April 2001

From University of Toronto

Women's prisons places of contradiction, says professor

Canadians expect too much from their prisons for women, says Kelly Hannah-Moffat, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto at Mississauga who studies women's imprisonment and the country's criminal justice system.

"We are fooling ourselves to think that prisons actually have the capacity to reform and rehabilitate women," she says. Her new book, Punishment in Disguise: Governance in Canadian Women's Federal Prisons, is the first to document the 100-year-old history of women in federal prisons and the role that women have played in trying to reform the system.

"Prisons are fundamentally limited. It's really hard to punish someone and empower them simultaneously," says Hannah-Moffat of what she sees as an inherent contradiction in the system. "Some people feel women's prisons should have really austere conditions that are harsh and unpleasant. But that doesn't actually address the experiences of women or their need to reintegrate into society."

Hannah-Moffat says the administration of women's federal prisons has in the past been based on the model for male prisons. Vestiges of that remain, despite the recognition that women's needs are different. She argues prisons are inappropriately and overused in many cases. The prescription is a strengthening of the options in the community and a better social infrastructure that addresses the issues women bring into prison in the first place - poverty, poor education and abuse, she says.

Punishment in Disguise is published by the University of Toronto Press. It follows a book Hannah-Moffat edited last year - The Ideal Prison (Fernwood Press) - on the contemporary situation among Canada's 500 female federal prisoners.

CONTACT: Kelly Hannah-Moffat, Department of Sociology, 905-828-3945 or khmoffat@credit.erin.utoronto.ca or Judy Noordermeer, U of T Public Affairs, 416-978-4289, judy.noordermeer@utoronto.ca.












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