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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"


8.1 Institutional Climate/Culture
8.2 Physical Environment/Accommodation
8.3 Supervision/Surveillance
8.4 Inmate-Staff Interpersonal Relations
8.5 Closer to Home
8.6 MultiDisciplinary Mental Health Approach
8.7 Community Release

[If I had not been transferred] I think I would have been gated [detained]. It was a new start for me. It was a chance for me to start all over. I probably would have ended up with more charges, couple of years down the road I probably would have been D.O.'d - Dangerous Offender, or something like that, you know. I was headed there. I was really headed nowhere fast. (Kerry)

There are a variety of institutional/structural/organizational factors that the women identified as important for them in terms of how they served their time and adjusted to their incarceration. As well, these factors significantly impacted on their ability and willingness to address their needs. These factors include institutional climate/culture, physical environment/accommodation, supervision/surveillance, and inmate-staff relations. These factors are complex and interconnected. It is difficult, if not impossible, to consider these factors in isolation of one another. For example, if one considers substance abuse inside the institution, the use of drugs is part of inmate institutional environment/culture, while access to drugs is influenced by physical environment/accommodation as well as supervision/surveillance, and assistance in drug use cessation is influenced by inmate-staff relations.

In this report, these institutional/structural/organizational factors have been separated for descriptive purposes. However, it must be stressed that much of the strength of these influential factors resides in their connections.


8.1 Institutional Climate/Culture

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Understandably, there are a variety of ways that institutional surroundings affect the women - including affects associated with physical environment (explored separately in sub-section 8.2) and supervision and staffing considerations (explored in 8.3 and 8.4).

A number of institutional climate/culture considerations have already been raised throughout this report. In particular, the influence of a supportive and constructive environment has been raised in relation to changing negative attitudes and behaviours. In addition to these considerations, women pointed out that the "inmate code," and conflicts with other inmates had the affect of worsening their behaviour.

Women in the GP segment were considerably more likely to raise specific points in regard to the theme of institutional climate/culture than women in the SNP segment. Five of the six women in the GP segment (83%) spoke about the prison environment having made their behaviour worse.

...I know for me, I know the way I was before I went to prison and then I know the kind of things I was doing while I was in prison, where violence is concerned - and I think I just became a product of my surroundings. I really believe that. And the reason why I say that is because when I was on the street I never was violent like I had to be in P4W ...And even drugs. Like, I was no angel on the street, I did drugs, and I had addictions. But, when I was in P4W I did drugs that I never seen on the street. (Kerry)

...each year that I spent in I got worse and worse and worse. My attitude wasn't as bad when I first came in as it was like six, seven months down the road. On the other hand, I do believe that it depends on the person, the personality. (Alison)

I got drawn into like being a follower and doing what other people were expecting - like when I think about it now, I just can't believe that that happened - because I'm not really the type to go and do whatever everybody else is doing. (Pam)

    The influence of inmate group cohesiveness and the pressure toward uniformity, especially within the GP segment, is strong.

    I think you'd probably get a little bit of attitude there if you didn't you know, didn't want to be a part of it all anymore. Yeah, yeah. It would be like, what makes you think that, you know, you're better than us?'s a very tight knit crowd, you know... (Kerry)

Certainly group cohesiveness produces a climate which supports polarization between inmates and staff. For example, women identified the manifestation of this in the acceptance of, and propensity toward upholding, the inmate code.

Even when I first came here [transferred], you know, I had problems with adjusting - you know, because, it's like...when I came down here I had a kind of hard time trying to drop the inmate code thing - I still do, I still do...and they see that as anti-social - you know, you're supposed to be like pro-social. They see those kind of things as anti-social behaviours, anti-social attitudes. (Kerry)'s pounded in your head when you're doing know, the code - that you're not supposed to talk to the guards, you're not supposed to do anything. (Alison)

I feel like a lot of these women are rats - maybe it's not up to me to judge - 'cuz [sic] a lot of them are doing pretty well - but their being rats makes me want to be bad - but maybe they don't know any better...So that's how I feel a lot of the time. (Tanya)

In Section 6, the women themselves saw shifts in this mentality as integral to an overall positive cycle of adjustment and change. They provided examples of this shift originating both internally and externally (i.e. an institutional approach of zero tolerance of inmate code dynamics).

It's a choice - it's a choice you make. People get suspicious - like why is she talking to the guard - because I was like that...but I came to realize that that wasn't what it was about. (Alison)

I had problems here. One girl in particular - I'm not going to say her name. She was PC [protective custody] in was like a shock to come down here and be housed with people that I wouldn't normally be with - or around. And I confronted her one day. And they throw me in seg [segregation] - and they say, no, you're not going to enforce the inmate code down here and we don't put up with that down here. And I never even assaulted the girl - I just confronted her - and I got seg...And they keep you in seg for a long time here...Making me do this big plan to get out - like I was a psychiatric case or something. (Kerry)

(A further discussion of the benefits women identified of breaking down divisive and arbitrary staff-inmate attitude and communication patterns will occur later, in Section 8.4.)

