About Uncertain Futures

The five-year study, employing qualitative and quantitative research methods, examined community re-integration of women who had been incarcerated. The federally sentenced women (FSW) who were part of the study had been incarcerated in one of Canada’s six federal prisons for women, Grand Valley Institution for Women (GVI), in Kitchener, Ontario.

Our primary concern in conducting this research was to find ways in which women can be supported to return to the community after incarceration so they may become valued and contributing members of society.

You are out, it is like, “okay she is from the prison; watch your purse”. Sometimes you didn’t even go to the prison for robbery and they think … it is like they have this stereotype, like you have been in prison and so you are scum of the earth. And then people re-offend because they can’t cope and deal [drugs], you know. (Emma*)

The aim of our study was to:

  • understand the experiences of the women in terms of the interventions and programs received while in prison,
  • consider the women’s access to the social determinants of health as they pertain to incarcerated women,
  • consider the women’s experiences in prison relative to the rehabilitation and reintegration mandate of Correctional Service of Canada’s women offender sector.

Our research involved two primary phases. In both phases our focus was on the women’s successful return to community life.

First, we examined the work of Circles of Support, known as Stride Circles, in a small study involving six women who were living in the community or were soon to be released into the community. Stride Circles comprise community volunteers who support FSW while in GVI and on release through a program offered by Community Justice Initiatives in Kitchener, Ontario.

Second, we conducted extensive conversational interviews with 69 women who were in GVI between June 2006 and March 2007. These interviews gave us some insight into the women’s life circumstances and the formidable obstacles they would face when they were released from prison.

An overarching theme that was evident in our findings was a focus on the relationships that were able to sustain the women while incarcerated and upon re-entry into the community. Equally, like most people, they needed decent housing, education, a job, opportunities for leisure, pursuit and nurturing of their spirituality, and access to safe and affordable transportation. These aspects of everyday life pertain to the social determinants of health and general protective factors which helped ensure the women might begin to live as typical citizens in the community after release from prison.

*To protect the women’s anonymity, only pseudonyms are used in our reports.

To request a copy of the full report on this study

Please contact:

Heather Mair
Associate Professor, Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies
University of Waterloo
Waterloo, ON  N2L 3G1


For further information on Stride and Stride Circles

Visit Community Justice Initiatives Programs - Stride.