"Understanding the processes of reintegration of women deprived of liberty is key to designing effective responses to this social problem" - Arturo Celedón

October 13, 2017
Communications Colunga Foundation

In Chile, there are practically no studies on female reinsertion. The Social Studies Program of the Crime of the Institute of Sociology UC (ISUC), San Carlos de Maipo Foundation and the Colunga Foundation, make a first approach.

Chile ranks second in the OECD nations in terms of the incarceration rate (266 prisoners per 100 thousand inhabitants). The high percentage of recidivism has promoted research on this matter. But nevertheless, the evidence in Chile is practically nil, especially in the case of women deprived of their liberty. In this context, a proposal arises from the Social Studies Program of the Crime of the UC Sociology Institute, the San Carlos de Maipo Foundation and the Colunga Foundation, to explore female reintegration.

Women deprived of liberty reach barely 10% of the total population. His time in prison has enormous social costs, many of which extend to their families and children. Women have been forgotten, and it is assumed that the evidence provided by studies with a male population can be extrapolated to women who commit crimes.

The present study is still in process, however there are preliminary results of the first wave of interviews (prior to the exit), which show trends. They are observed in general terms two profiles of women. On the one hand, young people sentenced to sentences of about 61 days, usually for theft. These tend to manifest greater problems due to drug use and express a sense of identity more linked to crime.

There are also adult women convicted of crimes under the drug law, who declare less delinquent and later involvement, and who generally do not reflect on identity aspects related to "being delinquent". A common pattern of both groups is vulnerability.

The above is expressed above all in the victimization when they were minors, with 62% reporting some type of abuse in childhood, such as parental negligence, physical or verbal aggression, or sexual abuse. In addition, a 71% who claim to have been the victim of some type of physical, verbal or sexual aggression on the part of their partners or cohabitants.

It is noteworthy that the vast majority declares that they feel supported during their deprivation of liberty. 87.6% of women reported having received visits and the majority indicates that they have had material support (they have brought food, clothes or toiletries) and emotional support. Most say that her family has listened to her and made her feel loved and expected.

As for the access to the programmatic offer, there is a certain inequality in terms of the duration of the sentence, with almost no offer for women with short sentences. The Executive Director of the Social Studies Program of UC Crime, Catalina Droppelmann, states that "this is complex, since it is they who probably require greater access to programs to intervene aspects linked to their delictual commitment and break the recidivism cycle. "

Another challenging aspect is the job insecurity and the low or almost null access to the formal market. While 69.3% of women declare that they have worked at some time in their remunerated life and legally, that employment has been mostly precarious and in fact, only 15.6% of them state that they have been working at the moment prior to their deprivation of liberty.  

Marcelo Sánchez A., manager of the San Carlos de Maipo Foundation states that "it is necessary to make progress in facilitating the processes of social and labor insertion, with special attention to reducing obstacles such as the process for the omission and elimination of precedents, decree 409, and other legal bodies, which in practice are transformed into an accessory sentence. We must understand that to the extent that we generate better conditions to obtain a job or reunify a family, we not only make effective reintegration possible, but we also reduce those risk factors to the basis of the intergenerational transmission of the crime. "

"Social interventions in high complexity realities require approximations and tools that allow them to look at their challenges in different ways, and thus approach their beneficiaries more effectively. In Colunga we wanted to participate in this study, because we realize that there is a direct association between poverty and exclusion and the circuits of deprivation of liberty (...). Understanding the processes of reintegration of women deprived of liberty is key to designing effective responses to this social problem that affects us all, "he says. Arturo Celedón, Director of Development of the Colunga Foundation. 

On the other hand, the study addressed the issue of the use of drug, and showed that consumption tends to concentrate on younger women. Marijuana, cocaine and base paste tend to have lower prevalence in women with sentences of 541 days. The most consumed drug is marijuana, followed by the base paste. 32% report having used cocaine and base paste in the last year, 11% have symptoms of abuse and 29% have dependency problems.

The debate around the female prison can not stop considering the maternity. When a mother is serving a sentence, circumstances often lead to the fragility of the family, especially in relation to the daily care of the children. 89% of the women in the study are mothers, with an average of almost three children per woman and with 80% of them with a minor child. Only 25% declare that at least one of their children lives with the biological father and 45% that at least one of them lives with their maternal grandparents.

In this regard, the main researcher of the Pilar Larroulet project, says that "the issue of motherhood is also relevant in terms of reintegration, where the literature points to the double burden suffered by the woman who graduates, who should not only take care of herself and her process of delinquent abandonment, but also must quickly assume her role as head of the household, contributing economically and emotionally to the development of her children and other dependent family members ".

The importance of the State being able to make visible These different profiles that make up the female prison population lie not only in the need to articulate a programmatic offer differentiated according to the time of condemnation, but above all in visualizing different needs. The coordinator of the field research, Ana Figueroa, points out that "there must be a diversified outlook with a gender focus, otherwise, it will continue to perpetuate a model that tends to favor the intervention of women who have higher sentences, better behavior within the unit, lower recidivism rates and, therefore, greater opportunities to reintegrate into society ".

About the study 

This longitudinal study follows 225 women who graduated from the Women's Penitentiary Center of Santiago. These women are interviewed for a year, prior to their departure; and then a week, two months, six months and the year after his discharge. The objective pursued is to characterize the process of reintegration experienced by women once they are released and identify the factors that facilitate or hinder this process and that are related to recidivism. This information will serve as a basis for the preparation and implementation of programs that, taking care of the specific needs of this population, increase their chances of social reintegration.  

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