Women in the SNP segment identified incompatibilities with other inmates as the major point in regard to institutional climate/culture.

They can make me angry and make me suicidal - until if I get suicidal sometimes I could end up probably beating the shit out of somebody...also when they are threatening each other and starting a racket and stuff - it really bothers me. It makes me feel like I want to get rid of the ones who are being bad - yeah, punch them out. (Tina)

The other girls - they get me upset. They're smarter than I am. They like to pick on me to get me upset so I do stupid things...I feel much more better when nobody gets me upset. (Clara)


8.2 Physical Environment/Accommodation

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Both the women's unit at Springhill Institution and P4W provide for the secured accommodation of maximum security women. The physical structure of these facilities are briefly described below:

Springhill Unit. The women's unit at Springhill Institution is very small. There is a corridor of cells on one side of the unit; on the opposite side of the unit there are intake/assessment and segregation cells. In the space in the middle there is a laundry area, a washroom/shower area, and a common room with small kitchenette (with access available from both the general population cells and the intake/assessment cells). The staff office/post is positioned between the corridor of cells on the one side and the intake/assessment and segregation cells on the other and has a full two-way mirror viewing the common room. Although the physical structure provides for locked physical separation between inmates (through the different cell areas), noise is clearly able to travel across the unit.

P4W. The physical structure of P4W is old and restrictive; there are many narrow corridors, steep stairwells and locked barriers. The building has many of the characteristics of a maximum security prison, including being surrounded by a large, cement wall. The living accommodation for those inmates still being housed at P4W is contained in a series of barred cells known as A Range (primarily used for medium and maximum security general population inmates) and the Special Needs Unit (again, various security profiles). Although both areas consist of two-tiered cells, the second tier of A Range is not in use. At the time of the interviews, construction efforts were underway to modify B Range with the intention of housing higher functioning inmates from the Special Needs Unit, while maintaining the physical separation of these inmates from the general population. A new, seven-cell Segregation Unit has been built in the basement of the prison.

Certainly the physical environment in which women are living has the potential for many affects. While recognizing that there could be many ways that physical environment impacts the lived realities of those inside prison, the women spoke of issues of space, movement, therapeutic quiet and incompatibilities with other inmates. Again, although these have been separated out below, as evident in the accompanying quotes, these issues overlap and their connections often create a negative dynamic tension. It is also important to note that despite the serious limitations imposed by the physical environments, many of the women in both facilities reported various ways that the environment has had a positive impact on them.


All the women interviewed at Springhill Institution commented on the unit being too small, there not being enough variety in space, and their movement being restricted. As well, several of the women mentioned feeling bad for the men who also, at times, had restricted movement because of the women's presence at the institution.9

The unit is too small. If you have a problem with someone there's no place you can go to get away from them. The space needs to be bigger...not more numbers, more space. All we have is our cell and our common room. Those are the two places we can go - no big decision. (Kerry)

I think this set up that they have now - it sucks. Well, for one thing, when you come in the front door - you're right at the should be separate...just so that there's not people coming in and out up the main hallway...a kitchen, like for the women to cook their own food - that would be good. And it's just too small - it's too fucking small. Everyone's in everyone's face all the time, you know. You can't get away from anybody. That's why sometimes I close my curtain and I lock my door...I really need to be alone for a while. (Tanya)

The place is so small - the unit is so small - we are so restricted as to what we are allowed to do...and I'm not saying that it's not bad for the men too, because it is - because a lot of times they have to be locked up for places that we have to go. It's one great big inconvenience is what it is...I think that if we had more access to the institution it would be great...but I think I'm asking for miracles there, because it is a men's institution. But we're allowed to go to the gym five times a week. We're allowed to go to the library - that's in another part of the's a slow process. (Alison)

In this place we can't move without getting the boys locked up - we don't want the boys getting locked up everyday...we're just trying to do the best we can. (Nicki)

Despite the difficulties imposed by the physical environment of the Springhill Unit, many of the women commented on ways that the environment has had some positive impact on them. Separation from the demands and "groupthink" mentality of a larger population of women offenders, particularly those who had spent time at P4W during the early '90s and before, has been viewed as helpful in establishing some perspective on the strict adherence to the inmate code. Also, as will be discussed in Sections 8.3 and 8.4, the physical structure has resulted in the accompanying outcome of a visible and constant staff presence on the unit. This has meant the ability to restrict the presence and use of drugs, to restrict the expression of negative behaviours, and has afforded opportunities for better relationships between inmates and staff, all of which have also contributed to the wearing down of a strict adherence to the inmate code.

In terms of the women at P4W, the comments from women in both the GP and SNP segments were surprisingly favourable, although mention was made of the dreariness, age and disrepair of the facility. The women in the SNP segment were more likely to comment on their basic needs being met and that the secure physical environment provided them with a sense of safety (the last four quotes are from women in the SNP segment).

