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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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The 2002 Mental Health Strategy For Women Offenders

Jane Laishes
Mental Health, Health Services



There are a number of principles essential to the development of any and all mental health services for women offenders. These principles were articulated in the 1997 Strategy and they reappear in this revised version as they remain valid.

  1. Wellness - including:
    • holistic program delivery, that is, program delivery that recognizes body, mind, spirit, and emotions and their interconnections in a family and community-oriented context
    • the avoidance of labels (including psychiatric diagnoses) insofar as these may function to reduce women to only their mental health issues
    • reinforcement of the skills necessary for personal development and independent living in the community
    • the necessity of involving mental health professionals as well as others including Aboriginal service providers, community resources, families, etc. in treatment plans
  2. Access (consistent with CCRA section 86) - reasonable access to appropriate essential and non-essential professional mental health services including:
    • early identification of mental health problems and treatment needs
    • timely interventions that minimize symptom escalation and prevent acute crisis situations
    • interventions tailored to acknowledge the complexities of the cases of women who have several mental health and other diagnoses/ issues that require simultaneous intervention
    • services provided in keeping with community standards

    However, it should be noted that as result of various limitations - fiscal, operational, and geographic - women may require transfer to other regions, institutions, or community facilities, to access treatment options that would not otherwise be available in their facility.

  3. Women-Centered - the continuum of mental health services must be offered in a gender-specific and gender-appropriate manner such that:
    • only personnel sensitive to women and women's issues are involved ˇ treatment programs and services are designed to meet the specific needs of women offenders while acknowledging personal autonomy, connection to others, and positive mutually respectful relationships
    • Client Participation (a principle of fundamental justice) - women offenders must be involved in their assessment and mental health treatment such that:
      • they play as active a role as possible in their treatment planning and in decision-making
    • Least Restrictive Measures (consistent with CCRA - Principle d) such that:
      • treatment is based on the least restrictive/intensive form of intervention possible
      • women are housed in the least restrictive environment possible with the lowest level of security required to ensure public safety