Flora Matheson, a medical sociologist at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, led a study into drug treatment for female inmates.

Study shows drug rehab for female inmates works — if they participate

By 
  • June 8, 2011

TORONTO - A study from researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital has found that female prisoners who did not participate in a drug treatment program after their release were 10 times more likely to return to prison within one year than those who did.

Published in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health, the study showed that more than one-third of women  who didn’t participate returned to prison within six months, said Flora Matheson, a medical sociologist at St. Michael’s Hospital who led the study.

“The good news story is that if we can get women into the program and keep them there, then they have a great chance of success,” said Matheson, a scientist in the hospital’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health who collaborated on the study with the research branch of the Correctional Service of Canada.

Researchers examined the Community Relapse Prevention and Maintenance (CRPM) program, developed as part of a continuum of treatment of women offenders under federal supervision in Canada. CRPM is the after-care component of Women Offenders Substance Abuse Programming (WOSAP), which was implemented by Correctional Services Canada in May 2003. The community based program is offered to women on parole.

“Not just our research but other similar research shows that these community based programs can work in helping women to be re-established in the community and help them maintain their relapse prevention plans,” said Matheson.

“I can only hope that policymakers will understand the need for such programs, that they are important and that the facts do show they are successful in helping women to be successful.”

The 361 women offenders with substance abuse histories studied had been released from one of six federal institutions across Canada. The study noted that eight out of 10 female offenders in Canada have a substance abuse problem.

The CRPM program combines cognitive behavioural treatment, experiential exercises and coping skills practice. It also provides each woman with the opportunity to develop and implement an individualized drug relapse prevention plan. The program consists of 20 two-hour group sessions offered on a weekly basis.

Matheson said women offenders with substance-abuse problems face many issues when transitioning from prison to the community — and a lot of these issues revolve around family and relationships. Child care, going back to the same environment where they may have used drugs in the first place with a partner and health issues specific to women are just a few problems they may face, she said.

And the findings of the study don’t just apply to Canada.

“It’s important to remember that these women we’ve studied in Canada are very similar to women across the world in prisons in other countries,” she said. “The findings aren’t just important for Canada, but for women offenders in general. There is a need for support after they leave prison and there is a need for drug treatment programs after they leave prison.”

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