I don't know - I guess because it's a maximum security prison, it's got to be - like more secure and that - I don't see any problem with that...The cells are a little small. That's all I can think of. I don't think it should be much different than the medium security - unless it's really necessary. (Pam)

I don't mind being here. (Melissa)

This place? It's not really that bad - it could be worse. (Clara)

Building's old - but I like it - I like it at night because I'm locked in by myself, you know...I like it this way because then no one can attack me at night. (Susan)

It don't matter to me. I got a bed, sheets, clean sheets, clean clothes. Food. (Denise)

Accommodation of maximum security women in regional facilities

Not surprisingly, while discussing the facility where they are currently being housed, the related issue of maximum security women being able to reside in the regional facilities was raised. With respect to this, two themes emerged from the interviews:

    1. Most of the women expressed the opinion that maximum security women should be housed apart from their medium and minimum counterparts (n=12; 86%);

    2. Less than a quarter of the women interviewed (n=3: 2 GP, 1 SNP; 21%) suggested that provisions be made for the maximum women to be accommodated at the regional facilities (albeit that provisions be made so that maximum security women are housed separately).

Two of the women interviewed also suggested that, even if the maximum security women are housed offsite, greater access to the regional facilities could be initiated. These themes are evident in the quotes below.

I don't think medium and maximum should be put together. (Tina)

I think like the places like [regional facility], if they had a house for maximum security - like where you're already [there] and you just got to work yourself out of the house - instead of working yourself out of a men's institution to a medium-serving facility. Because you're there, you see what privileges you're missing out on when you're in maximum. So it's an incentive to be minimum or to be medium. You got an incentive to do better. I think the same should go for special needs too, now that I think about it - if they had a house for special needs inmates - like these houses are general population or whatever, you know, this house is special needs, this house is maximum security - and you work your way out of maximum security. Like the better you do, the more privileges you get until you get to a medium security house. I think that would be appropriate. (Kerry)

Like the new institution and the rest of the new regional institutions across Canada - they were designed for maximum, medium and minimum security inmates - but where there were some problems out west, they had to fix that up a little bit and put them somewhere else - I really feel like there should be something set up where we could go to [regional facility] for our programs - although we're maximum security inmates - that we could go there and be involved with the rest of the girls, which would start the integration process before you even get there...Like get in a van, get down there and get involved with the other girls. (Alison)

Therapeutic quiet

The importance of having access to a therapeutic quiet space, typically in the form of a cell in segregation, was raised by a number of women across both population segments. Their reasons for accessing such space included the desire for quiet space to think and reflect, the desire for a "time out" from their usual routine, and the need for a safe and secure space when feeling emotionally overwhelmed and a danger to themselves.

There's not enough room in seg [segregation] for if you want to check in for quiet time, you know. If you just need a couple of days to yourself, you know, because when you're in population you got to get out for work. You got to do this and you got to do that, and if you don't go to groups, then they're right there going "what's wrong, what's wrong?" And sometimes nothing has to be just want some quiet time. (Kerry)

You need maybe another room to go to...a room where you could just go and maybe be by yourself and just have some personal space. Because I think we all need that. I think that being in each other's face all the time does raise the tension. (Alison)

Incompatible population issues

Throughout this report, the differences between women who are housed in general population and women who are considered as having "special needs" have become clear. As illustrated in the quote below, to varying degrees the women themselves differentiated the sub populations.

There's a lot of different types - walks of life - there's people who are normal population and there's people who are really special, special need. I'm considered as high special needs, and my even considered higher special needs than I am. And then there are people who are just low special needs. (Tina)

This differentiation of sub populations raised concerns in regard to accommodation and intervention. For the most part, women from each segment agreed with the physical separation in accommodation and programming of (at least two) sub-populations, often also expressing their frustration with situations of close proximity.

    There's so many different personalities - normal population they call it - are ones who can interact well with others and who get along well with others - the SNU [Special Needs Unit] is mostly for girls that have extreme behavioural problems - or a lot of emotional problems where they can't deal with being around a lot of people and stuff like that. The differences in crimes usually contributes to it too. I think that's basically the way - I mean, I don't think that they should give that up - I think that's really important - because I really feel like in order to be able to adjust and to be able to rehabilitate yourself you have to be in an environment that's going to be comfortable for you - if you're a SNU inmate and you're in population and you're all paranoid and you don't know who's going to beat you up or who's going to do this - it's going to cause problems whether anybody's beating you up or anything because you're going to be paranoid all the time - people are going to end up going to seg [segregation] - there's always going to be conflict there. (Alison)

    It would affect me if they [SNU women] were in [general] population - I mean, I'd never do anything to hurt them - you know, because they're not all there anyway. (Tanya)

    Well - when they [low functioning SNU inmates] are threatening each other and starting a racket and stuff - it really bothers me. It makes me feel like I want to get rid of the ones who are being bad - yeah, punch them out. (Tina)

For a variety of reasons, not always altruistic, women in the GP segment raised concerns that women in the SNP segment receive appropriate care and interventions.

