Women in the Criminal Justice System: Big Need Being Assisted by the Run For Women

Thanks to a wonderful partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart and the Running Room, the SHOPPERS LOVE. YOU. Run for Women was a huge success nationally, raising almost $1.9 million for women’s mental health. The St. John’s run resulted in $50,000 raised for two Stella’s Circle programs – Naomi Centre and the Just Us Women’s Centre.

Denise Hillier Amy Sheppard August 2015

Amy Sheppard (l) and Denise Hillier, two Stella’s Circle employees committed to helping women in the criminal justice system

So where does the money go when it comes to the Just Us Women’s Centre? There’s a huge need in this program which provides support to women involved in the criminal justice system. Annually, Stella’s Circle must raise up to $60,000 to allow the program to continue to offer the services it provides. And the need is growing. This is reflected in the fact that some women are now being housed at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary (HMP) in addition to the NL Correctional Facility for Women in Clarenville where we have traditionally provided services.    

At the Newfoundland and Labrador Correctional Centre for Women in Clarenville, an addictions group is offered on a weekly basis.  Other groups include anger management, trauma, and personal development. We also offer individual counselling, release planning, and a number of programs, including peer support, a personal development group, housing support, assistance with income support applications and referrals to education and employment programs.

Just US

Just Us Women’s Centre

“The Just Us program is quite small,” says Denise Hillier, Director of Clinical Services. “We have two social workers and one outreach/administrative worker. We also often utilize the services of a social work student.” Denise notes that the smallness of the program is not consistent with the increase of numbers of women being serviced. “By the end of fiscal year on March 31, 2017, we had provided support and assistance to 213 women – 94 of those during incarceration at Clarenville and at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary (HMP) which has been used throughout the year to deal with high numbers of women offenders in Clarenville.” Denise notes that those numbers have steadily increased each year over the past four years with 182 women serviced in 2013/14.

“With the transfer of women to HMP starting December 2016, we decided that we needed to continue to support women and so most Tuesday mornings, we are at HMP,” says Denise. “Employees go to HMP to meet with the women and offer sessions on healthy relationships and pre-release planning. We feel that maintaining connections with the women is critical to their future success and so we are now offering services both at the Clarenville institution and HMP, ” continued Denise. As a social justice organization, Stella’s Circle recognizes the stigma faced by the women we serve. Added to that is the isolation that many feel, separated, from family and friends. “We would not be able to ignore the women at HMP just because the Clarenville facility is over capacity,” says Denise.  

The strong relationships that our staff build is reflected in the statistics which says about 65% of women re-connected with staff in the community during the 2016-17 fiscal year after being released from prison.

Red Tape

As part of a PhotoVoice project, one woman took this photo and described it in this way: “My experience of having been involved with the Justice System to date, I feel like the tree with the red rope. It feels like I’m being strangled with red rope. It feels like my life has stopped and I can’t move forward until I finally get my day in court. I’ve had postponement upon postponement.”

“The increase in women in prison and the complexity of their cases can be tied to addictions and mental health,” says Denise. “The issues are complicated and the need is great. It’s thanks to organizations like the SHOPPERS LOVE.YOU. Run for Women that we are able to provide the services that we feel women need.”