MANAGEMENT OF OFFENDERS SERVING LIFE SENTENCES

Literature suggests that long-term offenders, and in particular life sentence offenders, have been managed for the early portion of their sentence as maximum security risks. Porporino (1997) suggested that release planning for these individuals has been typically postponed and, for the most part, there has been little specialized programming. However, the case workers at various institutions across Alberta were quick to state that the long term offender’s case management plan was implemented from the time of entry into the institution.

Lifers are regarded throughout the correctional system as the most cooperative of all prisoner groups. Contrary to what the public may perceive, it is not the long-termers, the lifers or the seasoned prison veterans who riot. Most, if not all, long-termers have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo: parole hearings, visits, phone calls, recreational activities, work and school (Carlson, 1997). However, O’Reilly-Flemming (1992) stated that lifers are at a severe disadvantage when appearing before parole boards since they are not allowed the opportunity to demonstrate some form of progress through the completion of programs or moving down through security levels. The offender serving the life sentence is often low priority, usually because of limited program seats (Personal communication, St. Leonard’s Society staff member, 1998). The offender who is serving a short federal sentence (i.e., 2-3 years) would be given preference. Many people believe program seating should be allotted on the basis of sentence length, with a certain percentage of seats designated for lifers.

Case management workers within the various institutions across Alberta generally agree that the type of program the lifer becomes involved in will depend on that inmate’s needs. “Often an inmate is left alone to do his time for the first year to two years, which allows the offender to deal with or come to terms with the very meaning of a life imprisonment sentence” (Personal communication, Grande Cache Institution case management staff member, 1998). However, during this time, the inmate is encouraged to regularly see a psychologist to help with the difficulties of adjustment.

The lifers take part in various programming such as sex offender counselling, OSAP (Offender Substance Abuse Program), anger management, cognitive living skills and problem solving. Lifers can also become involved in various groups and activities such as a lifers group, chapel and relationship counselling. There are also various volunteer groups that frequent the institutions ranging from music groups, Alcoholics/Narcotics Anonymous, Big Brothers Association or the Samaritans of Southern Alberta (an inmate suicide prevention group that offers suicide prevention training and emotional support training to offenders so that they may help offer support to other fellow inmates).


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