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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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FEDERALLY SENTENCED ABORIGINAL WOMEN IN MAXIMUM SECURITY: WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PROMISES OF "CREATING CHOICES"?

6 CSC Staff's Perspective

Note: Interviews were conducted with 8 staff members. Many of the questions were related to specific Aboriginal women, as a result, some staff were interviewed more than once because they were working with more than one prisoner. For this reason percentages are not provided.

The Reasons Women are Classified as Maximum Security

  • All of the staff interviewed stated that drug addition is an obstacle as substance abuse is still occurring in some of the institutions. The staff stated that the women will do anything to get drugs. Some have visitors bring in the drugs or hurt themselves to be transferred to the Regional Psychiatric Centre on an emergency basis.

  • Most of the staff stated that violent behaviour towards them and other persons are grounds for classifying a prisoner as maximum security. One CMOI indicated that violent behaviour, being disruptive, being an escape risk, and having mental health problems were all grounds for being maximum security.

  • Most of the staff stated that incarcerated women must recognize authority and be able to accept "no" as a response and face their problems without excuses.

  • Most of the staff believed that Aboriginal women cannot be helped if they do not listen or do not follow the rules. Remaining charge free is an indicator that Aboriginal women are adhering to rules and regulations.

  • Some staff stated that there were times they did not support an Aboriginal woman for reduced security if they believed she was not ready for a lower security environment, or if the woman received behavioural charges and did nothing to help herself reduce her security level.

  • Some staff stated that some of the Aboriginal women are institutionalized, and therefore a move from a maximum institution like the Regional Psychiatric Centre to a medium security facility like the Healing Lodge needs to be done gradually and cautiously.

Intake Assessment and Correctional Plan

  • All of the staff stated that the risk level of an Aboriginal woman is determined by the Custody Rating Scale through Community Assessment, Police Report, Psychological Reports and the CPIC. Psychological reports address the mental health of the Aboriginal women, while health care determines the physical health of the individual. In some institutions, risk was determined by the previous institution's intake assessment. The custody rating increased for some of the Aboriginal women because of their young age, the seriousness of harm caused and the severity of the offence.

  • Most of the staff stated that the assessments should be individually based and that progress summaries be more flexible. Progress summaries occur every 3 months and are used as a temporary measure for transfer eligibility.

  • Some staff indicated CO2's should be involved in progress summaries and activity reports, and that the positive behaviour of Aboriginal women be highlighted.

  • Some staff stated that Aboriginal women needed to work on personal and emotional needs in their Correctional Plan. Some staff believe Aboriginal women have not addressed their emotional problems.

Programs and Delivery

  • Most of the staff stated that Aboriginal women needed "Living Skills" and "Anger Management" to deal with their spontaneous behaviour so they do not over react to situations. An Aboriginal based "Anger Management" program would be useful so that the women can get past the racial barrier and learn about anger from their own cultural perspective.

  • Most of the staff stated that more intense programming could help the Aboriginal women. The needs of the Aboriginal women should drive the program requirements, not vice versa.

  • Most of the staff indicated that well-trained, qualified facilitators are needed to facilitate programs. They indicated that security staff should not be program facilitators, for this causes behaviour problems with the prisoners.

  • Most of the staff stated that Aboriginal women need to refrain from drug use and take intensive substance programs and treatment that will address their drug addictions.

  • Some staff indicated that some Aboriginal women sabotage core programs ("Substance Abuse", "Cog Skills" and "Anger Management") by not co-operating with facilitators. Staff recognizes that some program facilitators are intimidated by the Aboriginal women.

  • Some staff indicated they usually support Aboriginal women to lower security, by encouraging them to complete their programs. If the Aboriginal woman took steps but did not complete them, some staff reported they would still be supported and encouraged to work towards reducing their security level.

Risk Level for Re-Incarceration

  • All of the staff interviewed believed a return to alcohol and drug abuse increased the risk for Aboriginal women to re-offend. Many Aboriginal women were addicted to hard drugs, such as cocaine. Staff identified substance abuse as the main criminogenic factor for most of the Aboriginal women.

  • More than half of the staff stated that getting involved in abusive relationships (as a result of having low self-esteem) or returning to abusive relationships because of fear, contributes to the women re-offending. Staff indicated that Aboriginal women need to stay away from abusive relationships and "street" associates.

