The 1990 Task Force collected experiences of federally sentenced women, some of whom were serving long term sentences, and included them in the report. The women who contributed to the Task Force survey wrote about the effect that incarceration had on them. Many of these women spoke of the intense pain and anxiety caused by the separation from their children and of their sense of powerlessness when their children were placed in foster homes. The inmates who chose to remain in their home provinces under exchange of service agreements had done so primarily to maintain regular contact with their children. The cost of transportation, the willingness of foster parents to facilitate visits and the cost of telephone calls were all factors affecting the inmates' ability to maintain contact. When the Task Force report was submitted, women were not allowed to have their children with them in prison, but today, several of the newly established federal institutions for women provide mother-child programs that allow women who meet specific criteria to live with their children in the institution.
The effects of imprisonment on a woman's self concept are compounded by the pre-existing deterioration by other forms of deprivation and societal marginalization. Female long term prisoners tend to be poorly educated and unemployed. Many have been victims of sexual and physical abuse. Their life circumstances, along with feelings of guilt, fear, anxiety, alienation and confusion which are aggravated when they are arrested and sentenced by the justice system, combine to produce a group of women with extraordinarily low self esteem. Low self esteem reduces a woman's ability to cope and increases the self destructive behaviours so prevalent among federally sentenced women. Self injurious behaviour is common among female long term inmates, many of whom slash themselves with razors, knives, or other sharp items. A 1989 survey of women in the Kingston Penitentiary for Women (P4W), 59% indicated that they have engaged in self injurious behaviours; and of these, 92% indicated that they has slashed themselves (Heney, 1990). In addition to contributing to the incidence of self injurious behaviour, a lack of self esteem also reduces a person's ability to plan for the future, take responsibility for her actions and to believe that she can make meaningful choices (Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women, 1990).
For many female long term inmates, dependencies on men, alcohol or drugs and/or on state financial assistance have greatly reduced their ability to make choices. Upon being incarcerated, federally sentenced women continued to have very limited choices. Few training and support programs are available, work options are severely limited and choices over place of incarceration carry heavy consequences. Canadian correctional institutions have been criticized for their tendency to encourage dependent and child-like behaviour among female inmates. Many female inmates have described the seemingly arbitrary rules and regulations of incarceration and how these rules humiliated them and contributed to their sense of powerlessness. Denied privacy, quiet and dignity, many women reported feeling they had no rights or control, which led to an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and lack of motivation (Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women, 1990).
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