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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Nova Institution for Women

Section 8: Reintegration

Reintegration strategy and planning
Expected outcomes:
Reintegration underpins the work of the whole establishment, supported by strategic partnerships in the community and informed by assessment of inmate risk and need so as to minimize the likelihood of reoffending on release.

8.1 There was much good reintegration work, but it required improved coordination. A wide range of community volunteers supported women with a variety of reintegration needs. All women were assisted with accommodation before release but there was little support for securing welfare, employment, further education or training. Data was insufficient to monitor the parole process but not all women had completed necessary programs before their first eligibility date. There was little use of escorted or unescorted temporary absences as part of a staged reintegration process. Women were positive about the help they received, and in our survey 70% said that they had done something at Nova that would stop them from reoffending.

8.2 Reintegration services were based on the national community strategy for women offenders and the national program strategy for women offenders. However, there was no local reintegration policy to meet the specific reintegration needs of women at Nova within the framework of the national strategies. Neither was there a reintegration committee or policy group to monitor the various aspects of reintegration work taking place. There was no local performance monitoring or data analysis to improve practice or monitor performance in key areas of reintegration - for example, timeliness of correctional plans and parole reports, outcomes of parole applications, escorted and unescorted temporary absences and, in particular, work releases and family contact. Overall, there was a lack of coordination and management oversight of much of the good work being done.

8.3 All women were eligible for day parole after six months in the institution or six months prior to full parole, whichever was the longest. Six months was a very tight period for some women with complex needs. The timescale for the completion of intake assessments was 70 or 90 days, depending on the length of sentence. Consequently, it was often difficult to ensure that women completed all necessary program work in time to apply at the first eligibility date. Many women felt frustrated by this. They also complained that they were missing opportunities to apply for parole because of avoidable delays in the system. We could not make a judgement in the absence of routine collection of the data to monitor the process. But importantly, neither was it possible for the institution to ensure that timescales were met or to be confident that complaints were not justified.

8.4 A wide range of community residential facilities (halfway houses) was available to women, from addiction centres to independent living provision that could accommodate mothers and their children. Many women were hundreds of miles from their homes and suitable halfway houses were not always available in their home areas. Aboriginal women were not well served. The Aboriginal liaison officer was developing links with reserves prepared to accept women on their release, but although four Aboriginal women had applied to native bands none had been successful.

8.5 All women who left Nova on day parole went to halfway houses until they were eligible for full parole. Those released on full parole served the remainder of their sentences under supervision in the community. Women were not released on full parole unless the parole board was satisfied that they had suitable accommodation to go to, and it often applied conditions of residence as part of supervision conditions. Some women were released at the point of their warrant expiry date. Most of these were revokees - that is, they had been released previously, revoked and returned to complete their sentence at a point when there was insufficient time to reapply for parole. Some women had chosen not to apply for parole, preferring to complete their sentence in the institution and then leave without parole conditions.

8.6 In the previous 12 months, no women, whatever their status on release, had left the institution without accommodation to go to. Few, however, left with welfare support, employment, further education or training secured. This was generally left to the community parole officers and community agencies.

8.7 There were few escorted or unescorted temporary absences to facilitate work placements or family contact. At the time of the inspection there was only one woman on a 60-day unescorted work release program. Escorted temporary absences arranged for family contact averaged 42 a year.

8.8 Women were given a grant of $250 for release shopping. They could order clothing from reputable catalogues a month before they were due to leave. This was a good service.

8.9 Over 200 community volunteers offered a variety of services to assist women at Nova with successful reintegration. These services were wide ranging and included: mentors for lifers; support for prostitutes; survivors of abuse and trauma support group; parenting programs; education and employment workshops; courtwork services; community-based releasing facilities; and chaplains and fellowship groups.

8.10 In our survey, 70% of respondents said that they had done something or something had happened to them during their time in Nova that would make them less likely to reoffend on release, which was significantly better than the English comparator of 43%.

  Action points
8.11 There should be a clear local reintegration policy which sets out how the reintegration needs of women at Nova will be met within the framework of the national community strategy for women offenders and the national program strategy for women offenders.

8.12 A reintegration committee or policy group should oversee the local reintegration policy and monitor or coordinate all aspects of reintegration.

8.13 A range of reintegration data including information on parole should be collected and monitored to ensure managers can satisfy themselves about performance in this area and inform future policy.

8.14 There should be better provision to assist women to secure welfare support, employment, further education or training before their release.

8.15 There should be greater use of escorted and unescorted temporary release as part of a staged process of reintegration.

  Good practice
8.16 Women were given a grant of $250 for release shopping and could order clothing from catalogues a month before they were due to leave.


Correctional planning
Expected outcomes:
All inmates have a correctional plan based upon an individual assessment of risks and needs, regularly reviewed and implemented throughout and after their time in custody. Inmates, together with all relevant staff, are involved with drawing up and reviewing plans.

8.17 Correctional plans and subsequent reports were detailed and focused. Prioritized needs were relevant and achievable and based on a thorough intake assessment. The intake assessment was being revised in response to concerns that it was not sufficiently culturally or gender sensitive. Correctional plans were resumed for revokees. Women said they felt part of the correctional plan process, but their contribution to the formulation of progress reports was unclear.

8.18 Each new admission had a thorough intake assessment to identify prioritized correctional planning needs. Since April 2005, all intake assessments and correctional plans had been completed within the stipulated 70 days for women with sentences of less than four years and 90 days for those with sentences of four years and above. The intake assessment included detailed contributions from the woman, community parole officer and the inmate's friends and family. In response to concerns that the Dynamic Factor Identification and Analysis (DFIA) was not sufficiently culturally or gender sensitive, the instrument had been updated to include gender- and culturally-responsive interview prompts. A revised DFIA was being tested to ensure its validity for Aboriginal, racialized and disabled women.

8.19 A named primary worker and parole officer were allocated to a woman in advance of her arrival. All new arrivals were allocated to phase one of the women offenders substance abuse program (WOSAP) and a work program shortly after arrival, though the increase in the population had affected the availability of work posts. Education and other program assessments began within the first couple of weeks, and women were allocated to prioritized correctional programs before their correctional plan was finalized. This provided activity and also encouraged completion of identified programs during custody.

8.20 From a random sample of 10 correctional plans it was evident that needs had been prioritized from the thorough background information provided in the intake assessment. Institutional targets could be differentiated from community targets, and all were realistic and measurable. However, there were examples in the plans where women were referred to by surname only.

8.21 There was evidence from the plans that the woman had been interviewed as part of the intake assessment process. In fact, 53% of respondents to our survey said they had been involved or very involved in the development of their correctional plan, which compared favourably with the English comparator of 26%. However, it was less clear how much involvement they had in the compilation of correctional plan progress reports, although the contents of these were shared with women on completion. These progress reports were also thorough and focused, drawing on all the sources to outline the inmate's progress in the institution.

8.22 Previous correctional plans were resumed for revokees.

8.23 All correctional plans and reports were quality assured before they were finalized.

  Action points
8.24 All women should be fully involved in the formulation of reports that relate to their correctional plan.

Correctional and mental health programs
Expected outcomes:
Effective programs are available to address identified inmate risk and need, to allow timely progression through sentence.

8.25 Relationships between staff and inmates were generally positive and respectful. There was relatively little informal engagement between staff and women inmates and limited opportunity outside scheduled activity time for staff to model pro-social behaviour. We questioned the recent decision that primary workers should wear uniform and how it fitted with the principles of Creating Choices .

8.26 The program strategy for women offenders described the gender-specific programs available based on a needs analysis of the women offender population. In addition to the three women offenders substance abuse program (WOSAP) modules, Nova offered anger and emotion management, reasoning and rehabilitation, and three phases of the survivors of abuse and trauma program to the general population. Sex offender therapy was available for those who required it. Programmes had either been developed specifically for women offenders or adapted to meet their needs. Women without a substance abuse problem could also attend the relapse prevention WOSAP module. There was no correctional program aimed at the specific needs of Aboriginal women at Nova. In our random analysis of 10 correctional plans, there was evidence that the correctional programs offered met the prioritized needs of the women.

8.27 National programs such as dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) and WOSAP had been validated and were monitored by headquarters. All facilitators for these programs and all staff in the SLE, including primary workers as well as behavioural counsellors, had been trained to national standards.

