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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Ten-Year Status Report on Women’s Corrections


Human Rights

The Arbour Report was clear in its findings that CSC did not follow the spirit, nor the letter, of the law at various times over the course of the incidents at Prison for Women in 1994. Further, the Report was explicit in its criticism that CSC’s response to the incidents of 1994, particularly at the management level, was an indication of a very serious problem – that the correctional culture reflected a lack of commitment to, and respect for, the rule of law.

Correctional systems are by their nature heavily dependent on rules, not just for the fair and humane treatment of offenders, but for the orderly conduct of a difficult social relationship. The strategic task is to integrate human rights considerations within that rule-bound environment in such a way that their rationale can be readily understood and their requirements intelligently met. This means that the first step towards ensuring the rule of law in human rights matters must be an explicit recognition that the correctional authority holds itself bound by international, constitutional and statutory obligations that have been accepted by the state.

Recommendations were made to address critical areas and guide CSC in developing a culture of rights at all levels of the organization. As an initial step in a progression of change, CSC specifically incorporated the rule of law into its Mission Statement: The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), as part of the criminal justice system and respecting the rule of law, contributes to the protection of society by actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens, while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control.

Several years later, the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), conducted its broad-based review on the delivery of correctional services to women, focusing on CSC’s responsiveness to the purpose and objectives of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The recommendations proposed by the CHRC further guided CSC in promoting and maintaining a culture that respects its human rights obligations.

Throughout the past decade, several initiatives have been undertaken as part of a strategic model for developing a culture of rights and respect for the rule of law throughout CSC.

In May 1997, a Working Group on Human Rights, chaired by Maxwell Yalden, who was on the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee at that time, was mandated to review CSC systems for ensuring compliance with the rule of law in human rights matters; provide a general strategic model for evaluating compliance within any correctional context; and present recommendations concerning the Service's own ability to comply and to effectively communicate such compliance.

One conclusion of the Working Group was that the essential rights of prisoners are adequately reflected in the CCRA and Regulations. The Working Group also noted that all parties involved in the correctional process must have a clear and common understanding of human rights, the purpose they serve and how they are applied in practical terms. One of the key outcomes from the Working Group was the establishment of a Human Rights Division (1998) based at CSC’s National Headquarters whose strategic objectives are to:

  • Cultivate and maintain a corporate culture respectful of human rights;
  • Identify human rights issues and priorities throughout CSC;
  • Increase the profile and purpose of the division within CSC and with human rights partners;
  • Increase the knowledge of staff and managers about their human rights obligations and responsibilities;
  • Improve CSC response to complaints filed with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

Prison life, by its very nature, compromises privacy, mobility, assembly and association rights. It removes and separates offenders from society, considerably restricting their contact with family, friends and the outside world. However, apart from the loss of liberty, offenders do not forfeit their right to be treated with dignity and humanity. These rights continue to be protected under the Charter. Basic rights to life and security of the person, health care, fair and just treatment and protection from discrimination and maltreatment remain and correctional authorities assume a duty of care and responsibility for ensuring the safety, integrity and welfare of offenders. Correctional authorities must provide for the basic necessities of life, including safe and secure accommodation, clean clothing and bedding, adequate food, drink, sanitation and washing facilities and the opportunity for daily fresh air exercise.

Key Accomplishments

Human Rights

  • Since 2000, general information on human rights was put on CSC's intranet system in order to increase staff understanding of human rights.
  • CSC human rights specialists regularly visit institutions to make presentations to staff on human rights in Corrections. Similar presentations have been included in the Deputy Warden and Assistant Warden orientation programs.
  • A human rights framework for decision-making was implemented in June 2005 in all institutions, including women offender institutions (Can I? May I? Should I? Model).
  • Internal audit frameworks have and continue to be adapted to ensure human rights issues are addressed across operational functions.
  • A standardized section on Human Rights has been prepared for inclusion in all inmate handbooks early in fiscal year 2006-07.
  • CSC and the CHRC are currently developing a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a framework to assist the CHRC and CSC in preventing discrimination and better managing complaints of discrimination.
  • CSC is currently developing a human rights monitoring tool. The tool, to be completed in fiscal year 2006-07, will ensure CSC’s compliance with domestic and international human rights obligations.

Restorative Justice and Alternative Dispute Resolution (RJDR)

  • RJDR Branch actively advises on and coordinates restorative justice and dispute resolution processes for offenders, victims, community members and staff.
  • CSC is conducting an Impact Analysis (November 2005-February 2006) of mediation and alternative dispute resolution approaches used by designated mediators to address offender issues, complaints and/or grievances prior to and/or at any stage in the formal grievance process.

Offender Redress

  • Regular information bulletins are provided on CSC’s intranet to staff to share lessons learned from offender grievances.
  • In April 2005, CSC developed a corrective action follow-up system to ensure that direction from the Commissioner’s delegate is completed within 30 days.
  • Offender Redress monitoring and reporting capacities have been automated and improved and are available on the intranet system. Specifically, the Corporate Reporting System provides detailed historical grievance information relating to women offenders.
  • CSC has adopted the Treasury Board policy principles on harassment and is applying them to allegations of harassment made by offenders.
  • The Offender Complaint and Grievance Manual has been updated to reflect these principles and to identify the appropriate investigative process to be followed when these allegations are made.
  • CSC has developed a Grievance Code Dictionary which identifies all relevant legislation and policy related to each grievance code, to improve the response process at all levels.
  • The Women Offender Sector conducts an analysis, twice a year, on the issues raised by women offenders via the complaint and grievance process. Key issues that emerge are followed up with the respective Wardens. Findings from the review of the 1st and 2nd Quarter of 2005-2006, note good timeliness in responses to complaints and grievances and the completion of thorough assessment of issues in responses.

Challenges and Next Steps

Timeliness of grievance responses continues to be a challenge in some regions at the second level and also at the third level. CSC will have eliminated its backlog of grievance responses by May 2006 through temporary staffing strategies. A review of the Offender Redress System was conducted to enhance and streamline the process and improve the timeliness of responses. Special attention was given to issues such as Claims against the Crown and multiple grievers. The review of the Offender Redress System has resulted in recommendations for more sustainable solutions to ensuring quality and timely responses to grievances; the recommendations are currently under consideration.

In terms of harassment cases, there is a lack of trained and certified harassment investigators who meet Treasury Board standards, and at times, this results in non-compliance with investigative requirements. CSC is considering amending the requirements for investigator credentials. Specifically, the proposal is that one member of an investigation team must have completed the Canada School of Public Service training on investigating allegations of harassment, with the remaining members having completed CSC’s internal national investigation training.