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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Literature Review on Women's Anger and Other Emotions

Other Programs

The following programmes or treatment interventions, while not specifically anger focused, are included because of the correlation between levels of self-esteem and anger noted above, and an emphasis on building positive relationships which, of necessity involves a creative, nonviolent approach to conflict resolution.

1. Outdoor Programmes

Three outdoor programmes for women offenders appeared in the literature (Wilderness Experiences for Women Offenders Program, 1990; Jose-Kampfner, 1991; Stumbo & Little, 1991) as well as a fourth outdoor therapeutic programme for women (Crump, 1993, 1994).

Initially funded by the Minnesota Department of Corrections, the Wilderness Experiences for Women Offenders Program consists of a three day and a nine day wilderness trip designed for groups of eight to twelve women who have been convicted of felonies. The three day trip, at a cabin setting involves a nature hike, learning necessary camp skills of fire-building, cooking, and knot tying, serves as preparation for the nine day trip which includes a rock climbing segment and a canoe expedition. In addition to learning the skills of wilderness travel and map and compass use, participants take leadership roles and, as a group make route and timing decisions. Positive stress management is encouraged by the trip leaders. Throughout the programme participants have an opportunity to:

• increase their awareness of their strengths, experiences, and abilities as building platforms for learning new skills;

• learn to cooperate by participating in situations where they help each other and have to rely on each other for help;

• increase their self esteem;

• increase their risk taking capacity;

• develop a positive body image;

• make decisions as individuals;

• integrate personal wants and needs into group decision making;

• increase their positive image of women by having positive role models and successful group experiences;

• be in an environment where racism, sexism, and other difficult interpersonal topics are discussed in a constructive way;

• learn new outdoor living skills.

Although the programme has not been formally evaluated, it is recognized as providing incarcerated women with a powerful resource for managing stress, increasing self esteem, and learning skills for working cooperatively with other women (Mitten, 1995).

Jose-Kampfner (1991) and Stumbo & Little (1991) report the success of children's visitation programmes at the Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti, Michigan and at the Dwight Correctional Center in Illinois respectively. The Children's Visitation Program (CVP) began at the Huron Valley Correctional Facility in 1988 and has served more than one hundred children and fifty mothers. Allowing for a more natural interaction between mothers and children than the prison visiting rooms usually allow, the programme permits mothers to spend time alone with their children unaccompanied by other adults. Non uniformed Department of Corrections staff are present during the visit in addition to a clinical psychologist who also provides family therapy. The children are permitted to run freely and play with other children. Visits lasting approximately three hours take place in the regular visiting room which is temporarily converted into a playroom, and outside when weather permits. Group activities such as singing and story telling are organized at the beginning and end of the visits with the remainder of the time available for mothers and children to organize as they choose. Community volunteers provide transportation for those children who live far from the facility, an involvement which provides the community with an awareness of the particular problems faced by incarcerated women. A committee of ten inmates who are elected from among the prison population form the governing body of the programme. In addition to making decisions about the decor of the visiting room and the disciplining of inmates who violate programme rules, committee members learn further skills of organization, record-keeping and conflict resolution.

Since it began, the programme "has served not only to restore the bonds between mothers and children, but also to greatly improve discipline at the institution" (Jose-Kampfner, 1991, p. 132). Ninety percent of the mothers, in a questionnaire said they would avoid any activity that might mean the loss of the Saturday visit. Seventy five percent said "the visits had effectively prevented them from engaging in misconduct" (p. 132). No contraband has been introduced in the twenty seven months since the programme was initiated.

"Camp Celebration" (Stumbo & Little, 1991) was initiated at the Dwight Correctional Center in the summer of 1988, funded by a three year federal grant. Located on the grounds of the facility, the programme operates for thirteen weeks each summer, with up to twelve mothers per weekend bringing their children for a forty-eight hour visit from late Friday afternoon until Sunday noon. Consisting of usual camp activities of campfire, skits, and songs, a nearby community resident provides farm animals, a pony, lamb, and goats, which are enjoyed by the children and cared for by the inmates. Similar to the Huron Valley programme, security checks are conducted in an unobtrusive manner, and security has not been a problem as women have not wanted to violate rules that would mean their participation might be jeopardized. With "few other programs rival[ing] the benefits delivered to the women with such little staff cost", Camp Celebration is considered to be "an integral part of the overall parenting program" (p. 144). A camp manual and a research report documenting the effects of the programme is available from the Dwight Correctional Center.