I think that because a lot of times girls in SNU or whatever, they really can't do much for themselves - I find that even just the simple tasks like cooking, cleaning after themselves - you know, showering - different personalities, the total different personalities - I think they need a lot more patience, they need constant attention - you know, depending on other inmates to give them constant attention, to clean up after them causes tension, too - where there really is no need of it. (Alison)

Like they got people in here, in SNU right now, they really need help, you know, and they're not getting that kind of help. They need psychiatrists or psychologists and people to see them, and it's just not happening here. And then we have to live with these kind of people. Like, you know, my tolerance for getting along with crazy people is not that good. They really get on my nerves - crazy people - 'cuz [sic] I don't have tolerance for them. Some people do, but I don't...they're going yellin' and going on. It's irritating. They should have a place to themselves with somebody there specialized to look after them...Because I don't feel that that's our job. And I don't feel that like the staff and our nurses should have to be - you know, we might need them at a time and then they got to go deal with the crazies. I think that they should have their own section, their own staff, and their own nurse with them 24 seven [24 hours, 7 days/week] - just like a little crazy hospital...It's just irritating - it's very irritating, like sometimes you can hear them - banging and pounding and hollering and going on and it's irritating, and it bothers me like that. (Chris)

Certainly the above quote raises issues of stigma. Stigma against mental illness and cognitive limitations were prevalent in the interviews. The tolerance of women in the GP segment toward women that they considered as "special needs" was conditional and varied. However, most did acknowledge their lack of understanding regarding some of the behavioural manifestations.

Four of the six women in the GP segment (67%) commented on the negative consequences of some of the behavioural outbursts of women from the SNU, including themselves being locked down as a result of it.

If one's in trouble, everybody's in trouble. I think it should be an individual process...if it's an isolated incident, it should be treated as such, because I believe that causes tension, too. Because if there's a big hold-up and somebody's going to seg and normal population is locked down for hours and hours it causes tension between the inmates - because they're saying, well, we're locked in because of her. So, I think that's a big problem too. (Alison)

Well, usually if something is going on they'll lock us right in. I get very angry. I used to get very angry with [name of inmate] - she'd be over there [Special Needs Unit] with her fucking foolishness and we'd all get locked - one night we were locked in our rooms at eight o'clock for god's sake. I know that she does a lot of things for attention and it would really burn me knowing that she was just over there - why couldn't she just say to the guard - "look, I need a little attention, come talk to me?" (Tanya)


8.3 Supervision/Surveillance

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There are clear differences between the supervision/surveillance of GP segment women in Springhill Institution and P4W. As outlined in Section 8.2, the size and the physical layout of the Springhill unit means that the women are primarily within staff view. As well, staff also leave their office frequently to interact with the women. On the other hand, the physical layout of A Range at P4W is such that correctional officers primarily staff a post at the entrance to the Range and periodically conduct rounds.

While women from Springhill Institution in the GP segment recognize the tension that close quarters and increased supervision sometimes produces, they also articulated ambivalence about such supervision in light of some of the resulting benefits. In particular, they commented on the importance of a visible and constant staff presence in chipping away at the rigid parameters of the 'inmate code,' and altering the expression of negative behaviours (e.g. assaults, intimidation) and limiting drug use.

    Yeah, because there's less women [there's less violent situations], but also because, well there's no way in hell you'd get away with it. You could never strike someone on this unit and not be caught - it's such a small unit - and you know what I mean?...In such a small unit where the guards are right in your face - not right in your face all the time, but - the office is right there, the common room is right there - everything is right there. So if there's a problem - like I find for me, when I have a problem with somebody, I have to sort of force myself - it's almost like - I'm finding that I have to be - sounds like you almost have to be phony in a way - that's what I find - and that's not me at all - but that's what I find. Because if I don't like somebody and I let that be known, then the staff sees the tension - then it's all a big problem - and then they don't want both on the unit. So obviously one person's got to go to seg - and so if they're the one that speaks up - that's like what happened to me and [name of inmate] - I spoke up and said something and they shipped me right to seg - "Oh, you're causing problems, you're causing problems." You know what I mean? Like, so you're almost forced to get along with people. (Kerry)


8.4 Inmate-Staff Interpersonal Relations

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You have to realize that if you're going to be hollering and going on - nobody's going to hear you. (Alison)

Without a doubt, inmate-staff relations form the cornerstone of women's experiences inside the prison. The women have recognized and communicated that if this cornerstone is well-cemented-that is, if inmate-staff relations are open, genuine, consistent, respectful and empowering-there is, in turn, a positive impact on their attitude, behaviour and adjustment; the opposite, in turn, has negative repercussions.

