The 1976 amendment to the Canadian Criminal Code which replaced execution with life imprisonment was, and still is, considered by many to be a progressive step. This belief is based on the assumption that life imprisonment is a humane response to serious crime. Yet others have persistently suggested that long periods of incarceration impose psychological effects upon inmates which might be as cruel as physical torture (Haley, 1984). Legislators and social scientists hold fundamentally different perceptions of the effects of long sentences, and even the social scientists themselves remain in disagreement over what the long term psychological effects of incarceration are. It appears that long periods of incarceration have greatly different effects on individual inmates - some leave prison rehabilitated, others leave dependent and unable to lead productive lives in the community, and a few leave angry and full of vengeance. Policy makers must create new ways to manage long term inmates so that these offenders will not be returned to the community in worse physical and psychological condition than when they went in. The reintegration of offenders is essential as well to ensure that offenders can be productive once released.
The Life-Line Program, is an example of a potentially successful strategy to aid long term inmates in leading productive lives outside of prison. This program employs men and women who have received a life sentence and who, after being paroled, have been successfully reintegrated into the community for a period of five years or more. In-reach workers work with long term inmates in federal institutions and in the community once they are paroled, to provide support and guidance. In 1998, the American Correctional Association recognized the Life-Line program as a "best practice" (Blumenthal, 1999). Programs of this sort are promising as they could mediate some of the detrimental effects of incarceration on long term inmates, particularly those related to dependence on correctional authorities to make decisions for them.
Considerable progress has been made to reduce the negative effects of long term imprisonment on female offenders in Canada. Regional facilities across the nation allow women to be closer to their families and loved ones, and in three of the five federal institutions for women, some mothers are allowed to have their children reside with them. Programs dealing with substance abuse, anger management, health and wellness and surviving physical and sexual abuse are offered in these minimum and medium security facilities. Little programming is available, however, in maximum security facilities, freedom is severely restricted, and women are required to spend a much greater portion of their days within the confines of their cells. Policy makers must decide whether the current scheme for security level classification is appropriate or if a new scheme could better separate high-risk from low-risk offenders. It must be recognized that women commit violent offences for different reasons then men. Many female long term inmates are serving sentences for killing abusive husbands and boyfriends and have psychological needs that are in need of immediate attention, but because of the seriousness of their crimes, they are sent to a place where their needs can not be addressed. Regardless of whether the CSC creates a new scheme for the classification of offenders into various security level distinctions, a maximum security facility or, ideally, several small regional facilities should be established that will provide high risk offenders with the programming that they need to heal and make the transition to the lower security institutions to which they will eventually be transferred.
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