Date of Award
Master of Social Work (MSW)
This research explores the impact of incarceration on women, including Aboriginal women in Ontario and in Canada. Twelve years working and volunteering in the area of women in conflict with the law led to my professional observation that incarceration exacerbated the problems women faced after they left prison. Secondly, that any attempt to help rather than further harm them must be based on an intersecting analysis that takes into account their race, class, and gender-related oppressions, given that most of these women are racialized, live in poverty, are solo parents, live with addictions, are survivors of childhood, familial and partner abuse and are in many ways marginalized. Furthermore, this observation suggested the need for a interpretive antioppressive research approach to take into account women's first-hand accounts of the problems women faced, such as poverty, abuse and discrimination that led to their incarceration in the first place.
With regard to methodology, two focus groups of formerly incarcerated women were asked to share their experiences before, during and after incarceration. Participants were also asked what changes they thought were needed that might have been helpful to prevent their incarceration, while they were incarcerated and post-incarceration. It is important to state from the outset that focus group responses overwhelmingly came through the lens of Aboriginal women, hence, the need to consider both western and Aboriginal Restorative Justice alternatives.
The group fmdings corroborate decades of research on the systemic abuse of incarcerated women. Secondly, the findings reinforce the longstanding call for costly and unaccountable 'superjails' to be largely replaced by cost-effective community-based alternatives to incarceration, namely western and Aboriginal Restorative Justice (RJ) preventative programs such as those currently provided by E. Fry Hamilton-Branch.
An analysis of western and Aboriginal RJ Justice alternatives to incarceration from an intersecting anti-oppressive perspective suggests that they have much greater potential to meet the needs of women in conflict with the law than the current punitive and retributive prison system. That said, their potential is severely limited by factors
including a chronic lack of funding and the inappropriate use of RJ programs, particularly in cases of intimate gendered violence. In short, an intersecting perspective suggests that the current federal policy to 'embrace' RJ must be based on a framework that takes into account redistributive, woman-centred and culturally-sensitive RJ values. These would provide educational upgrading, employment training, substance abuse treatment, housing and counselling to pull these women out of poverty, addictions and abusive relationships when they leave prison.
Harding, Christine, "The Impact of Incarceration on Women" (2010). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 4238.
McMaster University Library