The attitude that the guards have...that's why a lot of the inmates here that were problem inmates in P4W aren't a problem here. Just because of the simple fact in the way the staff are dealing with us. (Kerry)

Various considerations regarding staffing and inmate-staff relations were raised in Section 6.6 with respect to women identifying what is helpful to them when trying to reduce their security classification. Specifically, women raised the importance of positive staff communication and interaction, positive reinforcement from staff, and staff changes in behaviour consistent with inmate changes. These and other considerations are further explored here. All women commented on various positive and negative inmate-staff relations at each institution. It is important to note that the negative comparative references to inmate-staff dynamics at P4W, when contrasted with Springhill Institution, such as in the quote above, must be framed in the context of P4W prior to the introduction of the Regional Treatment Centre (RTC) staff and philosophy.10

Negative staff attitudes

Women in both the GP and SNP segments identified negative staff attitudes and behaviours as having significant repercussions for them. The women perceived negative staff attitudes as being disrespectful, intimidating, diminishing their sense of self, frustrating them and sometimes being deliberately provocative.

The negative [staff] attitudes frustrate me - they really frustrate me. Because it makes me feel like worthless, you know, and like that they're better than I am...I don't like their attitudes...these people here, "Oh, you're not going to work today?" - and they kind of just slam your door and lock you in your room. You ask them something, they bite your head off. It's just not - like, a lot of the way that you talk to a person, makes them feel a whole lot differently - the way you approach a person and the way you talk to them. If you're just going to snap at someone, well that's not going to make them feel very good. Yeah, it's our faults that we're in here, but so what, we're paying the price. They've got a job - if it wasn't for inmates, they wouldn't have a job. So they should take that into consideration too, and if they can't cut it, and they don't like inmates, well then go find another job someplace. (Chris)

There's been some negatives - ones that like yell at us, and swear and say "Oh, I wish I didn't have to be working on the SNU, I hate it here, I hate working with these people." Makes me feel bad, yeah - like we didn't necessarily - it's not our fault, really, that we're in the SNU, you know, don't take it out on us. They get mad - I don't like it when they get mad at us. (Melissa)

There were a few good ones - but a lot of them - I don't know if they were burned out or what - really bad attitudes - and just talking to them for a minute would set me off. They seemed to really enjoy that. (Tanya)

Ultimately, the consequences of negative inmate-staff relations can result in conflict and charges.

    When you get along with the staff, it means less charges, less conflict. I mean, if there's a bunch of ogres in there [staff office], you know - people would be mouthing off and you'd get charged and you'd never get reduced, you know. (Tanya)

Positive staff attitudes

    Respectful, serious screws [guards] - serious about how they treat people - out of respect. If they respect me, I respect them. If you want to treat me like shit, I'll treat you like shit. (Denise)

The women interviewed identified a number of factors that reflected and/or influenced positive staff attitudes, namely: open communication, positive reinforcement/encouragement, consistency, regular and dedicated staffing, and staff training; these factors are described below.

Open communication

Elements of open communication include: speaking, listening and hearing; respect; understanding; and empathy and caring. Indications of the practice of open communication are found in the type of conversational style (of staff and inmates), reduced conflict and non-authoritarian dispute resolution, and increased morale.

The women identified the presence of open communication as vital to the destruction of the invisible walls or barriers formerly integral to their maintaining a postured, opposing and uniform identity inside prison.

    A lot of it up there in P4W - it's the minute you walk through the door - it's them and it's us - and as long as there is that there - I mean, when you have a problem or something up there, like the guards don't come to you and say, "Well, how are you doing?" or "Is there a problem, can we talk about it?" But I do find here that they do make the effort to come and talk to you and ask you if there's a problem and give you different opportunities, "Well you can talk to psychology, or you can talk to us, or you can talk to someone else, or do you just want to be alone?" They give you the freedom to choose how you want to deal with it. And you know that if you deal with it the way that you usually deal with it - the way I usually dealt with it at P4W - you're going to segregation and that's up there it's so them and us - absolutely no communication - you were called on a last-name basis. Here it's different - just being called by your first name - it really makes a difference...I really believe that if I were still up there I'd still be the way I was. There would be no communication, I wouldn't be feeling like I was getting any help or I was getting anywhere - I'd be feeling like the time is just doing me. (Alison)

    When they don't yell at you - when they take an interest. The way they talk to you - like when they talk to you like you're a person, not an inmate - like just an inmate - they talk to you like you're a person. (Melissa)

    ...I think that I've been better since I've been down here - and I don't know what changed me - if it's environment or state of mind - my own state of mind - but, you know - they gave me a chance down here, you know. When I came in, they sort of put it to me like, "We don't care what you did at P4W. Yes, we've seen the record and yes, it scares us a little, but you've got a fresh start and we're not going to treat you as if you are a psychiatric case, or as if you're violent. You've got a fresh start, we'll judge you on what you do here. And what you do here will depend where you're going from here." That was very important - very, very important. And I found that the way that the staff treated me down here was a lot different than the way I was treated at P4W. And just the whole atmosphere was a lot different, was a lot less tense. You know, it was a smaller unit, the guards interact well with the inmates, inmates interact well with the guards. I mean, sometimes [names of two correctional officers], they'll come in our cell...sit down and talk to know, just shoot the shit, you know, that kind of relationship. And it makes everything a lot less tense. When I was in P4W, I was really paranoid, really paranoid of the staff...But it's different now...I used to think they were out to get me - I thought that. But it's different now. (Kerry)

    Sometimes she'll [CO2] say - like if I'm talking - let's say I felt like slashing - she'd come down to my room and talk to me - and before she'd go home she'd say,"Can you promise me that you won't do anything?" And I can promise her that I won't do anything. (Tanya)

A model of open communication between inmates and staff establishes a healthy standard the women can, in turn, adapt to other interactions. The following example, shows how this was done to successfully negotiate improvements.

