What helps women negotiate the transition from prison to the community?

Doherty S, Forrester P, Brazil A, Matheson FI. Finding Their Way: Conditions for Successful Reintegration Among Women Offenders. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation. 2014; 53(7): 562-586.

Background: The transition from prison to community can be incredibly challenging. Appropriate supports can help people improve wellbeing.

What we did: We spoke to 31 women recently released from women’s prisons in Canada, and who had experience of moderate to severe substance use problems. We asked about their experiences upon release.

Findings: Women identified several factors with the potential to improve the transition from prison to the community including:

Immediate access to programs and services upon release. “They should have a program for when you get out, as soon as you get out [where] you can go and talk with other offenders and addicts. And it should be every day.”

Release planning and coordination, including concrete information about what to expect; orientation in the community and help establishing links to social networks and services. “I knew I was going, I just didn’t know where I was going. It scared the living daylights out of me …” “…you don’t get the information unless you ask questions, but you don’t know what questions to ask.” “…this should start back in [the institution], (we) should sit down – okay, here’s your options…”

Respectful, trusting and transparent relationships with professionals. Some women felt scrutinized and judged by parole officers, and did not feel comfortable enough to ask basic questions, including those related to conditions of parole.

Friends and family members as important sources of support. At the same time, some women attributed renewed substance use to their return to social networks in which substance use was the norm.

In addition, the women we interviewed were likely to have experienced different forms of severe trauma. Evidence suggests a need for access to trauma-informed programs and services grounded in the understanding that many people served are living with individual, family, community, intergenerational, historical and/or ongoing trauma.(1)

Read the related press release from St. Michael’s Hospital.

Contact: Dr. Flora I. Matheson at mathesonf@smh.ca

(1) Trauma-Informed Practice Guide. BC Provincial Mental Health and Substance Use Planning Council. 2013. www.bccewh.bc.ca/publications-resources/documents/TIP-Guide-May2013.pdf