Wilderness Challenge (Crump, 1993, 1994) is a therapeutic outdoor programme begun in Nova Scotia in 1992 to serve women who are survivors of violence. The programme consists of three day outdoor weekend intensive group experiences centred around group communication and trust building exercises, sea kayaking, canoeing, and ropes course challenges. Individual characteristic responses to stress and conflict are examined following each of the activities which are sequenced to involve progressively deeper levels of trust and physical contact. Emphasis is placed upon developing an atmosphere conducive to trust and support within the group. Confrontation naturally arising as the individual needs of women conflict are processed in an environment that encourages mutual respect. Individuals are encouraged to push beyond their own perceived limits to new learning, with strong emphasis placed on providing choice regarding level of participation in each activity. Group and individual tasks are broken down into small, manageable steps to ensure success. Groups consist of up to ten women, are led by trained therapists and outdoor staff, and are conducted year round in various wilderness areas in the province of Nova Scotia. Evaluated in its demonstration phase (Mahon, 1994), the programme was determined to be "an effective adjunctive treatment modality for survivors of violence" (Mahon, 1994, p. 1). Selected participant comments from the evaluation report include:

Without the safety, I would never have challenged myself to the extent that I did. I did a lot of checking out before I took the risks. I believe I am very intuitive when it comes to my safety.The reassurance played in my head a great deal.Each step I took was with much precaution. I explored all my choices and never closed any option. Feeling physically safe came with the space that was set up. Emotional safety came from my needs being met when I felt unsafe...respect for my fear.

(p. 11)

I learned to trust myself again. I saw and appreciated the positive qualities and difficulties and pain of each individual in the group and feel less fear, not threatened by others....I began to feel less isolated.

(p. 15)

I realize now there are people and places that will not hurt me. Trusting myself to know I have the strength to deal with whatever comes for me.

(p. 12)

The programme is adaptable to a variety of population groups and is available to private and public treatment organizations.

2. Modified Theme-Centred-Interactional Method

A modified theme-centred-interactional method focused on women and anger (Gettle, 1985) was developed on thirty female volunteers to assess its effect on anger awareness and self esteem. The programme consists of eight two hour group sessions with the overall theme of "Discovering and Understanding My Anger" (pp. 39-40). Basic principles of the model emphasize "the individual sharing herself, the mutual sharing of others, and the experience of...sharing around a theme" (p. 41). Results indicated no significant increase in anger awareness or self-esteem although participant journal entries suggested "change had occurred in the area of recognizing and expressing anger" (p. 70).

3. The Friendship Group

Utilizing "a combination of lecturettes, exercises, homework, assignments and individual follow-up by group leaders" (Lovell, 1991, p. 9), the Friendship Group manual was tested in agencies providing therapeutic daycare and parenting education to those identified by child protection agencies as having serious parenting problems. In some cases, participants had lost custody of their children. With prior abuse, abusive family-of-origin networks, and social isolation identified as some of the factors contributing to parenting difficulties, the programme focuses on "experiential skill training" (p. 5) in an effort to address isolation and enhance support by encouraging parents in the ability to be a rewarding friend. Sessions address such topic as values clarification, unsafe situations and personal boundaries, assertiveness, handling negative concerns and criticism, and refusing and making requests. Follow-up data suggests those who have completed the sixteen week programme, rather than using the skills they have developed to initiate new friendships, tend to "value the friendships they already possess differently" (p.5). Their social contacts become more rewarding to them and they thus can rely less on family networks that are fraught with long standing difficulties.

4. Nobody There: Making Peace With Motherhood

The Elizabeth Fry Society of Edmonton (1994), in response to a 1993 study entitled Common Threads, identified a lack of knowledge and service gap in assisting women who have either voluntarily given up, or lost custody of, their children. Researchers considered the previously held assumption that women lose custody of their children due to incarceration, noting that custody is often lost prior to involvement with the law. Eight women in this study participated in two interviews. Their stories were compiled and published in an effort to gain an understanding of women in similar situations to "better enable the Society and similar agencies to more sensitively meet the needs of the women they served" (p. 1).

