Education in women's prison supports positive social change

Every month, Capilano University School of Business instructor Leighan Crowe drives the three-hour round trip from the North Shore to Abbotsford's Fraser Valley Correctional Institute (FVI). The correctional facility is one of six federal correction institutions for women in Canada.

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Tag(s): Business & Professional Studies

Leighan Crowe and Marion Haythorne are trying to provide better access to meaningful education to incarcerated women at the Fraser Valley Correctional Institute in Abbotsford.

As a program advisory committee member for the FVI, Crowe spends more than four hours each month at the prison, working on course creation for and with a small but highly engaged group of incarcerated women. The women do not receive post-secondary credit upon completion of these courses, as regulations passed by the federal government in 2005 eliminated public funding that previously provided post-secondary education opportunities to incarcerated women.

Making a difference through education

Since 2013, members of the Capilano University faculty have joined Crowe in her mission to provide the women with better educational opportunities. In the spring of 2015, former Cap instructor Marion Haythorne offered a course on the Canadian Legal System, and a spring education series has been taught for the past two years by Cap instructors Kirsten McIlveen and Laurel Whitney. The weekly series offers different sessions on liberal arts topics. An additional five instructors have also volunteered their time to teach weekly, one-time classes at the prison over the past year.

Federally incarcerated women often have limited options upon release. Without post-secondary education, many women only have access to low-paying jobs, and only half possess education credentials beyond the ninth grade. Stress and financial problems can often lead to them falling into old habits, and for seven out of 10 women released from federal custody, this leads to re-incarceration.

“These women are desperately seeking to further their education,” Crowe said. “They come to class prepared for university level material. They are engaged and supportive of each other during the sessions, and they work incredibly hard on their assignments.”

“The RAND Corporation in the US did a study in 2014. Their finding was that every $1 spent in correctional education programs translated to $5 saved in prison costs,” explains Crowe. “If we don’t help to support these women in bringing themselves to a better place in their lives, how can we expect them to thrive in a society where they have only experienced failure in the past?”

Stopping the cycle of re-offending

Haythorne has been working with women on their resume writing, in preparation for their pending release. She recounts the story of one woman who she saw turn her life around through education.

“She was 42 years old and has been incarcerated almost her entire adult life,” says Haythorne. “As a residential school survivor, the odds have been greatly stacked against her regarding successful integration into the community. She has since attained one diploma through distance education, and is working towards another. This will help her tremendously upon her upcoming release.”

While the small group of volunteer instructors from Capilano University hopes the government makes changes to improve accessibility, in the meantime they continue to work with the women to embrace the power of education.

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