University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

Cages of Contradiction

Women's prisons fail to offer resources for those with addictions or in abusive relationships, study finds

Women’s prisons in Canada don’t have the capacity to reform and rehabilitate, says a leading expert on the criminal justice system. “Prisons are fundamentally limited. It’s really hard to punish someone and empower them simultaneously,” says Prof. Kelly Hannah-Moffat, a sociology professor at U of T at Mississauga. Her new book, Punishment in Disguise: Penal Governance and Federal Imprisonment of Women in Canada (U of T Press), is the first to document the 100-year history of women in federal prisons and the role that women have played in reforming the system. “Some people feel women’s prisons should have really austere conditions that are harsh and unpleasant,” she says, “but that doesn’t actually address the unique experiences of women or their need to reintegrate into society.” She recommends creating a stronger social infrastructure that offers resources for those with addictions or in abusive relationships, and that addresses poverty and unemployment. Hannah-Moffat also stresses the need for community alternatives to imprisonment. This book follows one that she edited last year, The Ideal Prison (Fernwood Press), a reflection on attempts to reform federal women’s prisons.

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