Governments responsible for prison systems are guided by one of two ideas, that prisons should focus on either retribution or rehabilitation.

Generally speaking, these two approaches are at odds with one another. Measures prompted by the idea of retribution, expressed by the slogan “get tough-on-crime”, are almost certain to defeat efforts to rehabilitate prisoners. For instance, minimum mandatory sentencing for drug offenses, ending statutory release, and routinely resorting to solitary confinement for prisoners deemed non-complaint and troublesome, are all measures certainly invoked as punishment, as retribution. However, they also harden inmates, rendering them more likely to re-offend when released.

In addition, such measures, by adding to the prison population, are costly and drain funds that might otherwise be devoted to rehabilitation. Such measures are at odds with the women-centred philosophy of corrections which found expression in the 1990 report of the Federal Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women entitled Creating Choices – a philosophy thoroughly grounded in the idea that the prison system should focus on rehabilitation.

Many of the women who participated in our study had faced issues of poverty, trauma and hopelessness in their lives; their experiences reinforced the importance of rehabilitation while incarcerated, if they were to begin to successfully reintegrate into society on release. Accordingly, our recommendations fell into four primary areas that we considered critical to getting women’s corrections back on track.

One size does not fit all

  1. Whenever possible, apply harm reduction measures and enhance community corrections for women.
  2. Further develop addiction prevention and treatment programs in the community.
  3. Ensure community initiatives receive core funding to develop community programs such as circles of support, similar to the Stride Circles program offered by Community Justice Initiatives.
  4. Increase resources for mental health training for personnel both within and outside the prison system.

Finding "a place" in community

  1. Step up community corrections for women, and especially pursue private home placement opportunities in communities currently not served by halfway houses.
  2. Remove halfway houses from “drug culture” areas of cities.
  3. Provide enhanced transportation subsidies to women on parole.
  4. Seek cooperation with local and regional municipalities so that they may become more accessible to women coming out of prison, particularly in relation to accessing transitional housing.
  5. Vigorously pursue development in the subsidized housing sector to ensure the viability of affordable housing for women and their children.

Back to top

Employment as a key to reintegration

  1. Offer a wider range of training opportunities for women in prison.
  2. Step up the Work Release program, which would also broaden the range of training opportunities for women.
  3. Designate an officer to lead the Work Release Program who can undertake vigorous promotion activity with community employers.
  4. Provide practical and realistic job training and employment on site for women through CORCAN.

Back to top

Developing community connection, not disconnection

  1. Streamline the procedures for securing temporary absences from the prison, including adding additional staff resources so that there are consistent volunteer co-ordinators to train escort volunteers. Ensure efficient and effective review and approval processes and enforce deadlines for issuing temporary absences for women.
  2. Enable women to more frequently and readily connect with their families and children to assist in maintaining relationships in ways that foster healing and understanding, and supporting women in the resumption of active roles and responsibilities as mothers.
  3. Encourage the development of volunteering in the community, to provide education to the public and to enable the community to witness the women in positive pursuits.
  4. Foster greater openness within the community, including the media, to encourage coverage of positive activities, in contrast to the persistent presentation of images and stories that deepen public fear and stigmatisation of the women.
  5. Aim for greater stability among staff functions and personnel, especially Primary Workers and administrative staff concerned with assessing women’s progress and approving/authorizing releases.

Back to top

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.