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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Ten-Year Status Report on Women’s Corrections


Annex C

CSC Action Plan Update – March 2006

The 26th Report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts

November 2003

Public Accounts Committee Rec.
1. That Correctional Service Canada complete plans to house all women offenders in institutions that are entirely separate from institutions for male offenders, and that are designed specifically to meet their particular needs. ACCEPTED. (COMPLETE)

At the time of CSC’s response to this recommendation, the Regional Reception Centre in Ste‑Anne des Plaines, Quebec, was the remaining institution that housed women offenders in a separate unit within a men’s institution. This unit closed with the opening of the Secure Unit at Grand Valley Institution for Women (GVIW) in October 2004. With the opening of Fraser Valley Institution in B.C. in 2005, there are now six regional institutions, including a Healing Lodge, housing women offenders in separate institutions from men offenders. The operational framework for these institutions is based on the principles of Creating Choices, with gender-informed programs and services.

Women offenders requiring specialized intensive mental health treatment continue to be accommodated in CSC psychiatric centres (e.g., women’s unit at RPC Prairies) or in provincial psychiatric hospitals (e.g., women’s unit at l’Institut Pinel). These types of hospitals reflect community standards and are, therefore, geared towards the treatment of both men and women. CSC also has agreements with provincial psychiatric hospitals for short-term placements.

2. That Correctional Service Canada implement its action plan that addresses the recommendations contained in Chapter 4 of the April 2003 Report of the Auditor General according to the timetable set forth in the plan, and report the results to Parliament in its annual performance reports. ACCEPTED. (ONGOING)

In the summer of 2003, CSC developed and provided its Action Plan to the Auditor General to address the 11 recommendations. The Office of the Auditor General has since closed three of the recommendations based on our quarterly progress reports. Refer to Annex B for the most recent updates on the specific recommendations.

Progress on CSC’s results in these areas has been included in CSC’s Departmental Performance Report.

3. That Correctional Service Canada (a) develop a classification instrument based on the specific characteristics of women, and (b) draw up a schedule for reliability testing and the completion of validity testing of classification instruments used for women offenders to ensure that they are placed in an appropriate level of security and submit it to the Committee no later than 31 March 2004. ACCEPTED.

Gender-informed initial security classification tool (ONGOING):

In establishing the initial security classification of offenders, CSC uses the Custody Rating Scale (CRS) as one component of a comprehensive assessment process. This tool, the development of which is based on a research sample of male offenders, was also validated for women offenders. Nevertheless, in response to various recommendations, CSC also committed to developing a specific initial classification instrument for women offenders. A contract was signed in early December 2005 and work has commenced. The first product, a Literature Review, was received on schedule in February 2006. This is a multi-year project due to the complexity of instrument development and the need for lengthy field testing to gather sufficient data, given the relatively few women admitted each year. Field testing is expected to commence by December 2006.

Gender-informed reclassification tool (COMPLETE):

The security classification level of offenders is reviewed regularly during the period of incarceration, usually as part of the process of preparing for a release or transfer decision or in response to an incident. The gender-informed Security Reclassification Scale for Women (SRSW) was approved by CSC in February 2005. The three-year field test indicated that the SRSW is valid and reliable for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women. A “train the trainers” session was held in June 2005, at which time most sites started using the scale. It was implemented nationally in September 2005, and all reclassification reviews now use the application of the SRSW as part of the process.

Future plans include ongoing research to re-examine its reliability and validity for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women.

The schedule for reliability testing and completion of validity testing was forwarded to the Public Accounts Committee in April 2004.

4. That upon completion of the tests, Correctional Service Canada report the results and any actions taken in response to the outcomes in its annual performance report for the year in which testing occurred. ACCEPTED.

Gender-informed initial security classification tool (ONGOING):

As indicated in Recommendation 3, field testing is expected to commence by December 2006. A report on the results of field testing will be made available, and the action taken will be incorporated into CSC’s Departmental Performance Report.

Gender-informed reclassification tool (COMPLETE):

A report of the field test results is available from CSC’s Research Branch. The action taken (i.e., the national implementation of the Security Reclassification Scale for Women) has been an element of performance report in this area.

The results of the field test were reported in CSC’s 2004‑05 Departmental Performance Report.

5. That Correctional Service Canada conduct and integrate into its decision-making process a regular evaluation of its intervention programs for women to determine their effectiveness and report the results to Parliament in its annual performance report. The Service should also reference any adjustments to its intervention programs made in response to the evaluation findings. Correctional Service Canada’s evaluation should include programs to address the physical and sexual abuse suffered by offenders in their lives, and the accessibility of mental health support programs and the linkages between programs intended for women offenders within institutions and the community. ACCEPTED. (ONGOING)

All of CSC’s women offender correctional programs include a 'built-in' evaluation plan where offenders are assessed both pre- and post- program participation. The process requires sufficient data and sample sizes to properly assess programs. Given the few numbers of women for data analysis, these evaluations take time.