8.28 Following an in-depth intake assessment, women were allocated to the next available program during weekly program board meetings. Reasoning and rehabilitation (R&R) was offered only to women not assessed as needing WOSAP or DBT (provided to SLE and secure unit residents only) due to the overlap in skills covered. Four women had completed R&R since April 2005, and none had completed anger and emotion management in the current fiscal year.

8.29 There were no R&R or anger and emotion management programs during our inspection. One woman was waiting to go on R&R, which was due to start in October 2005. However, this six-month course was likely to impinge on her earliest eligibility for day parole in January 2006 and her full parole in March 2006. Five women were on the waiting list for the anger and emotions program, which was scheduled to begin in January 2006. The program start date was already beyond the earliest day parole eligibility dates for three of these, and would coincide with one applicant's full parole eligibility date. The timeliness of these waiting lists, as checked via 'bring forwards' and quarterly CSC oversight, was judged by the scheduled program start date rather than women's proximity to earliest parole eligibility dates. This could affect a woman's ability to apply for and achieve parole, particularly if she needed to complete the custodial program as part of her correctional plan.

8.30 We supported the practice of identifying women for prioritized correctional programs before the correctional plan had been fixed in order to encourage completion of programs before earliest eligibility dates.

8.31 In our survey, 67% of respondents felt that their correctional programs would help them on release, which compared very favourably with an English comparator of 26%.

8.32 The survivors of abuse and trauma program provided individual therapy, groupwork and an evening support group for participants. At the time of our inspection, ongoing individual therapy was provided to 22 women, groupwork to six and evening support to five. All requests to join the program now went direct to the facilitator, and there had been an increase in requests to join it. Two women were on the waiting list for individual therapy and one on the waiting list for evening support.

8.33 This program clearly provided much needed support to women, who valued it. However, although it was mentioned as a desired intervention in correctional plans, the facilitator was no longer asked to contribute to correctional plan progress reports.

8.34 The SLE was an impressive therapeutic environment providing specific treatment interventions to women with mental health needs. At the time of our visit there were five residents in the SLE out of a capacity of eight. One was involved in DBT and the remaining four in psycho-social rehabilitation. Two additional secure unit women were involved in the DBT program.

8.35 Women could access the SLE through various routes, mainly through a recommendation from their case management team, but also through self-referral and community parole officer recommendation. All women had to want to be involved in the SLE to be accepted. Applications were considered by the coordinated care committee, which was attended by all SLE staff on duty. These meetings were held fortnightly to encourage attendance from the woman's primary worker and were minuted with action points. Once accepted, applicants were moved into the SLE within a short time and began a 30-day assessment period to acclimatize them to its routines. This was followed by programming, and the woman was assigned a SLE primary worker for the duration of her stay.

8.36 The SLE provided an excellent example of interdisciplinary working and there was plenty of evidence of positive interactions between staff and inmates. There were weekly interdisciplinary team meetings to discuss the progress of each resident. The outcomes of these meetings were discussed with the women and treatment goals set. Women spoke highly of their treatment in the SLE, for both program intervention and relationships with staff.

8.37 All residents were involved in activities in the general population in addition to their SLE commitments. There was also commendable regular and timetabled outreach support to ex-residents.

  Action points
8.38 An annual needs assessment should be conducted to ensure that programs offered continue to meet the identified needs of women at Nova.

8.39 The waiting list for programs should prioritize applicants by their earliest parole eligibility dates.

8.40 Feedback from the survivors of abuse and trauma program facilitator should be included in correctional plan progress reports.

  Good practice
8.41 The SLE was a holistic therapeutic environment that supported women with specific mental health needs, and offered additional support to encourage and maintain their successful return to the general population

Life-sentenced inmates
Expected outcomes:
Life-sentenced inmates should receive equal treatment in terms of their treatment and the conditions in which they are held. These expectations refer to specific issues, which relate to the management of life-sentenced inmates.

8.42 Relationships between staff and inmates were generally positive and respectful. There was relatively little informal engagement between staff and women inmates and limited opportunity outside scheduled activity time for staff to model pro-social behaviour. We questioned the recent decision that primary workers should wear uniform and how it fitted with the principles of Creating Choices .

8.43 Six women were serving life sentences at Nova. All were convicted of second degree murder, with minimum sentences varying between 10 and 15 years. All lifers arrived within days of sentencing, and no longer than 15 days. A CSC parole officer saw newly sentenced lifers in the provincial prison for an initial assessment, and the parole officer dealt with any immediate questions and identified any urgent needs.

