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Social Work Programs That Help Female Prisoners, But Exclude Men

Posted by Brian Spence on Dec 26, 2016 8:00:00 AM

Social Work, Behavioral HealthPrison is punishment but over the course of a prison sentence, an inmate has the opportunity for reflection and repentance. The hope is that - in time - the inmate learns the social and work skills needed to rejoin society upon release. That transition does not happen on its own.

Many prisons operate rehabilitation programs that help inmates along that personal journey. But one such program in New Zealand has run into a gender barrier.

Three New Zealand prisons are participating in a program that will bring in four social workers to help inmates make successful transitions into society, according to Stuff. But the three prisons included in this 20-month pilot program are women’s prisons. Bronwyn Donaldson, director of offender health for the department of corrections, told Stuff that female prisoners often have significant mental health needs, such as post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from circumstances such as poverty and violence. Social workers can work with female inmates to address this trauma so that they are prepared to return to society.

It certainly is true that women are victims of trauma. While there is little doubt that these workers can help female inmates with trauma issues, the exclusion of men from the program surprises some criminal experts. Greg Newbold, a professor at the University of Canterbury and an expert in criminology, tells Stuff that the belief that women have higher needs than men strikes him as sexism. Men, he says, can benefit from such programs just as well. Such groups agree with Newbold’s comments. Lucy Sandford-Reed, chief executive of the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers, noted that men can also experience trauma, abuse, and violence. Some have literacy problems and difficulty holding jobs. These workers can help male inmates address these issues, she said.

Rehabilitation programs are an important part of the criminal justice system. A successful program can keep inmates from reoffending once they get out of prison. But men should not be excluded these programs.

Both men and women benefit from the skills of social workers. Contact us to learn more about this and related topics in the Behavioral Health section of our blog.

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