Researchers interviewed 400 women leaving the correctional centre in Maple Ridge between 2008 and 2010, and conducted follow-up interviews with 207 of them during the next year. (Black Press files)

Health care key to prevent women from returning to prison: UBC study

Women released from prison often do not have a family doctor and never finished high school

Women leaving B.C. prisons have a 40-per-cent chance of getting sent right back within the first year of their release – a rate that could drop if the women were better connected to health care, a new study out of UBC suggests.

Patricia Janssen, a professor at UBC’s school of population and public health, released a co-authored study Tuesday that focuses on woman imprisoned at Alouette Correctional Centre for Women.

Researchers interviewed 400 women leaving the facility in Maple Ridge between 2008 and 2010, and conducted follow-up interviews with 207 of them during the next year.

Not only did there appear to be a 40-per-cent chance of the women being reincarcerated within the first year, their chances nearly double within the second year post-release, the study found.

These women were typically back in prison for theft, drug-related charges, assault and breach of parole. In many cases, addiction issues leading to these crimes stemmed from a history of trauma, according to the study.

“Our findings show that their return to criminal activity was related to a lack of basic, primary health care: nutrition, medical and dental care,” Janssen said. “That’s important because we can address these issues.”

Many women in prison not only suffer from mental health and addiction issues, but also from chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, cancer, Hepatitis C, HIV and dental problems, the report said.

Once they are released, they often do not have a family doctor and cannot afford dental care – often turning to drugs to treat pain and suffering. Many never completed high school, making it difficult to find a job.

“Women are released from prison with a voucher for a bus ticket and their belongings in a plastic bag,” said Mo Korchinski, a co-author who interviewed women at a transit exchange after they were released. “Most are homeless, have lost their identification and have a lot of fear and anxiety about where they should go.”

To avoid prison becoming a revolving door for women – which costs Canadians $150,897 per year in Canada – Janssen said the health and education sectors need to be integrated into the criminal justice system.

Mentor program helps connect women

Korchinski, formerly incarcerated herself, has started a peer health mentor pilot program that connects newly released women to resources that help them re-enter society by helping them find a place to live, clothing and food.

Research is being conducted to test its effectiveness. So far, it’s helped more than 300 women.

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