A New Beginning
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In April 1990, Creating Choices, The Report of the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women, again drew attention to the shortcomings of the Prison for Women. Co-chaired by the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and the Correctional Service of Canada, the Task Force included a wide variety of community and government organizations brought together to form a Steering Committee and Working Group.
Their mandate was all-inclusive: to examine the correctional management of federally sentenced women from the commencement of sentence to the date of warrant expiry and to develop a plan to guide and direct the process in a manner that was responsive to the unique and special needs of this group. The Report of the Task Force was exhaustive and had a major impact on the future of women's corrections.
The 1990 Creating Choices report drew attention to the shortcomings of the Prison for Women, such as the high-perimeter wall surrounding the prison.
Among the key problems that the Task Force highlighted were the following.
The environment at the Prison for Women was described as noisy, inadequately ventilated and without sufficient space to provide for community interaction and program delivery. Further, it was noted that the majority of women were living in a higher security environment than required and made worse by the addition, in 1981, of a solid, high-perimeter wall that added to the fortress-like atmosphere of the prison.
It was noted that of the 130 women offenders at the prison, only 60 originated from Ontario. The rest came from communities scattered across the country. As a result, the offenders suffered from separation from family members, support networks and their communities.
Limited Programs, Particularly for Long-Term Offenders
Among other things, the report suggested that transfer agreements with the provinces did not fully address programming needs. An increasing number of federal women offenders were serving their sentences in provincial institutions and while this allowed them to remain closer to their communities, they were not receiving adequate programming. In part, this was attributed to the fact that provincial correctional institutions focused mainly on women offenders serving sentences of less than two years.
Following the Task Force's recommendations,
an Aboriginal healing lodge was built in Saskatchewan in 1995.
The Task Force's recommendations were based on five principles: empowerment; meaningful and responsible choices; respect and dignity; supportive environments; and shared responsibility.
It proposed the following guiding statement of principle: "The Correctional Service of Canada, with the support of communities, has the responsibility to create the environment that empowers federally sentenced women to make meaningful and responsible choices in order that they may live with dignity and respect."
Creating Choices' recommendations included the following:
- the closure of the Prison for Women;
- the construction of regional women's facilities and an Aboriginal healing lodge (all to be structured in accordance with community-style living environments);
- the development of women-centred programs, including survivors of abuse and mother-child programming; and
- the establishment of a community strategy to expand and strengthen residential and non-residential programs and services for women offenders who are conditionally released.
It was a call to action. From that point on, correctional experts increasingly emphasized that women in prison were equal to, but different from, male inmates. Reports focused on the "special needs" of women offenders and the profound impact of the physical and sexual abuse that many of them had suffered. In response, more suitable and unique programming was designed. The Correctional Service of Canada placed a high priority on corrections for federal women offenders like never before. It also began to plan for the future - a future without the Prison for Women.
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