Matheson, F.I., S. Doherty, and B.A. Grant. (2011). Community-based aftercare and return to custody in a national sample of substance-abusing women offenders. American Journal of Public Health, 101(6):1126-1132.
By Lori Whitten, Staff Writer, RTI International, Rockville, MD
Tags: community reentry, women offenders, substance abuse, recidivism
In 2003, the Canadian federal prison system introduced Women Offender National Substance Abuse Programming, a national substance abuse treatment programming framework designed for incarcerated women offenders. Women on parole are offered Community Relapse Prevention and Maintenance (CRPM), the aftercare component of the framework. Flora I. Matheson, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Toronto recently evaluated the effectiveness of the CRPM program—a 20-week treatment of 2-hour group sessions that combine cognitive-behavioral treatment, experiential exercises, and coping skills practice. Working with counselors, women in the program are able to create an individualized plan to prevent drug relapse.
Three hundred and sixty-one female offenders were released from Canadian federal prisons from 2003 to 2007, 56 of whom participated in CRPM and 305 who did not. The researchers found that women in the comparison group (those who did not have access to CRPM) were 10 times more likely than women in the treatment program to return to custody within 1 year of re-entering the community. More than a third of women in the comparison group returned to prison within the first 6 months after release. In contrast, the rate of re-incarceration within 1 year after release for women who participated in CRPM was only 5 percent.
The researchers note that 8 of 10 women offenders in Canada have a substance abuse problem. The strong association between drug abuse and women’s involvement in the criminal justice system is recognized internationally. For this reason, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime published a Declaration on Women’s Health in Prison (2009), which recommended appropriate planning and provision of health and social services after release from incarceration.
As women make the critical transition from prison to the community, they need a support system to help them meet multiple challenges—including gaining employment, locating affordable housing, successfully reuniting with children, and coping with substance use problems. Aftercare treatment is a critical component of helping women through this transition. Many women, however, do not participate in aftercare treatment for various reasons including reduced access to treatment services (especially in rural areas), lack of transportation, physical and mental health problems, and difficulties obtaining affordable child care. Addressing these areas, particularly the need for substance use treatment, during and after incarceration can reduce recidivism and improve the lives and health of women offenders.
For more information, contact Dr. Flora I. Matheson at the Centre for Research for Inner City Health, St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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