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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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DEMOGRAPHIC INFORMATION

Current Status
Current Location
Type of Conviction
Sentence Length
Legal Status at the Time of the Homicide
Country of Birth and Citizenship

 

Current Status

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Out of the 181 women serving a federal sentence for homicide (December 1996), 91 women were incarcerated. Included in this number are those women who committed homicide and had their parole revoked or were temporarily detained for a violation of parole conditions. Of the remaining women, 86 were under community supervision, 2 had escaped from an institution or were unlawfully at large, and 2 had been deported.

Although the proportion of women incarcerated for homicide is relatively high, 50.3% (December 1996), it is important to remember that women convicted of this offence tend to serve longer sentences and spend more time within an institution than the general inmate population. As a result, the new admissions rate is higher for women convicted for other types of offences.

Chart 1 below shows the current status of women convicted of homicide (December 1996).

 

Current Location

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This variable identifies the place where women convicted of homicide were serving their sentence as of December 1996, either in custody or under community supervision. As of December 1996, 46% of women convicted of homicide were located within the Ontario Region, with the majority being accommodated at the Prison for Women in Kingston. The Pacific Region accommodated 17.6%, the Prairie Region 16.4%, and the Quebec Region 15.3%. The Atlantic region accommodated the smallest percentage of women offenders (4.5%) convicted of homicide. The number of women convicted of homicide who were incarcerated and on community supervision as of December 1996 are indicated in Table 1 below.

Table 1

Regions Institutions4

Incarcerated

Community

Total

Pacific Burnaby Correctional Centre

12

19

31

Prairie Edmonton Institution for Women

Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge

Saskatchewan Penitentiary

Portage Correctional Centre

Lethbridge Correctional Centre

Regional Psychiatric Centre

6

5

4

1

1

3

9

29

Ontario Prison for Women

Isabel McNeil

37

5

39

81

Québec Établissement Joliette

12

15

27

Atlantic Nova Institution for Women

Springhill Institution

4

1

3

8

 

Type of Conviction

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As of December 1996, 44.8% of women who were serving sentences for homicide were convicted of second degree murder, 39.8% for manslaughter, and 5.0% for non-capital murder. A small proportion of women, 8.8% were serving sentences for first degree murder and 0.6% for capital murder. A few women, 1.1%, had their sentences for murder reduced to manslaughter. Refer to Chart 2 for the number of women serving specific types of homicide convictions.5

Sentence Length

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As of December 1996, the majority of women (58%) convicted of homicide was serving a life sentence. First and second degree murder convictions entail an automatic life sentence. There is a period of parole ineligibility of 25 years for first degree murder, and 10-15 years parole ineligibility for second degree murder. Capital and non-capital murder respectively follow the same type of specification regarding parole eligibility. For those serving a life sentence, admissibility to apply for judicial review6 is obtained after completing 15 years of the sentence. Only two women included in the sample have applied; one has been granted a reduction in parole eligibility and the other had not had a hearing yet.

The oldest life sentence that is still being served dates back to a 1936 homicide conviction. However, most of the life sentences that women are serving for homicide convictions have started more recently. More precisely, 2 life sentences started in the 1960's, 21 started in the 1970's and 43 started in the 1980's. Although we are only half way through the 1990's, there have already been 41 women who have received life sentences for homicide. Twelve women received life sentences in 1994 alone.

The sentence lengths for manslaughter are usually determinate. Time served varies from as little as 2 years and 10 months up to 25 years and 5 months. Most of the women seem to receive sentences less than 10 years in length with the average number of years being 7 years 6 months. Refer to Chart 3 for a numerical breakdown of sentence length for women convicted of homicide.

 

Legal Status at the Time of the Homicide

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Most women (81.4%) had no outstanding legal issues when they committed homicide. Of the women who did have outstanding legal issues, the majority of the women were on probation at the time they committed homicide. There are 10 women for whom we do not have any information regarding their legal status. Refer to Chart 4 for the legal status of the women when they committed homicide.

Country of Birth and Citizenship

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As of December 1996, 11.6% of women convicted of homicide in Canada were born in other countries. Refer to Table 2 for a list of the birth countries of the women included in this study. Information concerning citizenship was available for 19 of the 21 women who were not born in Canada. Twelve had their Canadian citizenship, six were non-Canadian7 and one woman had a dual citizenship.

Table 2

Country of Birth

Number of Women (N=181)

Canada

160

United States of America

5

England

3

Jamaica

3

China

3

Other Countries

7

The majority of women, 29%, convicted of homicide were born in Ontario followed by Quebec accounting for 19% of the women. The Yukon Territory was the only province/territory not represented as a birthplace for women convicted of homicide under federal jurisdiction. Table 3 below provides a breakdown of women convicted of homicide by birthplace.

Table 3 (N=159)

Province of Birth

Number of Women

Percentage

British Columbia

16

10%

Alberta

12

7.5%

Saskatchewan

18

11%

Manitoba

8

5%

Ontario

46

29%

Québec

31

19%

New Brunswick

7

4%

Nova Scotia

13

8%

Prince Edward Island

1

0.6%

Newfoundland

4

2.5%

Northwest Territories

3

2%

4 Burnaby, Portage and Lethbridge Correctional Centres are provincial institutions that accommodate women serving federal sentences under the Exchange of Services Agreement.

5 Prior to 1961 all murder was capital murder punishable by death. In 1967, the Criminal Code differentiated capital murder and non-capital murder. Capital murder included murders which were planned and deliberate, murders committed during the commission of another criminal act and murders of police officers and similar persons acting in the course of duty. From 1967-73, capital murder referred only to the murder of a police officer or similar official. In 1974, amendments to the Criminal Code classified murder or murders of police officers as murders punishable by death. This was practice until 1976 when the death sentence was abolished (Statistics Canada 1976, Nouwens 1991). From 1967 to 1973, non-capital murder included all murders other than murders of police officers and similar officials. From 1973-76, non-capital murders were associated with the penalty provided by law, and all murders not given the death sentence were considered to be non-capital (Nouwens 1991).

6 According to Section 745.6 (1) of the Criminal Code, a person who has served at least fifteen years of a sentence for first degree murder or who is serving a sentence of second degree murder with a parole ineligibility of more than fifteen years may apply for a reduction in the number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole.

7 Offenders who do not have a Canadian Citizenship are called Foreign Nationals under CSC jurisdiction. This includes refugees, landed immigrants, visitors and illegal aliens (Federally Sentence Women Program 1994).