Women on Probation

Survey of Women Under Community Supervision in Ontario

Margaret Shaw and colleagues interviewed 288 adult women in community settings across Ontario in 1991 and 1992. About 80% were on probation only, 11% were on probation following a provincial prison sentence and 6% were on parole also following a provincial prison sentence. Some in the last group would go on to serve probation terms once their parole periods expired. More than one third (39%) were serving probation terms of less than 12 months. The most common conditions of the probation were community service work (22%), restitution (18%) and counseling (18%).

Who are these women? The average Ontario probationer was:

  • 30 years old

    • 75% were under 35

  • Caucasian

    • 78% identified themselves as Caucasian while 12% were Aboriginal and 6% Black

  • born in Canada

    • 84% were born in Canada

    • others were born most frequently in Europe, the Caribbean or South America

  • single

    • 43% were single

    • 30% were separated/divorced

    • 26% were married or living common law

  • a mother

    • 73% had children (one-third of who were five or under)

    • the average age at the birth of their first child was 19

    • 80% had been a single parent for part of all of the time

  • convicted of her first offence

    • 57% do not have prior offences at the time of conviction for this offence

    • among those with prior records, their age at first conviction was likely over 20

  • a person who has never been incarcerated before

    • 77% had never served a prison term

  • on probation for a property offence

    • 57% were convicted of theft, fraud etc. but 19% were convicted of interpersonal offences

  • from a family where other relatives have been in conflict with the law

  • likely to have left home at a young age

    • the average age at leaving home had been 16 or 17

    • one third had theft by age 15, in some cases to enter a residential program or custody

  • a victim of physical or sexual abuse

    • 71% reported prior physical abuse

    • 45% sexual abuse in family or origin or in relationships

  • someone who self-reports a mental health concern

    • 52% felt they were depressed

    • 40% felt they had problems with anxiety

    • one third had received some mental health treatment in the past

  • not well off financially

    • 58% had annual incomes of less than $12,000 and another 25% had incomes of $12-15,000

    • 58% were supported by social assistance

    • only 40% were employed

  • a high school drop out

    • 49% had not gone beyond grade 10

When asked what they needed to help them stay out of trouble with the criminal justice system, most focused on practical matters such as help with emotional problems (39%), employment (38%), work training (38%), housing (30%) and child-related assistance (30%).

This information was summarized from:

Shaw, M. with S. Hargreaves (1994). Ontario Women in Conflict with the Law: A Survey of Women in Institutions and Under Community Supervision in Ontario. Toronto: Ministry of the Solicitor General and Correctional Services.

Shaw, M. (1994). Ontario Women in Conflict with the Law Subsidiary Report: Community Programmes and Regional Issues. Toronto: Ministry of Solicitor General and Correctional Services.

We have a copy of the Executive Summary of the full report on our web site.