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Breaking the Cycle of Incarceration & Homelessness:Participatory Action Research Walsh, A., MSW(c) & Walsh, C. A., PhD Congress 2011 of the Humanities and Social Sciences MAY 31, 2011,Fredericton, NB
Christine A. Walsh, PhD Gayle Rutherford PhD Stacie Buttee Yvonne Ironbow Jenn Sputek Lori Meghan Bell, MA(c) Cindy Deschences, MSW(c) Annmarie Walsh, MSW(c) Research Team • Funded by Human Resources Skill Development Canada- Homeless Partnering Strategy
Research Question What are the primary and secondary prevention strategies to prevent or reduce the cycle of homelessness and incarceration? What are effective interventions to improve services to reduce homelessness, recidivism and other harms for women?
Literature Review Most incarcerated women are poor, single, have limited education, and are disproportionately of minority status.1The majority are single mothers with limited support systems and resources, who were the sole provider for their children at the time of their arrests.2 Many women have experienced trauma and suffer from depression, guilt, distress, decreased self-esteem, and a sense of tremendous loss. 2 The majority of crimes committed by women are non-violent, often involving illegal activities to provide for themselves and their children; for example, prostitution, theft3 or drug related charges. 4 A large percentage of women have drug addiction issues and undiagnosed mental illnesses which place them at increased risk of drug use and re-arrest.4 Penalizing policies, stigmatization, and the lack of release support services increase the likelihood of women returning to drug use, illegal activity and, ultimately, recidivism.5
A Call to Action Our point of entry into this research was a call to action from Aboriginal women experiencing homelessness, poverty, and recidivism. Women wanted participatory types of research that promoted their voices as a means of creating a greater understanding of these issues for members of their own community and for those who serve them. They wanted to contribute to meaningful research which could influence policy and programming to ameliorate this situation.
Participatory Action Research Participatory action research is a dynamic co-research process, by and for those to be helped to determine what is problematic, improve understanding by actively investigating together how change in actions or practices can be mutually beneficial.7 PAR involves direct participation while monitoring and evaluating the effects of the researcher's actions and critical reflection with the aim of improving practice.8 This includes the critical analysis of backgrounds from which the issue(s) arose including historical, political, cultural, economic, geographic and/or other relevant contexts.9 The challenges with PAR are; outcomes are very difficult to predict from the onset, a power differential exists among co-researchers, challenges are sizeable and achievements depend to a very large extent on researcher’s commitment, creativity and imagination.10
Breaking the Cycle of Homelessness & Incarceration In this participatory action study members of the research team collaborate with six women who have longstanding histories with criminal justice, incarceration and homelessness. We have used arts-based research activities (photovoice and digital storytelling) to document the cycle of incarcerationand homelessness and to explore solutions to end the cycle and reduce harm for women.
Photovoice In photovoice participants are asked to represent their community or point of view by taking photographs, discussing them together to develop narratives to go with their photos. The expectation of photovoice is to further awareness and solutions through outreach or other action. This technique is often used with marginalized people, as it is intended to give insight into how they conceptualize their circumstances and their hopes for the future. As a form of community consultation, photovoice attempts to highlight issues and perspectives while featuring the “values, importance and concerns for communities in a robust and arresting manner”6.
bare… When you are out there alone, cultural identity is stripped in every way. You feel so empty, lost and forgotten. Yvonne
I was just a baby… It’s a very shameful experience. When you stand out there you are ashamed of yourself. You become overly hard, and you don’t need anyone; I’m doing fine and I don’t need you. I was very hard and angry that way, less people could hurt me. Jen
playing in the shadows… This is where the girls huddle now. You can always tell the young ones because they stick to the corners, they hide in the corners. Scared, they don’t know what to do or where to go. They hide in the shadows. Jen
I obtained an education… Found myself using illegal means to pay for living expenses – to feed, house, cloth myself and my children. Went to jail – lost family, friends, reputation and self-esteem. Criminal record upon release – closed doors for employment and education. The stairs are now steeper. Marcy
this is my hell, all I see is death… That was my life for 26 years. I lived here everyday 24/7. I sold crack under this bridge. I am watching my back from the cops, watching that I don’t get jacked, I don’t overdose, that you don’t overdose. Walking back and forth so I don’t freeze to death, but it was death. Stacie
cornered… I’ve sat against this wall smoking crack, being strung out for hours, days… paralyzed. When you’re on the streets it’s ok to sit beside a pile of piss and garbage. Prop me up beside the wall and leave me alone. Leave me alone. Stacie
bird in a tree… I looked up and I thought wow it must be so nice to be from nature and to just fly into this place and think who cares who’s looking at me. I experienced that at one time. Lori
mountain The first real freedom and sense of peace I felt within many, many years. To go see the mountains … Lori
Inside Out We are using participatory action research to answer the question: What are the struggles women face when they are released from prison and what are the underlying causes of their repeated incarceration experiences? The purpose of this next stage is to identify gaps in services, both in release planning and post releasein order to improve service delivery for women who have had experience with criminal justice. The overall goals are to decrease recidivism and to increase opportunities for successful transition into society. The study will produce recommendations for policy initiatives programming to better met the needs of this population.
References 1Poehlmann, J. (2005). Children’s family environments and intellectual outcomes during maternal incarceration. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67(5), 1275-1285. 2Young, D.S. & Smith, C.S. (2000). When moms are incarcerated: The needs of children, mothers, and caregivers. Families in Society, 82(2), 130-141. 3Freudenberg, N., Daniels, J., Crum, M., Perkins, T., & Richie, B. (2005). Coming home from jail: The social health consequences of community reentry for women, male adolescents, and their families and communities. American Journal of Public Health, 95(10), 1725-1736. 4Olphen, J., Elison, M., Freudenbert, N., & Barnes, M. (2008). Nowhere to go: How stigma limits the options of female drug users after release from jail. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 4(10), 1-10. 5 Mackintosh, V., Myers, B., & Kennon, S. (2006). Children of incarcerated mothers and their caregivers: Factors affecting the quality of their relationship.Journal of Child and Family Studies. 15(5), 581-596. 6 Jensen, V., Kaiwai, H., McCreanor, T., Moewaka Barnes, H. (2006). ‘Back off ma this is our project: Youth photovoice research in clendon and mangere. Report to Ministry of Youth Development June 2006, Whariki Research Group, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand. Retrieved from http://www.shore.ac.nz/projects/Photovoice%20Report_Final.pdf 7 Reason, P. & Bradbury, H. (Eds.) (2001) Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice, Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA, 512p 8 O'Brien, R. (2001). An overview of the methodological approach of action research In Roberto Richardson (Ed.), Theory and Practice of Action Research. João Pessoa, Brazil: Universidade Federal da Paraíba. (English version). 9 Wadsworth, Yolanda. 1998. What is participatory action research? Action Research International, Paper 2. 10 Chambers, R. 1983. Rural Development: Putting the Last First, London: Longman. ISBN 0-582-64443-7.