The Preliminary Evaluation of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) within a Women’s Structured Living Environment was completed in 2004, and an interim evaluation of the first two modules of the Women Offender Substance Abuse Program (WOSAP) was completed in 2005.

Abuse issues are addressed in WOSAP, DBT, and the Survivors of Abuse and Trauma program. A preliminary review of the Survivors of Abuse and Trauma program was conducted in 2001 and some refinements were made to the program at that time. Specific delivery modes vary for this program making it is more difficult to conduct an evaluation comparing outcomes. CSC will determine when a more comprehensive evaluation of this program can be conducted.

Institutional and community programs have been adjusted based on evaluation results, for example, allowing for flexible entry where appropriate (e.g., WOSAP and DBT). Other programs have been adjusted to allow for small group and/or one-to-one intervention.

CSC continues to work to refine these gender-informed programs and will report current and future program evaluation results as part of its performance report.


Continuity of service and early stabilization in the community is crucial to a woman’s chances for a smooth and lasting transition. Three initiatives in particular support this continuity of service:

  • The community Relapse Prevention and Maintenance Program, a complementary program to the institutional substance abuse program, provides for continuous intake for immediate access and is designed for individual as well as group delivery. It is woman-centred and holistic in nature and considers a broad scope of issues related to coping in the community.
  • A national pre-release program for women entitled, Social Integration Program (SIP) is currently under development with completion and staff training scheduled for 2006. This program will assist women directly prior to their community re-entry to focus on practical issues for early stabilization upon arrival in the community.
  • With a new national mental health initiative, resources will be available to the community over the next four years to strengthen the continuity of care for women offenders with mental health issues.

Progress on CSC’s results in these areas has been included in CSC’s Departmental Performance Report.

6. That Correctional Service Canada place an emphasis on the timely provision of, and full access to, adequately resourced programs that will assist women offenders to obtain skills relevant to the current job market and secure meaningful, rewarding employment following completion of their sentences. This emphasis must result in an employment strategy for inclusion in the Service’s Report on Plans and Priorities for 2004. ACCEPTED.

CORCAN, a Special Operating Agency within CSC, is a key part of reintegration. CORCAN contributes to safe communities by providing employment training and employability skills to offenders in federal correctional institutions. During 2005‑06 (to February 12, 2006), 380 vocational certificates were earned by women offenders in the following areas: food safety, WHMIS, first aid, forklift safety, traffic control, employability skills, computer training construction safety, construction framing, and fundamental shop skills (compared to 361 certificates earned in 2004‑05).

CSC committed to a series of actions to address the employment need area for women offenders in the institution and in the community:

Employability Skills Program Pilot (COMPLETE):

A gender-informed version of the national Employability Skills Program was developed in January 2005 as delivered at Joliette Institution and Fraser Valley Institution as part of a pilot project, the results of which were positive. Modifications were made to the program based on the feedback from staff and the participants, as well as a review of literature on women offenders and employability. Full implementation of the National Employability Skills Program in women offender institutions was approved and will be ongoing.

Employment Needs Survey (COMPLETE):

CSC’s Research Branch completed an employment needs survey for both incarcerated women and women on conditional release: Employment Needs, Interests, and Programming for Women Offenders, Report #R‑166, 2005, which will be posted on the CSC website‑ Some of the findings are as follows:


  • The majority of incarcerated women (57%) present some need for improvement in the employment domain.
  • Women offenders have high educational needs (66% do not have a high-school diploma).
  • 58% of incarcerated women offenders do not have a skill, trade or profession to help them find a meaningful job.
  • An overwhelming 72% of women were unemployed at the time of their arrest and almost half (47%) were unemployed 90% or more of the time.


  • Majority of women in the community (65%) reports that their current jobs were related to their work experience prior to incarceration and has little association between their current employment and past institutional training.
  • Women in the community report interest in accessing employment services like those that provide links to employers, résumé writing, interview skills, job-search techniques and their perceptions that no employment services are offered or available for them.

National Employment Strategy for Women Offenders (ONGOING):

The information derived from the above-noted survey served as the basis for CSC’s development of a National Employment Strategy Framework for women offenders. Consultation will commence in April 2006.

