing effects in dealing with the Aboriginal women).

  • 100% of the Aboriginal women stated that programs facilitated by Correctional Officer II's (CO2's) do not work. CO2's as facilitators only creates anger and animosity among prisoners.

  • 16 of the Aboriginal women (94%) indicated the need for intensive treatment programs for alcohol and drug abuse, similar to a 28 day treatment centre program with an intensive relapse prevention program as follow-up.

  • 13 of the Aboriginal women (76%) stated that Aboriginal women need a specialized treatment program to address slashing and suicidal behaviour.

  • 13 of the Aboriginal women (76%) stated that Aboriginal women need specialized programs based on individual needs that address grief and loss, living without violence and the effects of family violence, dysfunctional family systems, the cycle of abuse, a couples counselling program to address co-dependency and self-esteem building.

  • 13 of the Aboriginal women (76%) stated that CSC needs to provide more culturally relevant programs that are recognized in the Correctional Plan and facilitated by Aboriginal people.

  • 13 of the Aboriginal women (76%) stated that program repetition or restart should not occur upon transfer.

  • 13 of the Aboriginal women (76%) stated that programs need to be completed in phases or steps. This allows the Aboriginal women to deal with specific areas, finish them and have a sense of accomplishment. Positive behaviour needs to be recognized, not only the negative behaviour.

  • 4 of the Aboriginal women (24%) stated that Aboriginal women need to access post secondary or university education. Some Aboriginal women have grade ten to twelve education.

  • 4 of the Aboriginal women (24%) stated that Aboriginal women need a parenting skills program, to learn to parent their children during visits and upon release. Many Aboriginal women have been absentee parents because of incarceration and have not been able to learn parenting skills through family role modelling or support.

  • 2 of the Aboriginal women (12%) stated that Prison for Women needs to address delays in providing the required programs.

  • 2 of the Aboriginal women (12%) stated that Prison for Women needs to increase Native Liaison services and Elder counselling, both of which need to be recognized in the Correctional Plan.

Discussion

  • Programs should have a spiritual base, as well as emotional support. They should not focus so much on anger and negative behaviour, but on positive behaviour, as well.

  • Aboriginal women believe they should not be forced to take programs, but should be able to take them when they are ready.It is imperative that federal institutions implement specialized programming that is culturally and gender specific for Aboriginal women. Programs with a woman-centred approach containing Aboriginal culture and spirituality as the focus are required in all institutions where Aboriginal women are incarcerated.

  • Programs that would help Aboriginal women include: suicidal and slashing prevention; intensive treatment programs for alcohol and drug addictions; relapse prevention programs; "Breaking Barriers" program with peer support counsellors; full-time Elder counselling and more ceremonies for healing; community reintegration programs with support systems; programs to learn about domestic violence and the cycle of abuse; parenting skills programs; others.

  • Extensive programming in self-esteem building would instil in the Aboriginal women a pride and belief in themselves. Programming around co-dependency, abusive relationships and "Living Without Violence" will educate the women about these complex relationships and could prevent them from returning to abusive relationships upon their release.

Needs: Physical, Emotional, Situational, Societal, Etc.

  • 13 of the Aboriginal women (76%) stated they want better health care and, at times, the staff disregards their requests. In some instances, for Aboriginal women to get medical attention they take extreme measures, like slashing themselves.

  • 13 of the Aboriginal women (76%) stated they need to be assessed by an Aboriginal psychologist, who is culturally sensitive. Some psychologists are difficult to understand due to language barrier; others are hard to connect with due to a cultural barrier.

  • 10 of the Aboriginal women (58%) stated that Aboriginal culture needs to be treated with respect. Some women reported that time limits have been put on the ceremonies. It was reported that food offerings from ceremonies have been thrown in the garbage when it is to be respected and burned.

  • 4 of the Aboriginal women (24%) stated that "Independent Living Programs" need to be established to assist those who have become institutionalized and cannot live beyond the confines of an institutional environment. Securing community resources and support for prisoners need to be addressed.

  • 3 of the Aboriginal women (18%) stated that Aboriginal women want peer support counsellors and a "Breaking Barriers" program.

Discussion

  • Both prisoners and staff stated more cultural programming such as sweats (at least once a week) were needed. Aboriginal women wanted the sweat grounds recognized as a safe place because of its sacredness and to be allowed to go there whenever they needed space and quiet.

Obstacles in Reducing Security Level

  • 100% of the Aboriginal women stated that there is a lack of communication between management, the primary worker and the prisoner. When this occurs, it is the Aboriginal women that get blamed for being manipulative. This displacement of authority is oppressive.

