Women Need Health and Dental Care to Stay out of Prison

By Jansen, Patricia; Professor of Population and Public Health et al. | The Canadian Press, October 23, 2017 | Go to article overview

Women Need Health and Dental Care to Stay out of Prison


Jansen, Patricia, Professor of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia; Mo Korchinski, Researcher, University of British Columbia; and Ruth Elwood Martin, Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of British Columbia, The Canadian Press


Women need health and dental care to stay out of prison

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Authors: Patricia Jansen, Professor of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia; Mo Korchinski, Researcher in Prison Health, University of British Columbia; and Ruth Elwood Martin, Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of British Columbia "What I have done is not who I am. Most of us are emotionally and physically wounded. It's not easy getting out and starting over. We need help, don't just throw us out into society."

This testimony from a woman in the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women describes a problem many face on release from a provincial prison. They have no safe place to go -- no welcoming family, no home, no job, no community to support them in establishing a healthy crime-free life. Many have untreated chronic health conditions -- including diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, hepatitis C and HIV/AIDs -- and mental health challenges stemming from severe abuse in childhood. Likely they have no family doctor.

When you haven't seen a dentist in years and your mouth is missing teeth, it can be hard to impress at job interviews, hard to find work. When you have chronic pain in your mouth after years of using a crack pipe, it is tempting to seek comfort through illicit narcotics -- from the street.

It is not surprising then, that 40 percent of women return to provincial prison within one year of release. Or that a staggering 70 per cent are back behind bars after two years.

A new study from our research team at the Collaborating Centre for Prison Health and Education at the University of British Columbia reveals that basic health care, both in prison and on release, is essential -- to ensure successful reintegration into society.

Asking women what they need

In British Columbia, the population of women prisoners is on the rise. The number of women incarcerated each year has increased 20 per cent between 2012 and 2015. There have been few studies to date on the rates of return to prison among the female prison population. There is research that evaluates the effectiveness of substance abuse programming, investigates risk factors for return to prison and the effectiveness of community-based after care. None have examined the role of health-related factors.

Our research study, Doing Time, began with participatory health research forums held within the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women. In these forums, inmates gathered informally to talk about their life trajectories and what their hopes for the future were. They are described in more detail in our book, Arresting Hope.

Inmates also identified the health and social goals they believed would help them transition successfully into the community.

These goals included: 1) improved relationships with children, family and partners; 2) improved peer and community support; 3) safe and stable housing; 4) improved access to primary health care; 5) increased job skills and relevant employment; 6) more exercise and better nutrition; 7) improved dental care and oral health; 8) improved access to health education; and 9) increased ability to contribute to society.

Interviewing women in the shadows

We interview 400 women about their progress towards these goals, at the time of release from BC Corrections facilities, between 2008 and 2010. …

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