While correctional centres are often associated with men, there is an increasing number of incarcerated women who have rehabilitation needs that are specific to their gender. Historically correctional centres have responded through offering rehabilitative programmes that stereotyped women offenders into socially constructed gender roles. Using a feminist criminology framework, the current study aimed to explore the subjective inner experience and meaning given by women classified as maximum security offenders to the rehabilitation processes in the Johannesburg Correctional Centre.
Data was collected from 18 incarcerated women who are and were once classified as maximum offenders. A narrative analysis was used in understanding the data from the interviews. Women’s narratives in the current study reflect unique and common experiences with rehabilitation in the correctional centre. Being a maximum security offender presents a challenge of further perceived discrimination, alienation and isolation amongst women who describe limited involvement in rehabilitation as a result of this identity. Also highlighted in the study are challenges in implementing gender sensitive programming in a penal system infused with power dynamics; a discipline and punish narrative; patriarchy; binary view of gender and ethnocentrism. A continued reinforcement of traditional structures, systems and practices that seek to perpetuate gendered form of existence is also evident in the current study.
Therefore, a need for the reformation of the correctional centre context and culture is suggested so as to respond in a manner that is not only gender sensitive, but also inclusive enough in recognising both in theory and in practice, the various locations of inequality in society that influence female criminality. The principle of Ubuntu demonstrated through caring, compassion and hospitability which empowers and edifies the other person through interrelatedness is one of the promising initiatives that can guide correctional centres and society in the implementation of gender sensitive programmes, while paying attention to the socio-cultural dynamics that influence women’s pathways to crime.