    Inmate representative - that was a really hard thing to do [to establish] - like I had to go to endless meetings with the warden and the rest of the staff trying to stress how important it was to have an inmate representative...I think they really understand now how important it is and as long as we always have an inmate representative then if anybody's in seg or anybody's coming in - somebody's always going to get some help. And I think they were more or less looking at it in terms of the criminal beliefs and attitudes type thing - the inmate code. I don't think they were understanding, but I think a few talks and a little bit more communication helped them realize that it is very important to have a representative for the range. (Alison)

Positive reinforcement/encouragement

The emphasis women place on the presence or lack of positive reinforcement and encouragement from staff has already been addressed in Sections 6.3, 6.6 and 6.7. It is necessary to note it again here to underline its importance as an integral component of inmate-staff interpersonal relations.

...I think that if...maybe if somebody had to give a shit, you if somebody had even told me that I could [succeed], you know what I mean? That would have helped. (Kerry)

I think that if they [staff] see that you're trying to help yourself and they see that you're doing good, they give you credit for it...they'll take you aside or wherever and they'll just say, "we really think that you handled this really well and we're really proud of the way you're doing this or proud of the way you're doing that." I think that's a big thing, that makes a big difference. (Alison)


A lack of perceived consistency, in the environment at large, and in particular with respect to staff communication, induces insecurity and anxiety for the women. The majority of women (6 GP, 4 SNP, or 71%) stressed the importance of consistent staff messages pertaining to rules, behaviour and limits, and the resulting consequences.

Consistency - oh, my gosh - sometimes they just come up with things - like one guard may think one thing is - like a rule - is necessary, but then there's others who don't make a big deal about it. I'm getting used to it now. But at first it was really upsetting. Some of these rules that they've had - I don't know, I don't helps when they're more consistent. Then you know how to behave and you don't get upset if one person says something and the other person says no, you don't need to do that, do this - because then you don't know if you're doing something wrong and what if you get charged? Well, I think they should be more consistent, because it lowers the chance of me getting other charges without even knowing it - without like really intentionally trying to do something my way. Like, if it's consistent, like I don't argue with them. (Pam)

Importance of regular staffing

The women also identified the importance of the presence of regular staff on the units. Specifically, staff familiarity with the units was seen as vital to the development and maintenance of effective and sensitive interpersonal relations.

Some staff...don't know if we here or not. If we goes [sic] to the office and asks for a question - they yell at us and tell us in an hour's time to ask the same question. It's nice, because some staff do care about you. The only staff that cares is all the staff that works on this unit. (Nicki)

The regular staff here are good...Well, some of them are really caring - there are a few that I talk to all the time. It helps. I'll talk to them when they're going around. A couple of times [name of CO2] will come down to my room and talk to me like if I was upset, but then you get other ones - they really don't work here all the time - but they come in with these attitudes - but it's like the whole unit is upset when that person is in. (Tanya)

Staff training

A number of the women also stressed the importance of training staff with respect to women's issues and to increasing staff's understanding of, and sensitivity to mental health concerns.

The guards should have more awareness of mental health, because a lot of people who are in prisons are caught in the system...[instead] they should be put in a hospital somewhere and reintegrated slowly into society...I think they [correctional officers] need more training, more in-depth training and more understanding...I think they all should have psychology courses. (Tina)

I do find - sometimes - it's hard for them [staff] to understand why there's so many personalities - I find some of them don't know how to react to it. I feel more training on their part to know how to deal with the women here would really help too. Like a lot of them are really very good, but some of them truly hold a lot of the guard traits, and they don't realize that girls here have to be treated differently and with when incidents happen, when somebody's freaking out in their cell, or someone's slashing - they're [staff] sort of confused as to how to take care of it. (Alison)


8.5 Closer to Home

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The Task Force report, Creating Choices (1990), addressed the geographical dislocation of many women offenders from their families, cultures and communities. Specifically, the Task Force acknowledged that because they are relatively few in number, the majority of incarcerated federally sentenced women were housed in one central facility, P4W. As discussed earlier, among its recommendations, the report proposed establishing four regional facilities and a Healing Lodge so that women could be incarcerated closer to their home communities. In keeping with this vision of housing women regionally, provisions were made to accommodate the maximum security women in maximum security units within existing regional men's facilities. Given the small number of maximum security women and their disbursement across Canada, this, in turn, has posed some difficulties with respect to the range and scheduling of programming available to them.

