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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Ten-Year Status Report on Women’s Corrections


Cross-Gender Staffing Issues

While it may be reasonable to expect a considerable reduction in the personal privacy experienced by prisoners (Conway v. Canada, [1993] 2 S.C.R. 872), privacy is nevertheless part of a legal framework which requires protection of the dignity of individuals, even when they are incarcerated.

Commission of Inquiry into Certain Events at Prison for Women, 1996

There are no simple remedies to resolve the debate on cross-gender staffing issues in women’s institutions. It is a debate that has historically led to legal challenges within corrections on questions of personal privacy, dignity, employment rights and Charter issues. Offenders, correctional staff and stakeholders have expressed deep convictions as to the role that men should have in the front line positions at women’s institutions. These views have at times been at opposing ends of the continuum, yet share a common belief in principles of fairness, dignity and individual rights.

In 1994, CSC decided that recruitment for front line staff at the new regional women’s institutions would be open to both men and women. With that decision, staff selection was not to be based on gender, but rather on criteria directly related to duties, a demonstrated sensitivity to, and awareness of, women's issues, professionalism and an ability to work in a women-centred environment. A proactive staffing approach was established which focused on policies, comprehensive women-centred training and adaptations to the physical environment within the institutions. All of these elements contributed to maintaining a correctional environment that was respectful of women offenders’ right to personal privacy and dignity.

The Arbour Commission of Inquiry examined the role of men in women’s institutions. The report thoroughly considered the concerns and merits involved with employing men as front line workers at the regional women’s institutions. It was emphasized that the potential for problems to arise with cross-gender staffing must never be minimized given the very real and devastating consequences that could result from abuse in a carceral setting. The Arbour Report indicated that the success of CSC’s cross-gender staffing model would depend on the protocols in place, the quality of the staff selection process and training programs to address critical issues of privacy and dignity.

In response to the concerns expressed in the Arbour Report, CSC implemented a National Operational Protocol – Front Line Staffing to address operational issues surrounding the responsibilities of all staff, but particularly front line staff (Primary Workers). The Protocol incorporated issues such as staff announcing their presence in the living units and pairing of men and women staff.

The Arbour Report also recommended that one of the new regional institutions staff front line positions solely with women and that an independent monitor oversee CSC’s cross-gender staffing practices during the early years at the other institutions. CSC applied for, and received, a three-year exclusion order effective January 1, 1997, to enable the Service to hire only women as front line staff at Edmonton Institution for Women (EIFW). A second exclusion order was approved which expired in December 2001.

The final report of the Cross-Gender Monitor was released in April 2001. Eleven recommendations were put forth - the most significant of which departed from the First and Second Reports and recommended that men not be permitted to work in front line positions in the regional women's facilities and healing lodge. The Monitor indicated that one of the key reasons for the change in recommendation was CSC's poor compliance with certain elements of the Protocol and its lack of adherence to a women-centred selection process and training program.

From April to September 2001, CSC conducted extensive internal and external consultations with regard to the Monitor's main recommendation. Women offenders; staff; provincial, territorial, national, and international correctional jurisdictions; Citizens' Advisory Committees; Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies; the Office of the Correctional Investigator; Aboriginal and multi-cultural organizations; unions, the National Parole Board; the Department of Justice; the Canadian Human Rights Commission; and universities were consulted. The majority of parties were in favour of maintaining a percentage of men as front line staff in women's institutions. CSC did not apply for a renewal of the exclusion order given the results of its consultation process.

That same year, the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) commenced its extensive review which would include the issue of cross-gender staffing. As described in its report, the CHRC conducted a human rights analysis, using the three-part test, on the employment of men in front line positions. It concluded that “the Correctional Service of Canada must vigorously pursue other alternatives before impairing the employment rights of men in such a fashion”. They acknowledged that the National Operational Protocol – Front Line Staffing had “achieved some success in mitigating the negative effects of the presence of male guards on women inmates at risk, but it could be improved.” In addition to putting forth recommendations on the Women-Centred Training Program, the CHRC recommended that the Protocol be converted to a policy document and endorsed CSC’s decision to employ men in front line positions.

