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The Transformation of Federal Corrections for Women

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What Has Happened Since 1990?

Implementation of the Task Force Recommendations

Since endorsing the task force report in 1990, CSC has been working to implement the recommendations it contained. While we can debate how well the Service has realized the vision of Creating Choices, it has adopted a fundamentally different concept of effective corrections for women offenders.

Regional Facilities for Women

Between 1995 and 1997, CSC opened five new regional facilities for women offenders. They are as follows:

NameLocationOpening DateCapacity
Okimaw Ohci Healing LodgeMaple Creek, SaskatchewanAugust 199528
Nova InstitutionTruro, Nova ScotiaOctober 199524
Edmonton Institution for WomenEdmonton, AlbertaNovember 199553
Grand Valley InstitutionKitchener, OntarioJanuary 199772
Joliette InstitutionJoliette, QuebecJanuary 199781

For the most part, the design of the regional facilities reflects the recommendations of the task force. The main building of each facility is equipped with staff offices, program space, a health care unit, a visiting area, and an Enhanced Security unit that contains cells used for segregation. Each of the regional facilities has a perimeter fence with a detection system.

Inmate houses are clustered behind the main building. Each house accommodates six to ten women and includes communal living space, a kitchen, dining area, bathrooms, a utility/laundry room, and access to the facility grounds. The doors and windows of each house are alarmed. Women are responsible for all their daily living needs, including cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Community-style living represents a dramatic shift from the environment at Prison for Women. It enables women to take control of their daily lives and encourages them to work together as a community.

The Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge differs in some respects from the other women's facilities. This Aboriginal healing lodge is the first institution of its kind, developed with and for First Nations communities. The majority of its staff, including the Kikawinaw (meaning "director" of the institution or "our mother" in Cree) is of Aboriginal descent. Its operational philosophy is based on Aboriginal teachings, spirituality, and traditions. Full-time Elder services are available and ceremonies often involve members of First Nations communities.

Staffing Selection Process

The staffing model used at each of the regional women's facilities is very different from that at Prison for Women or any of the men's institutions. Front line staff are not referred to as "guards" or "correctional officers", but rather, as "primary workers". Their duties include case management, program support, and interaction with offenders.

In staffing these positions, CSC recruits individuals who have experience working with women and/or individuals who are sensitive towards women's issues and have knowledge of the philosophy outlined in Creating Choices. Once recruited, staff are required to participate in both standard correctional training and women-centred training. Women-centred training addresses issues such as sexism, sexual orientation, racism, Aboriginal traditions and spirituality, physical and/or sexual abuse, self-injurious and suicidal behaviour, addictions, and mental health.

Correctional Program Strategy for Women Offenders

The Correctional Program Strategy for women offenders is a holistic, women-centred framework designed to provide programming consistency in the regional facilities. The principles set out in Creating Choices laid the foundation for the development of this strategy. The Correctional Program Strategy recognizes and responds to the needs of women. All programs are structured to respect women's gender and their ethnic, cultural, spiritual, and linguistic differences.

In developing and maintaining the Correctional Program Strategy, section 77 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act requires CSC to regularly consult with women's groups and other organizations that have experience in working with women offenders.

Core Programs

The strategy sets out four core programs for women offenders. Three are similar to those offered to men: living skills programs, substance abuse programs, and literacy and continuous learning programs. However, each of these programs has been modified to address the specific needs of women offenders. There is also a specially designed program for survivors of abuse and trauma.

Other Programs and Services

Other programs and services are also offered at individual facilities. Multicultural programs, recreation and leisure programs, vocational and educational programs, peer support team programs, and health programs and services are but a few examples. Programs and services that exist in one facility are often transferred and tailored to meet the needs of women offenders at another.

Mother-Child Program

In accordance with one of the task force recommendations, CSC has developed a mother-child program to foster positive relationships between mothers and their children. This program enables children to stay with their mothers while incarcerated, provided that the program is considered to serve the best interests of the child (including physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being).

The mother-child program was first piloted at the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge in July 1996. The other regional facilities started implementing the program in 1998.

Appointment of CSC's First Deputy Commissioner for Women

Nancy Stableforth was appointed CSC's first Deputy Commissioner for Women on June 21, 1996. This position was established to respond to a recommendation made by Madame Justice Arbour in her 1996 report of the Commission of Inquiry into Certain Events at the Prison for Women. As Deputy Commissioner for Women, Ms. Stableforth is responsible for women offender issues, strategic planning, and policy initiatives.

Upon the Deputy Commissioner's arrival, women's corrections was undergoing profound change. While the complexity of the offender population and the institutional environment continue to present many challenges, the principles of Creating Choices - empowerment, choice, respect, dignity, and responsibility - now serve as the framework for effective policy and program development.