Initiatives related to offender employment skills were included in CSC’s 2004‑2005 Report on Plans and Priorities (RPP). With the completion of CSC’s comprehensive Employment Needs Survey on women offenders, the 2004‑2005 RPP identified gender-focused employment programs as a priority to enhance the employability of women offenders through skills building.

7. That following implementation of programs geared towards the provision of marketable skills for women offenders, Correctional Service Canada regularly evaluate the success of its efforts and report the results to Parliament in its annual performance reports. ACCEPTED. (ONGOING)

Progress related to the national employment strategy framework for women offenders and newly implemented programs will be included in CSC’s Departmental Performance Report.

8. That Correctional Service Canada work with its counterparts in the provinces and territories and with non-governmental women’s advocacy organizations to develop a shared approach to addressing the needs of female offenders under community supervision and discuss the results in its annual performance reports to Parliament. ACCEPTED. (ONGOING)

There is a federal/provincial/territorial Heads of Corrections’ Female Offender Sub-Committee. The Sub-Committee currently has members from all jurisdictions with the exception of Quebec. One of the current co-chairs of this Sub-Committee is the Director General, Women Offender Sector, CSC. More recently, the Sub-Committee has developed a proposed work plan, based on their discussions at their November 2005 meeting and December 2005 conference call, which will facilitate the exploration of joint initiatives amongst the various jurisdictions. The issue of programs for women offenders and accommodation issues for women offenders in the community are standing agenda items for information-sharing amongst the Sub-Committee, with action items outlined in their proposed work plan. In terms of community-based programming, the Sub-Committee will, for example, focus on opportunities for bi-jurisdictional partnerships for mental health programs and services, programs for Aboriginal women and substance abuse programs for women.

Non-Governmental Stakeholders:

Stakeholders are regularly part of advisory committees for program development; in addition, focus groups with women offenders are utilized to obtain their input.

Consultations have also occurred with stakeholders in various national and regional forums. Some of these have been of a formal nature, e.g., national consultations in each year since 2003 and regional ones throughout that time period. Others have been of a less formal nature such as workshops/meetings in regions (e.g., Atlantic Community Residential Fair, November 2005; and Community Strategic Planning Committee, Ontario, January 2006) with CSC regional and national representatives meeting with advocacy groups. The exchange of ideas and input to policy development is considered important to continue on an ongoing basis.

9. That Correctional Service Canada in each region together with its provincial and territorial counterparts and community stakeholders establish targets for the significant improvement of community accommodation for women in conflict with the law and make every effort to secure adequate public funding to meet those targets. ACCEPTED. (ONGOING)

The issue of accommodation for women offenders in the community is a standing agenda item for the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Heads of Corrections Sub-Committee on Female Offenders. This includes information-sharing amongst the Sub-Committee, with action items outlined in their proposed work plan.

While the accommodation needs for women and the mechanisms to address them vary across the country, the Women Offender Sector has assumed, in the past year, a centralized role of monitoring, supporting and promoting regional strategies to address the needs in the community.

A centralized database is maintained of beds available by type (structured houses, hostels, private home placements, satellite apartments, treatments centres and as well as bed utilization data (updated monthly). A representative has been identified in each region for ongoing liaison with the Women Offender Sector about the changing accommodation needs and strategies to address them.

In the past few years, progress has been made throughout the regions in increasing the overall bed capacity for women, noting in particular:

  • increased bed capacity in Atlantic Region including Nehiley House, a new facility in Halifax, and the Elizabeth Fry Society apartment in Sydney, both for women exclusively;
  • the significant expansion of 40 more beds in Pacific region in the past year; and
  • a contract for Aboriginal women established with Anderson Lodge in Vancouver.

Improvements to the funding model have helped to keep smaller, traditional halfway houses open, and progress has occurred in diversifying with alternative models in certain locations.

10. That Correctional Service Canada work closely with interested Aboriginal communities to help them develop the capacity to participate in reintegration efforts for Aboriginal women offenders, and report progress in its annual performance reports to Parliament. In so doing, that Correctional Service Canada, together with other federal government departments, its provincial and territorial counterparts and Aboriginal organizations, explore new means of providing the necessary financial resources to those communities wishing to undertake the responsibility of assisting in the reintegration of women offenders. ACCEPTED.

Aboriginal Women Offenders

The consultation to establish a new National Aboriginal Strategy for men and women offenders has been completed and action plans have been developed specifically for women offenders.

CSC’s ongoing work has involved a number of initiatives to help develop the capacity of Aboriginal communities to participate in the reintegration efforts of Aboriginal women offenders:

Programs for Aboriginal Women

The Aboriginal community is represented on the National Programs Advisory Committee for consultation on the development of programs for women. A first meeting took place in February 2006 to discuss an Aboriginal substance abuse program for women offenders. Other institutional, culturally-specific programs are currently offered to Aboriginal women offenders to help prepare them for release, including Spirit of a Warrior and Circles of Change.

