Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

"Picture Me Different": Challenging Community Ideas about Women Released from Prison « Changez Votre Façon De Me Percevoir » : Remise En Question Des Perceptions Sociales À L'égard Des Femmes Libérées De Prison

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

"Picture Me Different": Challenging Community Ideas about Women Released from Prison « Changez Votre Façon De Me Percevoir » : Remise En Question Des Perceptions Sociales À L'égard Des Femmes Libérées De Prison

Article excerpt

When a woman enters the criminal justice system, in many ways she is given a life sentence, regardless of her crime. Whether a woman has been apprehended for soliciting, drug involvement, or murder, the stigma that follows her for the rest of her life is rarely, if ever, completely eliminated. The most recent statistics indicate that there are over 1,000 women in federal custody in Canada (Correctional Service Canada, 2010) and 9,000 women in provincial custody (Mahony, 2011). The vast majority of these women will be released at some point and face the difficult challenge of integrating back into the community.

Miost female offenders in Canada are not imprisoned for violent crimes but rather for property crimes. Miost of the violent crimes committed by women are common assault against a known person (Kong & AuCoin, 2008). Although not every story of incarceration is the same, most include a history of trauma (Sahota et al., 2010), substance addiction (Denis, 2007), the need for social assistance (Richie, 2001), single motherhood, and mental health concerns (Sahota et ah, 2010). It is worth noting that incarcerated women are less likely to return to prison than their male counterparts. Consequently, the "revolving door" phenomenon is less applicable to women than men-in other words, women are less likely to reoffend (Kong & AuCoin, 2008).

STIGMA AND MARGINALIZATION

For most women, the precursors to imprisonment place them in a marginalized capacity to start with, and a prison history usually ensures they will remain on the margins of society (Pollack, 2009). Pollack (2009) points out that "their marginal status is significantly augmented; they have been severed from family, community, and the labour market and, most significantly, carry the stigma of having been criminalized and imprisoned" (p. 31). These factors interfere considerably with the chance to gain employment, find housing, reconnect with social supports, and enter into the community (Mahony, 2011).

A predominant question across the criminological literature is what role stigma or the label of ex-con plays in the transition process for both men and women (Devah, 2007; Harm & Phillips, 2001). A key labelling theorist, Erving Goffman (1963), proposed that when a person or group of people is considered "bad, or dangerous, or weak," they are reduced "from a whole person to a tainted or discounted one" (p. 3). Challenging the labels that are typically hung on these women demands not only advocacy on their part but also a receptive general public. Researchers have determined that raising the profile of a labelled group, thereby educating the general public, can affect the way a stigmatized group is viewed (Braithwaite, 2000; Braithwaite & Mugford, 1994; Martinez, Piff, Mendoza-Denton, & Hinshaw, 2011).

The rationale for this research is grounded in the need for research and action that will raise the awareness of policy makers and community members in order to support women transitioning from prison in the struggle to overcome a broken past, cobble together a functional future, and regain, in the eyes of the community, identities that more accurately reflect the depth of their experience. To that end, the objectives of this action-oriented research were threefold: (a) to work together with female parolees and facilitate the exploration of their lived experiences from a unique and creative perspective, (b) to collaboratively create a visual depiction of the lives or challenges of female parolees, and (c) to explore available opportunities to bring the visual and oral or written results of the project to the greater community through public exhibition and/or publication of the material (subject to group agreement). Thus, the ultimate aim of this qualitative action-oriented study was to increase insight and self-awareness through photography and storytelling for the participants and raise community awareness through public exhibitions of the photographs and commentaries created by the participants. …

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