The importance of serving their sentence in a facility "closer to home" was explored with the women interviewed in this study. Women were asked whether where they are housed is an issue for them. If given the hypothetical choice, would they choose being closer to home over being housed elsewhere with a larger group of maximum security women where, because of critical mass, a broader range of programming might then be available?

General population segment

  • The women in the GP segment were equally split with respect to whether or not serving their sentence in a facility that was "closer to home" was personally important to them. Furthermore, all six of the women in the GP segment stated that if a choice were necessary, they would prefer intensive programming opportunities to being "closer to home," particularly if such programming had time limits.

    I haven't been home since 1985, so it doesn't bother me about that. (Chris)

    I want to be close to home. They should have a place like RPC [Regional Psychiatric Centre (Prairies)] somewhere out East - even in New Brunswick somewhere. (Tanya)

    It's good to be close to your family and it's good to have family support, but I believe that if you truly have family support it really doesn't matter how far you go for programming - you know that your family is there for you. And I really feel that the programming is important...if you have to go a few extra miles to do your programming - I think that's your best bet. Because that's what's going to help you make it out there - it's going to help you make it out in society because without that - without the programming, okay, if you just have the family support, is great, but without the programming, too you still really aren't dealing with the things that got you here in the first place. So I think that if you have to go far for programs...if you truly want to change inside, and you truly changed your attitude - I believe that you would want to go. (Alison)

    Like it's complicated - being in your province, closer to home - or being somewhere where you're actually going to get some help. Then I think it should be somewhere where you're actually going to get some help...A lot of people might not feel the same way. When I was in a really bad head space I probably wouldn't be feeling the same way...But I mean, like if it were some type of treatment program or something...intensive, where you can go for six months, you know, intensive therapy and then go back to your home region - yes. (Kerry)

Special needs population segment

  • Six of the eight women in the SNP segment answered this question. Five of the six women (83%) stated that it did not make any difference to them whether or not they served their sentence in a facility that was closer to home. Most of these women spoke about being disconnected from their families. Similarly, five of the six women (83%) stated they would choose programming over being closer to home were such a choice necessary. Two women had already made that decision (voluntarily transferring from one maximum security unit to another).

    I like it up here better. (Denise)

    I really don't care where they put me. (Kim)

    It doesn't make much difference to me. (Susan)

    Not an issue for me - this was a voluntary transfer. I haven't much time for them [family] or anyone else...I want to make something of my life. (Tina)

    It would depend where I was going...I would go, but I'd be homesick...programs is more important - for a period of time. (Nicki)


8.6 MultiDisciplinary Mental Health Approach

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A multidisciplinary team approach has been implemented at both the women's unit at Springhill Institution and at P4W to help set the context for integrated inmate care. The foundation for a multidisciplinary team approach is collaborative staff consultation that relies on strong working alliances and the interactive exchange of information between all those involved. Staff with expertise in a variety of areas, such as administration, security, program delivery, case management, health care and mental health care share information and strategize together to develop a more holistic course for correctional intervention. For example, the interactive exchange of information between correctional officers and mental health staff can help shed light on the interplay between mental health problems and manifestations of problematic institutional behaviour. The multidisciplinary team approach will be explored in greater detail from the perspectives of staff, in Part C. Specifically, in terms of the women interviewed, their understanding that information relevant to their case management is shared amongst the team and their familiarity with staff team meetings are indications of the inmate's awareness of a multidisciplinary team approach.

Almost every woman spoke of the importance and effects of interactions with all staff they encountered in the institution. While correctional officers might have the most contact with women, interactions with other staff, for example, nurses, psychologists (and in P4W, Behaviour Science Technicians), CMOIs, unit managers, and even wardens were deemed as significant and sometimes monumental in women's experiences. The importance women attribute to various staff interactions supports a multidisciplinary mental health approach.

Well [name], she is a nurse here. She was the first person that actually tried to like - that I'd know - she was trying to help me. I started talking to her and opening up to her...anyway, she's a nurse, a real nice lady, and I went there for stitches one night - and the next day I seen her and she had this doll - it was the ugliest looking little fucking doll you'd ever seen - this little like yellow doll - like sunny kind of thing, you know - so we'd called her sunny. She had stitches in her arms and stuff like that and [name of nurse] said that anytime you feel like hurting yourself, she said hurt the doll - and every time I got upset, I'd, you know, tear a different limb off - until eventually she was like - whew disintegrated. And then when time went by and I realized, god, you know, I got upset this time and I didn't slash. (Kerry)

Medication...they're doing psychological testing on me here and I got my own - I got two nurses which are designated to me - I have a BST [Behavioural Science Technician] assigned to me - [name of psychologist] is assigned to me and I have [name of CMOI] and [name] my CO2 - and they all spend time with me each and every day and they all get together and plan about me...guards interact with me, spend time with me and I'm having a lot of time with my psychologist and I'm spending time - my BST is spending a lot of time with me. I think so far, I think [this place] is on the right track for inmates. That's my opinion. (Tina)


