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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Proceedings: Meeting Of Correctional Service Of Canada And National Women’s Organizations: Update On The Federally Sentenced Women Initiative

Opening Remarks – John Edwards‚ Commissioner‚ Correctional Service Of Canada

  • The purpose of the meeting is primarily information-sharing‚ with an opportunity for discussion of items that are seen as controversial. Plan to provide participants with an update on the Federally Sentenced Women Initiative (FSWI)‚ including a status report on the construction that is underway.
  • Preference would have been that the meeting was not taking place in the continuing aftermath of the unrest at Prison for Women. However‚ the meeting could not responsibly be delayed given that we are only a few months away from the opening of the first of the first institution.
  • The Commissioner reflected on the history that has led to the changes now taking place with regard to FSW.
  • Four years after Prison for Women was built‚ there came the first calls for its closure. Those calls were repeated numerous times until‚ finally in 1990‚ the recommendations of the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women were accepted by the Government of Canada. Principal among the Task Force recommendations were that: the Prison for Women should close; four new regional institutions should be built; and that a dedicated facility -- a Healing Lodge -- for Aboriginal Offenders should also be built.
  • Following a lengthy location/site selection exercise‚ decisions were announced to build new regional institutions in Truro‚ Kitchener‚ Edmonton and Joliette and a Healing Lodge in Maple Creek‚ Saskatchewan.
  • CSC encountered not only the "NIMBY" Syndrome (Not in my backyard); for a time it seemed the more extreme situation of what is called in the United States‚ the "BANANA" Syndrome (Build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything). CSC learned that communities in Canada were no longer tolerant of Government building what it wanted‚ where it wanted and when it wanted.
  • CSC had to learn new ways of doing things‚ including:
    • consulting the community; engaging groups and individuals in discussion and dialogue; seeking out and creating new partnerships; inviting participation; making compromises; and trying to achieve consensus. This has led to strong relationships with local communities and CSC hopes to see it continuing beyond the opening of the new facilities.
    • Prison for Women will be closed about a year from now.
    • CSC now has a clear management plan for responding to the unique needs of women offenders in federal institutions. This is reflected in the architectural design of the new institutions and a progressive correctional strategy which promotes: an open and supportive environment of community living; participation by offenders in the decision-making process toward their reintegration into the community; and empowerment of women to make meaningful and responsible choices.
    • In achieving this vision‚ there are two problems that are real to CSC. One is that there are a small number of women who continue to demonstrate a propensity for violence. This is not to say at all that these women have been well treated by society‚ or that it is particularly surprising that they have ended up in that state of mind‚ but it is essential to distinguish between understanding where they have come from‚ and where some of them are at right now.
    • Most women inmates‚ as most men inmates‚ want to pass a quiet time through their sentence and get back into the community. Probably a higher proportion of men break that rule‚ but there is a small number of women offenders‚ in our judgement‚ that we have to recognize require very careful supervision. If we are unable to manage these women in the new facilities‚ we may end up destroying the vision that we have now for those facilities.
    • The Minister has asked us to ensure that the new facilities are capable of handling a breakout of unrest along the lines that we had in April of last year at Prison for Women.
    • We are not changing the basic orientation for the population in our new facilities. We are building strength into those facilities to effectively handle those who act out beyond the level that is acceptable within the main population. We are not mindlessly going towards a "get tough" policy. Our aim is to achieve and protect what was in the Creating Choices philosophy‚ namely an environment conducive to normal living.
    • The second problem in achieving our vision is that the number of women offenders has increased over the past two years to a level where some sharing of rooms in the new facilities seems almost inevitable.
    • After Creating Choices came out‚ the number of women offenders remained relatively stable. In a July 1994 census‚ we found that the population had begun to increase‚ and that underlying this are trends that go back some distance further where we are seeing some increase in admissions‚ but a corresponding decrease in releases for females and males. It reflects perhaps the changing judgements in our society.
    • The gap between admissions and releases was rising most noticeably in the case of Aboriginal women where CSC has not had a good record in terms of its ability to handle Aboriginal women and reintegrate them into society.
    • The new institutions are currently forecasting significant over population‚ that is‚ over the original estimates for these institutions. This is particularly true in regards to Truro‚ Kitchener and Edmonton‚ with the only one remaining reasonably stable at this time is Joliette.
    • In some parts of the country‚ we are hearing from judges that they are less likely to resist sending women to prison‚ if in fact the women do not get banished to Prison for Women. Not enough is known about the reaction of judges in 1995‚ when there are facilities in the region for the housing of women offenders‚ and this is a concern.
    • There will be no additional resources for new cell blocks‚ capacities‚ houses‚ etc.‚ either in our male or female institutions‚ unless it is part of CSC’s approved accommodation plan‚ and we do not have the capacity right now for additional housing for the FSW Facilities.
    • In the near future‚ advice will be sought regarding an appropriate closing ceremony for the Prison for Women.

Participant Comments

  • A request was made regarding the purpose and tone for the day‚ that being if each speaker could candidly share what has been the most difficult to implement‚ and why‚ and what has been found to be unfeasible‚ and why. The reading material on the FSWI reveals that some departures exist from what was recommended in Creating Choices‚ and it would be helpful for the group to know what difficulties were encountered in order to be of some assistance in this regard. (Church Council on Justice and Corrections)
  • There are concerns that the April 1994 incident at Prison for Women‚ together with the events preceding it and since then‚ have affected CSC’s strategy with regard to the FSW Facilities and impacted on more recent policy development. Many have concerns about what this means in terms of the future of the FSW Facilities‚ and would like more discussion on this in order to get back to the philosophy and principles of Creating Choices. (Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies)