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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Federally Sentenced Women Maximum Security Interview Project: "Not Letting the Time Do You"


1.1 Introduction
1.2 Research Methodology and Data Analysis
1.3 Security Classification

In 1990, a Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women was formed with the mandate 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 which will guide and direct this process in a manner that is responsive to the unique and special needs of this group." The Task Force comprised women who had served federal sentences, as well as representatives from CSC and private sector organizations that deal with a variety of issues impacting women and women in conflict with the law in Canada. The Task Force produced Creating Choices - Report of the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women, a report released in 1990, which recommended closing the Prison for Women (P4W) in Kingston, Ontario2 and replacing it with four regional facilities and an Aboriginal Healing Lodge. Creating Choices also advised that a new, women-centred correctional philosophy should be developed to govern the operation of these facilities and further recommended five principles to provide direction to CSC in creating facilities and programs to better reflect the unique experiences and needs of incarcerated women.

The suggested guiding principles were: empowerment, meaningful and responsible choices, respect and dignity, supportive environment, and shared responsibility.

CSC accepted the recommendations of the report and four regional facilities and an Aboriginal Healing Lodge were constructed: Edmonton Institution for Women (EIFW) in Edmonton, Alberta; Grand Valley Institution for Women (GVI) in Kitchener, Ontario; Établissement Joliette in Joliette, Québec; Nova Institution for Women (Nova) in Truro, Nova Scotia; and Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge (OOHL) in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan.

By January 1997, all five regional facilities were operational. Nova was the first to open in the spring of 1995, followed in November of that same year by EIFW and OOHL. Joliette and GVI opened in January 1997. The design of the new facilities reflects the recommendations of the Task Force. Inmate housing is provided through stand-alone houses clustered behind a main building which contains staff offices, program space, a health care unit, and visiting area. The facility has a perimeter fence with a detection system and doors and windows of inmate houses are alarmed. Each facility also has an Enhanced Security Unit containing cells used for segregation and initial reception of new admissions. Each house accommodates 6 to 10 women and includes communal living space, a kitchen, dining area, bathrooms, a utility/laundry room and access to the grounds. The women in each house are responsible for all their daily living needs, such as cooking, cleaning and laundry.

These regional facilities currently house minimum and medium security women offenders, who make up approximately 90% of incarcerated women offenders. In September 1996, an interim decision was made to remove all maximum security women from the new regional facilities because the community-living design of the regional facilities was not meeting the needs of this population either in terms of security or programming; and, reflecting the conclusions of the Task Force, the enhanced units at the regional facilities were designed for short-term stays, not long-term accommodation of maximum security women or for long-term intensive mental health treatment. Currently, maximum security women are regionally accommodated at P4W (Ontario), or in separate and distinct units at existing facilities for men: Saskatchewan Penitentiary, Regional Psychiatric Centre - Prairies (Saskatchewan), Regional Reception Centre (Québec) and Springhill Institution (Nova Scotia).3 Measures have been taken (physical renovations and separate staffing) to ensure that women housed in units at men's facilities are separated from the male population in terms of their accommodation, programming, and recreation areas.


1.1 Introduction

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Given that maximum security women are currently accommodated separately from their minimum and medium security counterparts, CSC recognized the need to identify interventions necessary to (a) suitably address the issues and needs of maximum security women, and (b) facilitate the reduction of maximum security classification of women offenders. In order to initiate this process, it was determined that primary research with maximum security offenders and relevant CSC staff was required in order to augment understanding of personal and institutional realities as well as the programming and other needs of maximum security women.

The commission of this study reflects CSC's commitment to develop a long-term strategy for maximum security women, a strategy that is based on providing programs that respond to the diverse needs of maximum security women and conducting research to assess what is effective. Furthermore, by affording maximum security women offenders the opportunity to relay their experiences and contribute their ideas and suggestions, this research initiative fulfills CSC's responsibility, under Section 74 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA), to provide inmates with "the opportunity to contribute to decisions of the Service affecting the inmate population as a whole, or affecting a group within the inmate population, except decisions relating to security matters," and also reflects the principle of client participation as outlined in the Mental Health Strategy for Women Offenders (Laishes, 1997).

This research report is based on voluntary personal interviews conducted with 14 of the 15 federally sentenced non-Aboriginal women who were classified maximum security during the time of this research (February 1998). Data were also gathered from discussions held with 20 CSC staff in personal interviews and focus groups, and from supplementary interviews/meetings with psychologists and program delivery officers. Preceded by four pilot interviews (to test the questionnaire), all interviews were conducted during the period of February 4 - 19, 1998 at Springhill Institution and the Prison for Women (there were no CSC non-Aboriginal women classified as maximum security west of Kingston). In addition, where applicable, relevant information has been analyzed and integrated from the Offender Management System (CSC's automated database) and CSC files of these maximum security women. More detailed information regarding the research methodology is provided in Section 1.2.