8.44 On arrival at Nova, all new life-sentenced women were held initially in the secure unit. At the time of the inspection there was one lifer in the secure unit. Until shortly before the inspection, CSC policy was that all life-sentenced inmates should spend two years in maximum security, except in exceptional circumstances. Figures supplied by the CSC suggested that this had happened within the two year period. On 1 September 2005, this policy was changed to allow wardens to make initial placement decisions for those serving life sentences. Technically the revised policy still required a security classification review for lifers in maximum security only every two years. Given the contrast in living conditions for women in Nova, and the very restricted opportunities in the secure unit, this was too long.

8.45 Life-sentenced women completed the standard orientation program led by the primary worker. There was no specific orientation for lifers. As there were very few new lifers we accepted that orientation needed to be tailored to the individual. The LifeLine service provided an in-reach worker who visited the prison regularly and who offered orientation to new lifers and during the reception and initial placement stage of their sentence. Unfortunately, this worker was not available during the inspection and no one in the institution could tell us about this orientation.

8.46 There was very little distinct treatment for lifers as a group (although they did get better quality mattresses in recognition that they would spend a long time there). Any special needs were identified on an individual basis, which seemed appropriate with the small numbers involved. The six lifers were a disparate group in age and the stage in their life sentence. There was little reason to hold special lifer days.

8.47 Correctional planning was the same for life-sentenced women as for others. There was no formal annual review of the plan, but the casework team reviewed it after each significant event. The standard of the lifer plans we sampled was high, with a thorough assessment of the offence and identification of risk factors. Although there were annual assessments of progress against the correctional plan, individual lifers did not appear to be present at these reviews.

8.48 A lifer could spend her whole sentence of many years at Nova, with little opportunity to acquire work-related skills or occupy herself purposefully. Most of the activities provided centred on programs, basic education and domestic work. Lifers had the opportunity to spend some time at other institutions, but this was not appropriate for some and did not compensate for the lack of opportunity to have a meaningful 'career' at Nova. (See paragraphs 5.28 to 5.34).

8.49 Correctional planning ensured that lifers were prepared for release gradually. Escorted and unescorted absences were considered at the appropriate stage of sentence, and release plans were agreed with community parole officers before cases went to the parole board.

  Action points
8.50 Women lifers in maximum secure conditions should have their classification reviewed at least every 90 days.

8.51 An annual review of progress against the correctional plan should be held with the full casework team, including the woman lifer.

8.52 Better employment opportunities should be offered to allow lifers to acquire appropriate vocational skills.

Substance use
Expected outcomes:
Inmates with substance-related needs are identified at reception and receive effective support and treatment throughout their stay in custody, including pre-release planning. All inmates are safe from exposure to and the effects of substance use while in prison.

8.53 The women offenders substance abuse program (WOSAP) met the needs of the women at Nova. There was a well-run and well-attended voluntary relapse prevention program, which the women valued. In our survey, 69% said that the substance use program would help them on release compared to an English comparator of 31%. There was a drug-free house, but there was no intensive support for its residents. There were no services for new arrivals who needed detoxification, and it took many months before they could receive methadone maintenance.

8.54 Nova worked to the national drug strategy, under which each institution developed and implemented drug strategies to reflect its nature. Nova did not have a local drug strategy.

8.55 Some new arrivals required symptomatic relief from the effects of substance use withdrawal. Although there was a standing order for healthcare staff to administer symptomatic relief, this was not given automatically. We met one woman who arrived on the Monday afternoon, clearly showing signs of withdrawal, who had still not received symptomatic relief by Wednesday afternoon, although she was seen by nursing staff.

8.56 If a woman wanted to receive methadone as an aid to relapse prevention and she had not been on it in the community, she had to submit a letter to her parole officer stating her reasons and the benefits she thought she would gain. She also had to meet the criteria set out in the CSC methadone treatment guidelines. The parole officer included this information in her correctional plan and attempted to find a place in the community willing to accept her for continuation of treatment when she left Nova. This could take four to six months to arrange. Community places had strict criteria for acceptance. For example, one treatment centre expected the woman to have been stable on methadone for at least six months. Not all halfway houses had methadone treatment centres in the same area. Only one community place could be sought at a time. We met one woman waiting for acceptance from an area who knew the whole process might have to be repeated with a treatment centre in a different area if she was refused. She could not make any plans for herself or her family for the end of her sentence. A woman was referred to healthcare staff, the doctor and the methadone multidisciplinary meeting only when the community place had been agreed.