Early life trauma, most notably sexual abuse, was common to three quarters of the women interviewed. In addition, physical and emotional abuse, "parental neglect, divorce, disappearances, and incarcerations; family violence; apprehensions by social services; and repeated moves from one home to another" (p. 145) characterized their early lives. Encountering repeated trauma, the women's stories revealed a wide range of difficulties common among trauma survivors: inability to trust, "low self-esteem, high anxiety, lack of empathy, suicidal tendencies, aggressive behaviour, alcohol abuse, and school and social adjustment problems" (Galambos, quoted in Elizabeth Fry Society, 1994, p. 145). Citing Terr's (1991) suggestion that rage and extreme passivity "gradually replace the ability to trust" (p. 145), these women also lose a belief that they have the ability to make choices and control their own lives. Being emotionally vulnerable, six of the eight women became pregnant between the ages of fourteen and seventeen. Their own experiences of being mothered then became relived in their subsequent difficulties with mothering. As in the Common Threads study, women in this study had to hit `rock bottom' (p. 180) before becoming committed to working toward making peace with their lives. The turning point for the women came in the form of "giving up or losing their children or a significant relationship; becoming embarrassed by and afraid of their addiction or having to serve time; and beginning to fear their own death" (p. 180).

The study offers recommendations for action, too numerous to include in this assessment. Consistent is the advisement to understand the effects of early life trauma on motherhood, intimate relationships, and personal problems and the provision of services that reflect that understanding. A few of the recommendations are included below:

• Arrange for rooming-in programs for the young children of women who are serving time in prison or who are receiving treatment for addiction. If the children are too old to room in or the facility cannot be modified to handle this program, organize a regular visiting program to insure that the mother-child connection is not broken during incarceration or treatment.

• Organize and offer support groups for mothers who are fighting for custody of their children after losing them because of incarceration, hospitalization, or involvement in treatment for addiction. In addition to emotional support, these groups should offer the women access to verbal and written information about the legal system, how to use a lawyer or legal aide, and about exercising their rights.

• Support the decisions of mothers who decide to give up their children. Treat the decision as one made out of love and made with the best interests of the children in mind. Insure that the children realize that their mothers loved them and gave them up so they would have a better chance at life. To help the mothers adjust to the loss of their children, provide occasional reports and pictures and, when possible, connect them with other women who have given up their children and handled it well.

• Insure that all who work with women who have been in conflict with the law have a firm and up-to-date understanding of the child welfare system so they can offer informed assistance and support to women who are dealing with child welfare-related issues.

• Insure that all who work with women who have been in conflict with the law understand and appreciate the tremendous pain and shame that mothers who have given up or lost custody of their children carry. Because this issue is so taboo in our society, those who work with women often do not even address this issue. However, they should be encouraging and supporting women as they tell their stories. In addition, they should be connecting women who are in similar situations and offering them support and, when necessary, counselling for unresolved grief. [ Elizabeth Fry Society, 1994, pp.178-179.]

This is an excellent study to aid in the understanding of the connections between early abuse and later life trauma. It's recommendations are encompassing and strongly endorsed by the author.

5. Home Improvement - Tools for Building Better Relationships

Initiated at the Burnaby Correctional Centre for Women, an initial eight session group was expanded to sixteen to allow sufficient time to "develop ground rules and adequate rapport" (Katz & Hall, 1994) necessary to deal with the sensitive issues regarding abuse in adult and parent-child relationships. The programme is considered to be used most effectively "as a stepping stone between cognitive skills and a parenting program" (Katz, p. 6). The sessions focus on identifying abuse, power and control, relaxation and communication skills, anger, healthy sexual relationships, and the effects of abuse or witnessing abuse on children. Techniques include role plays, videos, finger painting, and discussion. A significant portion of the programme addresses anger related issues. Following an exploration of a cognitive-behavioural anger model that encourages women to practice reducing anger by changing their thoughts about specific provocations, sessions explore empathy and respect statements, aggressive versus assertive behaviour, fair fighting, and jealousy and rebuilding trust. A follow up interview including both "recognition of positive growth and identifying concerns" (p. 109), concludes the programme.

The content is extensive, current, and relevant within each subject area, though the inclusion of a section on fair fighting may not be appropriate in the context of having lived with an abusive partner. Each of the sessions includes significant detail to assist facilitation.

Although problems were encountered in group management due to "inmates' poor social skills, low motivation for change, poor cognitive skills, inadequate emotional development and confrontational/abrasive attitudes" (Katz & Hall, 1994, p. 2), and trust was found to be non-existent (p. 2), the authors noted the programme had a significant impact on some of the women. Notable insights were gained and changes initiated in the area of recognizing abuse in current partners that had not been seen before, parental limit setting, personal life choices, connecting with support services upon release, and in reestablishing connection with adult children. It is apparent many of these changes would not have been possible without having participated in the programme. Among the recommendations included in the final report of the project was the suggestion of daily sessions over a one or, preferably two week period that would better facilitate the development of an adequate trust level.