  • 100% of the Aboriginal women spoke of swearing and angry outbursts when staff "push their buttons". They indicated that swearing is used as a coping mechanism by the women for which they receive numerous charges. If they cannot swear to release anger, this anger is stored, and usually results in violence against others or in self-injurious behaviour (slashing).

  • 100% of the Aboriginal women stated that CSC staff do not take slashing seriously. Most staff view it as "trying to get attention", rather than a coping mechanism for relief from the pressure of being incarcerated and a release for internal pain and anger.

  • 13 of the Aboriginal women (76%) stated that CSC needs to ensure that core programs are available in all institutions. Completion of core programs: "Cognitive Skills", "Anger Management", "Substance Abuse" are required in the Correctional Plan to lower security levels, but are not provided in some institutions.

  • 13 of the Aboriginal women (76%) stated that being straightforward, direct and speaking their mind are seen as being manipulative and argumentative.

  • 13 of the Aboriginal women (76%) stated that they were not given a chance. An application for transfer to the Healing Lodge was never processed. Some Aboriginal women stated they remained charge free and had not been involved in any conflicts but were told by staff that their attitudes were not good enough. Others were told they were being anti-social and keeping too much to themselves when they were trying to avoid trouble.

Discussion

  • There were two provincially sentenced Aboriginal women in the federal system that were not provided with programs to address their Correctional Plan. They were told by staff that this was due to the delay in federal/provincial paper work requirements.

Statements Regarding Staff

  • 100% of the Aboriginal women stated that qualified facilitators (not social drinkers) are required for substance abuse programs. Correctional staff, present or former will not be accepted as facilitators. Facilitators should be from outside agencies, individuals who are non-authoritarian in their facilitation style. Facilitators with similar experiences or backgrounds (e.g. ex-prisoners, poverty and/or having lived on the street) would be appropriate.

  • 15 of the Aboriginal women (88%) stated they had taken steps to reduce their security levels but were not supported by staff for various reasons.

  • 13 of the Aboriginal women (76%) stated that CSC needs to hire more Aboriginal staff who practice their culture and are not judgmental.

  • 13 of the Aboriginal women (76%) felt pre-judged by staff, citing a lack of empathy and compassion.

  • 13 of the Aboriginal women (76%) indicated that the staff were not very helpful, especially the CO2's.

  • 13 of the Aboriginal women (76%) indicated they had controlled their behaviour and had requested programs but staff did not respond to their needs or provide the programs.

  • 13 of Aboriginal women (76 %) stated that the services of a full-time Aboriginal Psychologist were needed. This would eliminate the prejudice that the Aboriginal women believe occurs with a non-Aboriginal psychologist.

  • 9 of the Aboriginal women (53%) indicated that Correctional Plans delays were due to CMOI staff not working with them more closely. CMOI staff must be readily available to the Aboriginal women.

  • 2 of the Aboriginal women (12%) reported receiving support from staff and program facilitators in reducing their security levels.

Institutions and/or Environment

  • All of the Aboriginal women at the Regional Psychiatric Centre stated that this institution needs to increase Native Liaison services, Elder counselling and recognize the healing benefits of Aboriginal ceremonies in the Correctional Plan.

  • All of the Aboriginal women at Saskatchewan Penitentiary stated that is institution needs to increase Native Liaison services, Elder counselling and recognize the healing benefits of Aboriginal ceremonies in the Correctional Plan. Saskatchewan Penitentiary needs to address delays and provide the required programs for Aboriginal women to address their Correctional Plans.

  • All the Aboriginal women at Springhill Institution stated that this institution needs to increase Native Liaison services, Elder counselling and provide the required programs for Aboriginal women to work on their Correctional Plans.

  • 100% of the Aboriginal women stated that medium security women's facilities need to expand so they can also house Aboriginal women in maximum security.

  • 100% of the Aboriginal women wanted more yard space to allow more sports activities outside their respective institutions.

  • 13 of the Aboriginal women (76%) wanted more access to sweatlodge grounds for quiet time.

  • 6 of the Aboriginal women (35%) believed that there is a need for a women's facility for Aboriginal women who are maximum security instead of warehousing them in maximum security prisons for men (e.g. Saskatchewan Penitentiary and Springhill Institution). These institutions do not provided the women with the required programs to attain lower security.

  • 4 of the Aboriginal women (24%) required access to a telephone to contact the Correctional Investigator, but were not allowed the access by staff.

  • 3 of the Aboriginal women (18%) have accumulated charges for talking to their boyfriends or common-law partners incarcerated (Saskatchewan Penitentiary and Springhill Institution).

  • 2 of the Aboriginal women (12%) stated that the Prison for Women needs to provide the required programs for Aboriginal women to address their Correctional Plan and they need to increase Elder counselling services.

