Women in Canadian prisons should be assessed for previous trauma such as physical and sexual abuse and connected with treatment resources when they’re released, a medical sociologist says.
About 80 per cent of women serving two years or more in federal custody had histories of physical or sexual abuse, which increased to 91 per cent among Aboriginal women, according to Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, which help women in conflict with the law.
To learn more, Flora Matheson of the Centre for Research on Inner City Health of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and her colleagues from Correctional Service Canada Centre in P.E.I. conducted face-to-face interviews with 31 female prisoners with an average age of 36.
The women had some serious health and social issues, she said. Many were in prison for drug use and fraud.
"From a Canadian perspective, it actually shows that you know the women are crying out for help with their experiences of trauma, that they want some services," Matheson said.
For example, in Tuesday’s issue of the journal Women and Criminal Justice, Matheson quotes one woman: "We have nobody for abuse and trauma in here. But we've all been through it and we're just holding all that hatred and you know all those emotions inside."
Canadian prisons offer substance abuse programs that help women to make the link been trauma in their lives and problems with drugs, alcohol and crime.
While the researchers see a need to offer more services as a standard, they often aren’t available, said Kim Pate of the Elizabeth Fry Society.
"In theory, they should be getting support with all of those services," Pate said. "But unless it is seen as something directly related to their risk to public safety often times there isn't programming."
The researchers said one of the challenges in offering trauma treatment in prison is that after counselling sessions, women return to their cells, where the tough prison environment could leave them at risk for retraumatization.
CorrectionalService Canada didn't respond to requests for an interview today.