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Jail’s Fastest Growing Tenant: Women

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Pegah Memapour, freelance columnist for Pardon Applications of Canada, explores the trending increase in female criminality in Canada, and suggests that the implications for women extend far beyond the inside of jails.

Throughout history, women have seldom been propagated as the perpetrators of crime and are commonly seen as the unsuspecting or innocent victims. These notions of women in relation to crime are generally supported by the statistics – as women represent a small portion of the penal populous. In 2003-2004, Statistics Canada identified that women made up only 9% of the prisoners housed in provincial and territorial jails, and only 6% of those housed in federal prisons.

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Over the last decade, however, Canada has seen a significant increase in the punishment and incarceration of women.  From 2003-2012, the number of females admitted into federal prison rose by 69.9%, despite the decrease in overall crime rates in Canada.  This staggering increase in female criminality has created concern amongst governments and citizens, and has also gained a considerable amount of attention from scholars, researchers and activists.

It seems many are wondering:  why the substantial increase in female executed crime?

“Continuous cuts to social assistance, social services, addiction services, and health services, as well as, the creation of a low-wage job market, and limited publically funded day-care, are said to be to blame.”

While some scholars have argued that the statistics are misrepresentative and no real increase exists, many activists and researchers are pointing to neo-liberal and socio-economic policies as the precursor for the dramatic rise. Continuous cuts to social assistance, social services, addiction services, and health services, as well as, the creation of a low-wage job market, and limited publically funded day-care, are said to be to blame.  Researchers have suggested that as these services are dismantled, the already vulnerable members of society become increasingly
marginalized. As a consequence of these depleted services, certain marginalized groups are driven towards criminal activity.

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A simple snapshot of the female prison population supports this theory.

The women found in our penal institutions today are most often convicted of income generated offences such as fraud, shoplifting, and prostitution. When women do commit violent offences, it is most frequently common assault.

Overall, 47% of the women charged with criminal code offences are charged with property crimes. Studies have also discussed how female inmates increasingly suffer from addictions and mental health issues, which may predispose them to certain types of offences (e.g., income related offences, property offences, bail violations, or common assault).

This surge in female criminality and incarceration can have significant consequences for women both inside and outside correctional institutions.

Historically, programs, services, treatments, and even research has been oriented towards the male prison population and their subsequent needs. With the prevalence of female offenders being introduced into the prisons, as well as, back out into the community post incarceration, there exists a gap between the services provided and the needs of these women. In turn, community and corrections policies and programs must orient their services and treatments to female specific issues and needs if they wish to support these women.

Pegah Memapour is a freelance columnist for Pardon Applications of Canada, the nationwide processing firm for Canadian Pardon (Record Suspension) & U.S. Entry Waiver applications.  The opinions expressed are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Pardon Applications of Canada.  For a list of statistical references used in this article, or more information on Pardon Applications of Canada, call 866-383-9744 or email info@pardonapplications.ca.