6. Program for Innovative Self-Management

Designed for adolescents, the strategies used in this programme are adaptable to an adult population. The Program for Innovative Self-Management (PRISM) (Wexler, 1991) is shaped by the theories of self psychology that hold that "a primary motivating force for many human behaviors is to maintain a cohesive sense of self" (p. 6), cognitive behaviour therapy (noted above), and an adaptation of hypnotherapy that emphasizes client's own "naturally occurring responses rather than pushing them in a specific direction" (p. 7). The programme, structured around a combination of group and individual sessions and utilizing additional techniques borrowed from Gestalt therapy and psychodrama, recognizes that self destructive behaviour patterns "reflect attempts to rebalance or protect the fragile self" (book jacket). The rage exhibited by the traumatized child is seen in this light. Wexler states:

When adolescents' behaviors' seem wildly out of control, aggressive, or self-destructive, this is more than just delinquency or acting out. This is a fragmented self desperately trying to reintegrate.

(p. 24)

The sixteen session hospital programme, designed to run over four weeks, introduces four central skills of self talk, assertiveness, body control, relaxation, and visualization. The model further employs a variety of innovative methods. For example, the "freeze-frame technique" (p. 68) allows the client to "slow down time" (p. 69), and explore available options before acting impulsively. By reexperiencing a situation of conflict from the past in a "focused meditative state" (p. 74) of deep relaxation, it becomes possible to slow the action down and learn that "the `uncontrollable' behavior is not so automatic" (p. 74). After examining available options, it is emphasized that "the behavior they chose originally was their attempt to take care of themselves as best they knew how at that moment" (pp. 75-76). New options are chosen to create a different ending with more positive consequences. The same result can be achieved without visualisation, where time does not allow or the procedure is too threatening, by the use of role-playing and analysis.

The model has been found to be successful in treating adolescents who display eating behaviour issues, suicidal behaviour, low self-esteem, emotional outbursts, and self mutilation.

7. Storytelling From a Jungian Perspective

Perhaps a discussion of anger treatment modalities is best concluded with a discussion of the work of Jungian analyst and cantadora storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estés (1992), who believes "women's flagging vitality can be restored by extensive `psychic-archaeological' digs into the ruins of the female underworld" (p. 3). Placing emphasis on clinical and developmental psychology, she uses "the simplest and most accessible ingredient for healing - stories" (p. 14), which she perceives as "medicine" (p. 15).

Drawing upon the elements of a change oriented mythological story, Estés maintains women possess within themselves the ability to heal their rage and anger "by seeking a wise and calm healing force..., taking the challenge of going into psychic territory one has never approached before..., putting one's old and obsessive thoughts and feelings to rest' (p. 351), and understanding the power of the self to seek solutions to what caused the rage and what can be done with it. Estés suggests that "[e]ven though the world may be falling to pieces outwardly, the inner healer is unswayed by it all and maintains the calm to figure out the best way to proceed" (p. 354). Anger thus, is used "as a creative change, develop, and protect" (p. 354).

Emphasizing the function of rage as teacher, Estés states "the learning [women] are after is to know when to allow right anger and when not" (p. 363), and offers a prescription for women who are "stuck in old rage" (p. 368) that Estés has used in her work for many years. She presents four levels of forgiveness:

• to forego - to leave it alone

• to forebear - to abstain from punishing

• to forget - to aver from memory, to refuse to dwell

• to forgive - to abandon the debt (p. 370)

suggesting this work is usually accomplished in small increments over many years rather than the all or nothing manner our culture promotes. The stages are depicted by Estés as: (1) "tak[ing] a break from thinking about the person or event for a while" (p. 370), (2) "refrain[ing] from unnecessary punishing [which] strengthens integrity of action and soul" (p. 370), (3) "conscious forgetting by refusing to summon up the fiery material" (p. 371), and (4) making a "conscious decision to refuse to harbor resentment" (p. 372). The stages, in narrative form, resemble the calming techniques, self talk, and decision not to dwell on angry thoughts, noted in programmes above. [ Personal conversation with Catherine Lambert, a Halifax therapist who conducts residential workshops for survivors of abuse, reveals the power of the narrative approach to therapy, of women telling their stories through an integrated process with other women, which allows them to address their anger in constructive, change oriented ways. ]