  • Most of the staff stated that in order for Aboriginal women to address their need factors, they must take programs to lower security levels in their Correctional Plan. They need to be serious about the programming: learning, practising, internalizing and demonstrating change. CSC can assist Aboriginal women by identifying the programs required, pointing out problem areas and providing intensive counselling (including psychological counselling).

  • Most of the staff stated that the Aboriginal women have to lower their security level by learning new social skills and having more open communication and positive interaction with staff and the other prisoners. Those Aboriginal women who are associated with gangs need to disassociate themselves from that lifestyle in order to reduce their security level.

  • Most of the staff stated that some Aboriginal women required extensive "one to one" counselling. They also recommend intensive treatment for some of the Aboriginal women for alcohol and drug abuse.

Obstacles in Reducing Security Level

  • All of the staff interviewed indicated the biggest obstacle for Aboriginal women was remaining charge free and controlling aggressive behaviour. Staff indicated that Aboriginal women "act out" to stay in, or return, to the institution where common-law husbands are incarcerated.

  • Some staff stated that there should not be a discrepancy between security level review for males (every 12 months) and the security level review for females (every 3 months). Staff felt that every 6 to 12 months would be more appropriate and a better gauge for prisoner's behaviour. The ideal would be every 6 months with progress summaries in between.

The Institution and/or Environment

  • Some staff stated that the Aboriginal women should have their own separate facility (a woman's institution) with a courtyard and multi-level security. Staff indicated that the Aboriginal women should serve their sentence in a "maximum run" women's institution where procedures are followed and movement is monitored to reduce safety risks.

    Some staff suggest that the Regional Psychiatric Centre be expanded as it is too closed-in, or the Aboriginal women have their own separate facility. The staff indicated that the women's unit was too small for the nine women incarcerated there (the unit is designed to hold as many as twelve).

  • The staff indicated that the Aboriginal women who are not motivated should be separated from those who are. This would eliminate muscling and/or sabotaging each other.

  • Staff stated that the set up of the facility should be living units with wide open communal areas (not cells on a range). The institution should operate like a maximum security institution with a pass system. "Lock up" when not at work and prisoner movement more controlled. Staff believe that this might motivate Aboriginal women to attend programs and obtain counselling in order to reduce their security level and transfer out.

  • The type of institution where staff would like Aboriginal women serve their sentences are:
    • in a very secure women's institution;
    • in a facility similar to the Northern Treatment Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario for a duration of six months or more; or
    • in a Regional Treatment or Psychiatric Centre.

  • Some staff felt that CSC could help the Aboriginal women by ensuring that common-law partners are not housed in the same institution, as the women find it difficult to concentrate on their personal growth. Aboriginal women have been charged numerous times for yelling at the male prisoners across the yard. The women need to be in a separate women's institution.

  • Some staff felt that Aboriginal women should serve their sentence in a women's treatment facility that is multi-level in security. This would allow for experiencing decreased or increased security without having to be transferred from facility to facility in different provinces. The facility should have nurses and a psychiatrist as the primary workers.

  • Some staff identified a need for the Aboriginal women to have their own cultural/Aboriginal room.

Family and Community Support

  • Most of the staff stated that returning to old friends and associates and communities would increase the risks for Aboriginal women re-offending. Many Aboriginal women have no support system upon release other than old friends, old relationships and associates.

  • Most of the staff stated that the Aboriginal women need to follow the conditions of their release and that CSC needed to provide supervision and support for the Aboriginal women. They suggested a half-way house with living skills, programs on survival of child abuse, family violence, life changes, and Elders to meet their cultural needs.

  • To avoid re-incarceration, some staff believed that Aboriginal women have to take responsibility for their actions and have faith that they can make it in the community. Extensive programming in self-esteem building would teach Aboriginal women to have faith in themselves. They need to take advantage of community resources and support systems, and remain active in Aboriginal activities and events. Some staff felt that CSC needed to provide access to more support systems and integrate the women back into society gradually.

  • Some staff indicated that CSC needs to assist the Aboriginal women in finding employment. Aboriginal women need to learn some marketable trade and gain some employment skills to assist them in their search for employment upon release.