Discussion

  • Aboriginal women indicated they wanted more access to more recreation, a gym, larger recreation yards and more time outdoors.

  • The women indicated that a maximum security treatment centre for women would be more appropriate. They stated the Regional Psychiatric Centre needed to operate with more flexibility. Two Aboriginal women indicated it was not the facility that needed changing, but the staff's view of the Aboriginal women. The women's unit is too small for movement and interaction is too close for some women.

  • Many Aboriginal women recommended that the Healing Lodge in Maple Creek be used as a model. It is a place where they can work on themselves, in their own culture and in a home environment, not in a cage. Most Aboriginal women stated they wanted to serve their sentence in a facility that has access to events, socials and programs.

  • Some Aboriginal women said they would like to serve their sentence in a facility like Edmonton Institution for Women. Staff thought the Edmonton Institution for Women, if it were maximum security, would be ideal as it has computer training, programs, silk-screening and cooking classes.

  • The Aboriginal women suggested CSC build maximum security wings onto the present women's medium security institutions, so that they could be incarcerated with other women. Aboriginal women indicated their ranges needed rooms with sound barriers. Saskatchewan Penitentiary needs to get rid of the ranges, as there is no way to keep out the noise of television sets, radios, people talking, etc. At times, the women need space to be alone and quiet, but the ranges are too closed-in. The women indicated they want access to the sweatlodge grounds for private quiet time.

  • Many Aboriginal women, in all the prisons, expressed concerns that the correctional institutions were not adhering to the recommendations of "Creating Choices".

  • One Aboriginal woman in maximum security from out of province wanted to serve her sentence in a maximum security institution closer to family.

  • The Aboriginal women indicated they would like to serve their sentence in a women's prison, not male institutions that warehouse women. They wanted a facility that was organized and consistent in its daily approach to Aboriginal women. They did not want the rules to change from day to day.

Family, Community Support and Re-Integration

  • 100% of the Aboriginal women stated that CSC needs to arrange for Elder's counselling. There is a need for the continued participation in cultural programs and events prior to release. These can be arranged through Native Liaison services, Aboriginal staff, or community agencies, such as Friendship Centres.

  • 15 of the Aboriginal women (88%) need community re-integration programs prior to release and for a longer duration of time. Also required is follow-up, once the women are in the community.

  • 13 of the Aboriginal women (76%) need more Native Liaison services for counselling and assistance with family matters. In one of the institutions the Native Liaison is available only two half days a week. They expressed the need for a full-time Native Liaison officer.

  • 9 of the Aboriginal women (53%) stated they need to gain credibility through escorted temporary absences (ETA's) and unescorted temporary absences (UTA's). These are used to monitor escape risk and address security level classification in the Correctional Plan. Aboriginal women could visit family in their home communities through organized agencies.

  • 9 of the Aboriginal women (53%) believed that community re-integration programs and community support systems must be available at the community level. This type of support would aid in deterring re-offending.

  • 9 of the Aboriginal women (53%) needed more family and community contact with volunteers and agencies, through events and socials established by various individuals and organizations. This would prepare the Aboriginal women for connecting with family and establish community contacts for support.

  • 4 of the Aboriginal women (24%) stated the need for pre-release plans to assist in community re-integration.

  • 4 of the Aboriginal women (24%) stated programs not completed in the institution must be available in the community for completion.

  • 4 of the Aboriginal women (24%) stated that intensive treatment for alcohol and drug abuse and intensive relapse prevention programs, as follow-up support, is required after release.

  • 1 Aboriginal woman stated that CSC needs to provide finances for family to visit women incarcerated out of their home province, or provide finances for the relocation of families that need to be in the same community as the incarcerated woman (e.g. incarcerated mothers with small children).

Discussion

  • Aboriginal women believe that community resources need to be provided and community support established prior to and upon release.

  • "Creating Choices" advocated the importance of bringing FSAW closer to their families. Some Aboriginal women have been incarcerated farther away from their families. Over half of CSC staff indicated that Aboriginal women need to continue with family support and visits. Some Aboriginal women have as many as four children. Aboriginal women could visit their families, in their home communities, organized through agencies. Visits with family would not be just for compassionate leave, such as funerals.

  • Community reintegration programs should begin while the women are incarcerated, with follow-up into the community upon release. This directive is outlined in Section 5 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act which states "...the Correctional Service of Canada, which shall be responsible for... (b) the provision of programs that contribute to the rehabilitation of offenders and to their successful reintegration into the community; (c) the preparation of inmates for release...". However, this has not been the practice. Community resources need to be provided and community support established prior to and upon release.