The following specific issues were explored with both maximum security women and relevant CSC staff:

    · Maximum security women's opinions of why they are classified maximum and their perspectives regarding criteria for a maximum security classification;

    · Perspectives of the risk and need factors of maximum security women and perspectives on addressing these factors;

    · Identification of factors which motivate maximum security women to work toward reducing their security levels and participate in programming;

    · Perspectives on what CSC's role should be in facilitating the reduction of women's maximum security classification levels;

    · Opinions on existing policies, procedures, and programs that CSC has available for women to reduce their security level from maximum to medium; and

    · Determination of staff and facility characteristics that facilitate, interfere with or are conducive to the reduction of maximum security levels.


1.2 Research Methodology and Data Analysis

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The present research has utilized qualitative methods to explore how women experience, interpret and understand their incarceration and the factors that led to it. The rationale for utilizing qualitative methods is twofold: first, the small number of study participants seriously limits the applicability of quantitative analyses; and second, qualitative methods are particularly well-suited to exploring the complexity of the research questions at hand.

An attempt to connect personal experience within a social context is integral to qualitative analysis and explicitly accompanies qualitative research endeavours. Qualitative research seeks to elicit and name this experience as well as to contextualize it. It uncovers participants' lived experience and offers alternative interpretation. Qualitative research is well-suited to attend to gender, race, and class analysis.

Generally, qualitative research is seen as a way to gather data without imposing existing frames and expectations. "The openness of qualitative inquiry allows the researcher to approach the inherent complexity of social interaction and to do justice to that complexity" (Glesne & Peshkin, 1992, p.7). In comparison to quantitative approaches, qualitative techniques are seen as more conducive to the exploration of the entire context and to considering multiple, interacting influences; in short, emphasizing meaning over measurement. Moreover, particular qualitative techniques - for example, interviews - facilitate the researcher investigating the subjective significance of experience from the participants' perspectives. The role of the qualitative researcher is to convey with integrity participants' views and understandings of their experiences.

The two-fold approach to this research initiative involved:

    1. Generating primary research data gathered from qualitative research;

    2. Integrating relevant secondary data already available on the population of maximum security women.

Primary research data were collected through the use of qualitative interviewing techniques. Specifically, in-depth, voluntary personal interviews were conducted with 14 of the 15 non-Aboriginal maximum security women. Six women were located in Springhill Institution and eight women were located in the Prison for Women. Personal interviews and focus groups were also conducted with 20 CSC staff (namely, Case Management and Correctional Officers). At each facility, supplementary interviews/discussions were held with psychologists, program delivery officers, and senior management.

A semi-structured interview guide was used for the interviews/focus groups (Appendix A). The use of this questionnaire design permits the inclusion of structured questions in order to ensure that all interviews cover the same topic areas and ensures that comparisons of responses to specific issues are possible. The design also allows for the inclusion of less structured or open-ended questions which permits a more thorough exploration of certain areas or issues than is possible with a structured questionnaire format. The semi-structured design creates the opportunity to engage in a discourse which, in turn, invites participants to relay their lived experiences and personal perspectives in a manner that is reflective of their own language, experiences, and truths. Furthermore, this design provides the interviewer with the opportunity to identify participants' volunteered, elicited, or probed responses to specific questions, and to differentiate between these types of responses.

Prior to any interviews/focus groups taking place, informed consent forms were distributed and signed by all participants. All interviews were audio-recorded with the consent of participants. (The interviews were audio-recorded in order to facilitate the interviewer's ability to truly engage participants in a discussion - a task that is challenged when detailed note-taking is required.) On average, interviews with the maximum security women had a duration of two and one-half hours for women in the General Population Segment and one hour for women in the Special Needs Population Segment (these population segments are explained in Section 2.1). Staff discussions/ meetings took approximately one and one-half hours.

From the audio-recordings, verbatim transcriptions were created from the interviews with the maximum security women, while content analyses were done for the discussions/meetings held with staff. This material was then analyzed using a thematic approach: a method of organizing material in relation to themes in an attempt to do justice to both the research questions and the experiences of those interviewed. Common and divergent themes were identified and drawn out. The perspectives of the maximum security women are prevalent throughout this report presented as direct quotations appearing in italics. To maintain anonymity, each woman was assigned a pseudonym. Given that the focus of this study is on the inmates' perspectives, information gathered from staff is summarized in Part C and presented more broadly in the form of dominant themes. Again, direct quotations appear in italics, however they are not used as frequently and staff positions are not identified).4

Where pertinent, Offender Management System (OMS) and client files were utilized as secondary data. This was done in order to supplement and/or clarify the primary data collected, and in some instances to assess the level of agreement between women's perceptions of certain measures or institutional events (e.g. needs assessments, participation in programming, institutional incidents) and the institutional record of such measures or events. All secondary data were reviewed following the collection of interview data.

