Community-Based Programming for Women in Conflict with the Law: The Perceptions of Staff and Volunteers
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There is a marked absence in the Canadian literature about what types of programs and programming characteristics are available to women in conflict with the law when they return to the community after a period of incarceration. There is a need to document the programming options available as well as the characteristics of these programs and their perceived ability to help assist women in conflict with the law find a place in the community. This research is based on a case study conducted with Elizabeth Fry Toronto. The results of this study are based on eight semi-structured interviews that were conducted with the staff and volunteers at this agency. Drawing on the sociological perspectives of multiple marginalities, pathways to crime, stigma and impression management, this study explores the following: (1) the key program elements that are perceived to assist with women’s reintegration back into the community; (2) the ways in which the program elements represent characteristics of successful programs as identified in the literature; and, (3) the challenges Elizabeth Fry Toronto faces in delivering or implementing key program strategies. Findings provide support for the categories and themes of the three sociological perspectives. Also, the results of this research are consistent with what the existing literature identifies as innovative and effective program responses for female offenders in the community. Finally, this study finds that Elizabeth Fry Toronto faces four challenges in assisting women offenders find a place in the community after a period of incarceration: issues surrounding housing arrangements, fiscal restraints, potential clients are unaware of the services available to them, and the perceptions of society regarding women offenders. The results from this study can be used to improve policy and practice as well as add a much needed Canadian perspective to the characteristics and programming options available to women in conflict in the law in the community. This study can possibly inform policy makers with the knowledge, perspectives and theories needed to improve the social conditions for women offenders both in prison and in the community. The findings from this case study illustrate successful program elements, from the perspective of those who work with these women, and the challenges faced by clients and the organization for one community-based agency.