Circles of Change focuses on issues such as: process of change; increasing knowledge of Canadian Aboriginal culture; communication styles; self-esteem and self-care issues; problem-solving skills; woman’s role in her family of origin; healthy and unhealthy relationships; and social injustice.

The Spirit of a Warrior Program is divided into four sections: introduction; childhood; adolescence; and adulthood/alternatives to violence. The program consists of an in-depth intervention that is intended to reduce the risk to re-offend with violence, reduce risk to relapse, improve family relations, improve ability to communicate with others, improve coping skills, and adapt Aboriginal culture and spirituality into all aspects of behaviour and everyday life. It is expected that with a more informed base of traditions, Aboriginal women will be better able to manage their lives.

Aboriginal Community Development Officer (ACDO)

Ten ACDO positions have been staffed across the country to create links for both men and women offenders with Aboriginal communities, raise Aboriginal community interest in participating in the correctional process, and initiate Section 84 agreements. As well, an Aboriginal advisory committee has been established in the Pacific Region to explore Section 81 and 84 agreements for women offenders.

An ACDO meeting was held in March 2005 at OOHL and the development of sustainable strategies to enhance the use of Section 84 agreements for Aboriginal women offenders was discussed.

Section 84 reviews

A review of Section 84 arrangements was completed which included the input from the institutions and community. On the basis of this review, the DCW provided the Wardens of women’s institutions with some of the best practices that should be considered by all institutions:

  • compulsory information sharing session with all Aboriginal offenders;
  • ensuring interviews at Intake with an Elder, Aboriginal Liaison or representative from the Native Sisterhood; and
  • incorporating a statement with respect to Section 84 in all Correctional Plans.

Institutional awareness sessions have been held at various women’s facilities to increase both staff and inmate knowledge about Section 81 and 84 provisions. The Parole Officer Orientation Induction Training Program now includes a component on Section 81 and 84 agreements.

The Aboriginal Initiatives Branch produced a “Section 84 Conditional Release Planning Kit” that contains considerable information on the Section 84 process. The electronic version of this kit was sent to the Wardens of the women offender institutions in April 2005. Hard copy kits were distributed to all institutions in November 2005, advising that a copy should be given to all offenders at Intake who indicate an interest in this type of release process. This will increase the awareness of staff and offenders of this release option.

Progress on CSC’s results in this area will be included in CSC’s Departmental Performance Report.

11. That all staff working with federally sentenced women receive in depth and ongoing training on sex, race, and disability sensitisation. ACCEPTED. (COMPLETE)

The Women-Centred Training Program sensitizes staff to various issues, including sexism, racism, disability, sexual orientation, physical and/or sexual abuse, self-injurious and suicidal behaviour, addictions, mental health and Aboriginal traditions and spirituality. The content of the National Operational Protocol was incorporated into the Women-Centered Training, and necessary adjustments will be incorporated with the conversion of the Protocol to CD 577 (refer to Recommendation 5(a)).

CSC provides Women-Centred Training to all staff who work in women’s institutions, in accordance with the National Training Standards (mandatory training):

  • Ten-day intensive course for all Primary Workers and Assistant Team Leaders who work on the front line with women offenders;
  • Three-day version covers the same topics and is designed for staff who periodically work with women; and
  • One-day version for managers which provides an overview of the ten-day and three-day courses. Managers are assessed through the selection process for their knowledge of, and sensitivity to, women’s issues. As a result, it was felt that the intensive training need not be mandatory for these staff.

In addition to the Women-Centred Training Program, all CSC staff must participate in a mandatory Anti-Harassment Training Workshop which promotes an awareness of, and sensitivity to, human rights issues and a better understanding of each person’s role in the prevention, identification and resolution of harassment complaints.

12. That Correctional Service Canada establish an external body to monitor the grievance system in place for federally sentenced women. COMPLETE.

CSC has no plans to introduce an external body to monitor the grievance system at this time. CSC’s focus will be on making improvements to enhance and streamline the grievance process and improve timeliness of responses.

A number of other independent mechanisms are in place to monitor issues raised by inmates, including the Office of the Correctional Investigator who also monitors the grievance system.

CSC’s Women Offender Sector conducts an analysis, twice per year, on the issues raised by women offenders via the complaint and grievance process. Key issues that emerge are followed up with the respective Warden. A copy of the complaint and grievance analysis is forwarded to the Office of the Correctional Investigator.