It is, however, important to emphasize that the findings reported here must be interpreted with caution and in relation to the particular context of the study population. The necessity of giving careful consideration to the findings is due to the small number of study participants, the fact that this is a relative population in time, and a reliance on self-reports, which are susceptible to the possibility of interviewees' biases.

Throughout the report, results of the interviews with the women are communicated on the basis of the total study population (n=14) and in terms of the population segments discussed in Section 2.1. Responses and themes are reported descriptively but often include counts and percentages (of the total or of the segment). Such frequency data are not provided for the staff perspectives. However, the dominant themes presented were prevalent in a majority of those staff interviewed. Any exceptions to dominant themes are so identified.


1.3 Security Classification

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Security classification determines placement of inmates, inmate eligibility for unescorted temporary absences (UTAs) and work releases as well as the frequency and duration of such absences. The use of standardized classification instruments to support professional and clinical assessments is intended to minimize subjective bias and assist in defining correctional strategies. The premise for offender security classification is that measurable differences exist among offenders. This premise is supported by research that demonstrates offenders can be grouped into distinct categories according to their institutional adjustment, their escape risk, and their risk to public safety should they escape (Luciani, Motiuk & Nafekh, 1996; Andrews, Bonta & Hoge, 1990). Although the majority of classification research has involved male offenders, recent studies by Blanchette (1997) and Blanchette and Motiuk (1997) demonstrated that current CSC classification strategies do appropriately differentiate women offenders as well.

The Custody Rating Scale (CRS) was introduced by CSC in 1988 as a tool to assist in the assessment of initial and subsequent security classifications. The CRS consists of two, independently scored subscales - a five-item Institutional Adjustment subscale and a seven-item Security Risk subscale. As scores increase on either subscale, the predicted security classification also increases. Recently, Luciani et al. (1996) have shown the CRS to be a reliable and valid classification tool with practical utility for both male and female offenders. As per the Commissioner's Directives (505; Security Classification of Inmates), inmates shall be assigned the lowest security classification deemed suitable to meet their needs.

Initial security classification

According to the Offender Intake Assessment (OIA) Content Guidelines, the OIA process involves the timely and systematic analysis of significant information that is predictive of risk and needs. This analysis is conducted through the application of tools and policy guidelines developed specifically for this purpose. The information collected through the OIA process forms the base for preparing, monitoring, and evaluating correctional plans for the offender. The following is among the information included in the OIA:

    · A complete profile of the offender's criminal and social history, including offense cycles, treatment outcomes, and victim impacts;

    · A rating of the risk for criminal re-offending;

    · A security classification rating;

    · A prioritized listing of needs related to reducing the risk of re-offending;

    · A rating of needs level;

    · A basis for both long- and short-term correctional plans.

Review of security classification

Security classification is assessed on a quarterly basis for maximum security women, or, following an institutional incident where concerns may warrant the consideration of an increase in security level. The quarterly reviews are conducted with a view to assigning women the lowest security classification deemed suitable to meet her needs.

Reviews of security classifications are comprised of three main dimensions: institutional adjustment, escape risk, and public safety. Each dimension is comprised of numerous elements, each requiring a score. Specific elements of the dimensions are as follows:

Part 1: Institutional Adjustment

    · violent incidents

    · disciplinary convictions

    · continuation of criminal activities

    · administrative interventions

    · behaviour and program participation

Part 2: Escape Risk

    · escape/attempted escape

    · sentence status

    · other concerns (unusual circumstances that potentially increase escape risk such as custody battle, gambling/drug debts, etc.)

Part 3: Public Safety

    · violent incident(s)

    · program participation

    · mental illness or disorder

    · other public safety concerns (information suggesting that the inmate will likely commit a serious offence upon release)

According to the Commissioner's Directives (505; Security Classification of Inmates), maximum security inmates are defined as those who receive ratings indicative of

    1. a high probability of escape; and

    2. a high risk to the safety of the public in the event of escape; or

    3. a requirement for a high degree of supervision and control of the inmate's activities within the institution.

2 P4W opened in 1934 and in 1990 was the only penitentiary for federally sentenced women inmates.

3 In the Pacific Region, all women inmates are accommodated at the Burnaby Correctional Centre for Women under an Exchange of Services Agreement.

4 With respect to the use of direct quotations in this report, where necessary to maintain anonymity certain identifying information has been omitted or altered; text placed in square brackets ([ ]) indicates altered material or clarification added by the researcher.