8.7 Community Release

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There are a number of ways that offenders return to the community. Conditional releases include escorted temporary absences (ETAs) and unescorted temporary absences (UTAs), but inmates classified as maximum security are not eligible for UTAs. As well, there is Day Parole, Full Parole (the parole eligibility date is generally at one-third of time served, but may be set by the judge at one-half of sentence at the time of sentencing), and Statutory Release (at two-thirds of time served). At warrant expiry offenders that have not had conditional releases are returned to the community without supervision restrictions. Whereas inmates must apply for both Day Parole and Full Parole, under Statutory Release, offenders are entitled11 to serve the last third of their sentences in the community under the supervision of a parole officer and must abide by any and all conditions imposed by the National Parole Board (conditions which are similar to those imposed on offenders under Day Parole or Full Parole supervision). These conditions could include, for example, residency at a community-based facility (including abiding by the rules and curfews of the facility), attending community-based programs or treatment, and abstinence from drugs or alcohol. Failure to comply with the conditions imposed could mean suspension and revocation of the Statutory Release and a return to the institution.

The women were asked questions regarding their community release and CSC's role in the community. The women identified a variety of potential roadblocks to their successful reintegration into the community, including lack of community-living skills (SNP segment), problematic interactions with parole officers, and repeating past patterns, such as substance abuse and involvement in abusive relationships. In addition, several women identified fear of recidivism; this fear in and of itself could prevent them from recognizing maladaptive patterns of behaviour and what they need to do to avoid them.

I really need to learn to live in the community - like different things I haven't done in a long time - like go grocery shopping, how to budget money, how to get a job and stuff and stay there - stay and work on a job. And I'm considered - classified - mentally disabled - basically I would need a personal case worker and how would I go about getting that. (Tina)

I'm always in trouble with the law...Gate [detain] me. (Denise)

I think the big thing, too, is parole officers - I know some of them can be really, really, really mean...but [they should] give you a little bit of leeway and I guess, have a little bit more respect for you and help you to realize that they're there to help you, they're not just trying to wait till you mess up and throw you back in jail. (Alison)

And I know like when I get out - I'm not really sure - because I'm only [gives age] - but somewhere down the line - whether it's five or ten years from now - I want to get into a relationship - that's why I need the woman's abuse program - to stay away from an abusive relationship - because I didn't know it back then - I was only 15 years old when I had that relationship. I really can't think of anything - [does] CSC have abused women's programs out on the street? That would be an idea wouldn't it? (Pam)

Okay - drugs increases risks. Drugs and associations - that will definitely increase my risk - and probably my emotional stability. What my emotional stability is like when I get out - those are things that are going to increase my risk. What can CSC do to help me when I get out? I don't know, but I think that one thing would be counseling - somebody to help me address my issues - and counseling that won't be costing me an arm and a leg - somewhere you can go and you don't have to pay all these big megabucks to see a psychiatrist. Sort of like a - even if it's just a check-in - but I think they definitely need to follow-up once you leave here, you know...And I got to think about the good things and let that drive me instead of thinking about the bad things and letting that bring me down. I think I need to stay straight - I need to stay clean from drugs - and I think that if I can do that I'll stay out of jail and I'll do good. (Kerry)

I'm scared that I'm going to get out there and fail again, you know - like, my mom will be so happy when I get out - and last time I was out of jail for three months - that's it - before I got this sentence. (Tanya)

9 The Maximum Security Women's Units, such as the one at Springhill Institution, operate as separate and distinct facilities within existing men's facilities. The women housed in these units are separated from the male population in terms of accommodation, programming and recreation. Therefore, the movement of male inmates is restricted when women are taken outside of their unit in order to access those facilities which are shared (e.g. gym, library).

10 There had been a plan to close P4W and transfer the women to a special unit at the Regional Treatment Centre (RTC) inside the Kingston Penitentiary (a men's facility). However, the initiation of a law suit by some of the women opposed to this involuntary transfer and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS), resulted in CSC agreeing to leave the women in P4W until such time as an alternative arrangement could be made which did not require transfer to a men's facility. Consequently, RTC staff who were to work on the unit were transferred to the P4W in June of 1997. During this time, they have taken over responsibility for programming and are working with correctional staff, many of whom where already present at P4W. Even in the short time period that the new staff and treatment approach have been in place, a shift in philosophy and management of this population of women has been noticeable.

11 There are some detention provisions which are exceptions to the Statutory Release process. Under the detention process, CSC must refer to the National Parole Board, the cases of offenders that it believes will commit either a violent offence or a serious drug offence before the end of their sentence. If the National Parole Board is in agreement, it can either order that the offender be detained in a penitentiary until warrant expiry, or release the offender into the community, but with the condition to stay in a community-based residential facility during the period of the Statutory Release.