CSC accepted the CHRC’s recommendation and promulgated Commissioner’s Directive 577, Operational Requirements for Cross-Gender Staffing in Women Offender Institutions in March 2006. The new policy document is largely based on the 1998 Protocol and addresses requirements that must be met where we have men working in a women’s institution. The promulgation of Commissioner’s Directive 577 formalizes requirements for staff which will assist in bringing national consistency to these issues. Progress will be monitored through CSC’s accountability monitoring tools and in the long-term, an evaluation project.

The current staffing proportion at the regional women’s institutions reflects a manageable balance that is respectful of privacy and dignity issues, employment rights and Charter issues. As of February 2006, 18.5% of the front line staff (Primary Workers) at all women’s institutions are men; 81.5% are women. Generally, the proportion has been relatively consistent since the women’s institutions opened. An exception is Edmonton Institution for Women, where there is a higher proportion of women in front line positions (86.4% are women; 13.6% are men), given the exclusion order that was in place for several years. As well, at Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge and the women’s unit at the Regional Psychiatric Centre (Prairies) all front line positions are currently staffed with women.

Allegations of harassment are taken very seriously by CSC with each case investigated in accordance with harassment policy. It is important to note that while there have been cases of harassment that have been brought forth by women offenders against men in front line positions, there have not been cases of sexual harassment.

Key Accomplishments


  • National Operational Protocol – Front Line Staffing was promulgated in 1998.
  • The Protocol was converted to Commissioner’s Directive 577, Operational Requirements for Cross-Gender Staffing in Women Offender Institutions and promulgated in March 2006.
  • Operational requirements for cross-gender staffing are included in other CSC policies such as searches and management of emergencies.
  • CSC’s anti-harassment policy is applicable to staff and offenders and covers all types of harassment, including sexual harassment.

Primary Worker Selection Process:

  • The Primary Worker Selection Process uses a variety of tools to enable the Selection Board to seek out the best candidates from within, and outside of CSC. Selection standards are directly related to the duties to be performed and assess the candidate's ability to work in a women-centred environment (i.e., strong sensitivity to and awareness of women's issues; professionalism; etc.). The process includes a written examination on which a minimum standard must be met to proceed; an interview and reference checks.
  • A revised staff selection process was implemented in 2001 to increase efficiency and to standardize operational practices in hiring Primary Workers; in 2001, an updated Women-Centred Training Program was implemented to ensure continued integrity and adherence to the National Operational Protocol – Front Line Staffing.

Staff Training Plan:

  • Primary Workers are trained in case management, team work and crisis management.
  • All front line staff participate in a ten-day Women-Centred Training Program, as well as refresher training every two years. These courses address a variety of women's issues, including empowerment, communication and problem-solving skills, and the intrinsic issues of respect and dignity related to cross-gender staffing.
  • Primary Workers also participate in the Parole Officer Orientation training in order to fulfill their case management duties.
  • CSC is currently in the process of reviewing the Women-Centred Training Program to ensure it is updated as appropriate to reflect new aspects of the cross-gender policy.

Related Activities:

  • In 2000, CSC endorsed a renewed commitment to cross-gender staffing principles, including selection, training, and operational practices.
  • In 2003, CSC established a working group to analyze the operational issues that affect cross-gender staffing in women's institutions to inform policy development.

Challenges and Next Steps

CSC’s cross-gender policy, staff training and staff selection processes ensure that sufficient ‘checks’ are in place to protect the privacy, dignity and safety of women offenders while they are incarcerated. These mechanisms require our ongoing focus to ensure these principles are fully respected. In addition to regular reviews of staff training and staff selection processes, a Management Control Framework tool is currently being developed and will be implemented in the fiscal year 2006-07 to provide a monitoring tool for compliance with the cross-gender policy. In keeping with CSC’s commitment to the CHRC, an evaluation of cross-gender staffing practices will be undertaken in 2007-08. These mechanisms will contribute to our overall accountability framework in this critical area of women’s corrections.