8.57 Women were frustrated with this system, particularly those on an accelerated parole scheme who were likely to be released before they had a place on a methadone scheme. The situation had been made worse because they were under the impression that they would be able to receive methadone if they were sent to Nova. New arrivals already receiving methadone could continue to receive it at Nova.

8.58 Only five women received methadone at Nova, and two more were waiting to hear if they had been accepted. Each of the five attended the monthly methadone multidisciplinary meeting and could discuss their care with medical staff, nurses, programs staff and their parole officer. They completed a self-assessment of their treatment, which was discussed at the meeting. Their dose of methadone was determined according to their needs. Women receiving methadone also had to go on the women offenders substance abuse program (WOSAP).

8.59 Program staff at Nova ran WOSAP. They saw every woman at Nova within 72 hours of their arrival and completed a computerized substance abuse assessment (including alcohol). The computer program also contained elements from parole assessments, and identified which of the three WOSAP components the woman needed to undertake. If her crime was not connected to substance use then she did not need to go on WOSAP 2. All women completed WOSAP 1, on the effect of drugs and other substances open to abuse on society as a whole. The program did not run during our inspection due to staff sickness, and women told us of their disappointment as the course had been due to finish that week.

8.60 WOSAP 2 was run over three months. It consisted of 40 sessions, 20 described as emotive and the rest as cognitive. It was a rolling program with a maximum of 12 participants at any one time. WOSAP 3 was a generic relapse prevention and maintenance course, consisting of 20 sessions over as many weeks. Two groups were running at the time of our inspection, each with 10 participants. The three programs all involved pre- and post-program testing, the results of which were sent to the national addiction research centre.

8.61 There was a well-run weekly voluntary relapse prevention program. Women valued the program and spoke highly of the woman contracted to run it. Alcoholics Anonymous also ran sessions on Sunday evenings.

8.62 There was a drug-free living unit, the intensive support unit (ISU). The leaflet advertising its program had been adapted from a male institution and referred to 'he' and 'men'. Women who wished to be part of the ISU program and have mandatory urinalysis applied to their primary worker or parole officer stating their reasons. They had to be following their correctional plan and be known to follow staff directions. The applications were passed to the ISU coordinator who made a recommendation to the institution review board for an independent decision. Women signed a consent form agreeing to the rules and conditions of the unit. There were only three women in the ISU at the time of our inspection. Apart from bimonthly urine testing they did not receive any specific support or incentives. No testing results for 2005-06 were made available to us. Results for 2004-05 were 100% negative. Women taking methadone were not excluded from the program.

8.63 Random drug testing was carried out on 5% of the population. National headquarters supplied the names of those to be tested monthly. Women were called to the admissions and discharges area and had two hours to provide a urine sample, which was sent away for analysis. In 2004-05, there had been two positive find results (7%) and one refusal. There were no positive find results in the 2005-06 year to date. A refusal resulted in an institutional charge, as did a positive result. Women were also charged if they were unable to produce a sample after two hours. The charge was decided by an independent chairperson but was usually $15, taken from the inmate's canteen money as $2.50 per week.

8.64 There were daily checks of the perimeter fence, which was also fitted with a perimeter intrusion detection system. Nova relied on the use of the town police dog and the customs dog for drug searches.

  Action points
8.65 There should be a local drug strategy.

8.66 Drug or alcohol dependent women should be given symptomatic relief within 24 hours of arrival at Nova, if clinically indicated.

8.67 A comprehensive assessment should be carried out within 48 hours of arrival of a woman with a history of substance use, and a suitable detoxification or maintenance-prescribing program should then be provided.

8.68 More therapeutic and structured help should be provided to women in the intensive support unit and more women should be encouraged to take part in the program.

8.69 The leaflet about the intensive support unit program should be woman-focused.

  Good practice
8.70 The methadone multidisciplinary meeting involved women in the management of their addiction/relapse prevention.