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Involving female offenders in release planning can increase reintegration success

Toronto, September 22, 2014

Dr. Flora Matheson
Dr. Flora Matheson

Women who are about to be released from prison need to be more involved in their discharge planning if they are to successfully reintegrate into their communities and avoid returning to prison, according to a new study.

Almost half of all female prisoners are back behind bars within one year of their release and most have multiple prison terms, mainly for drug-related offenses.

Dr. Flora Matheson, a researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital, conducted one-on-one interviews with women who were about to be released or had been recently released from prison to determine what they felt they needed to avoid reoffending.

The study was published online in the Journal of Offender Rehabilitation.

Dr. Matheson said the transition from prison to the community is a challenging time for women offenders, who often have complex needs such as substance abuse, mental illness, little education, few employment skills and poor social skills.

“Once a woman has left prison, she has to juggle work, appointments for drug testing, employment training, substance abuse treatment, meetings with the parole officers and parental commitments,” said Dr. Matheson, a medical sociologist and research scientist in the hospital’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health. “With few financial resources available, these women often have difficulty meeting such challenges.”

Dr. Matheson said one key to reintegration is having a stable and trusting relationship with a parole officer. She said the interviews showed that some women were afraid to ask their parole officers tough questions, such as the repercussions of violating parole, without being put on high alert or judged.

Many women leaving prison need a positive social support network to help them recover from substance use, Dr Matheson said. They also need to avoid areas where drugs are available and relatives and acquaintances who use drugs, yet they often find themselves returning to familiar communities and social circles, she said.

When women want to change their lives, specifically wanting to be free of drugs and prison, a positive social support network can go a long way toward helping them realize those goals, Dr. Matheson said.

This study was collaboration between St. Michael’s Hospital and Correctional Service Canada.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

Media contacts

For more information, or to arrange an interview with Dr. Matheson, contact:

Leslie Shepherd
Manager, Media Strategy
416-864-6094
shepherdl@smh.ca