Correctional Service Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Common menu bar links

Women Offender Programs and Issues

Warning This Web page has been archived on the Web.

Ten-Year Status Report on Women’s Corrections


Management of Security Incidents in Women’s Institutions

A key focus of the Arbour Inquiry and Report was CSC’s deployment of an Emergency Response Team comprised of men in response to the incidents at Prison for Women in 1994, and the ensuing strip searches of the women offenders involved in those incidents. Following the 1994 incident at Prison for Women, and prior to the Arbour Inquiry, revised strategies and policies were being developed to ensure effective and humane crisis management for security incidents involving women offenders. New policies to improve our response were in place by the time the first institutions opened in the Fall of 1995, which coincided with the Arbour hearings and remain in place today. In women's institutions, the first response to a situation requiring pre-planned use of force (a plan that is developed should use of force become necessary) is always a women-only team. As well, women’s institutions have women-only Emergency Response Teams and no men are permitted to participate or witness a strip search of a woman offender.

All procedures related to this policy shall be carried out in order to promote a safe and secure environment, while respecting the rule of law.

Crisis management and use of force are issues of particular concern with respect to fairness, dignity and human rights. A society is often judged by the way it treats its prisoners. Section 4 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA, 1992) legislates the principles that govern the use of force by CSC. These principles include: that the protection of society be the paramount consideration in the corrections process; and that the Service use the least restrictive measures consistent with the protection of the public, staff members and offenders.

It is crucial to manage crises in a way that respects individual dignity of staff and offenders, maintains the safety of staff and offenders, uses appropriate levels of response, provides staff and offenders with the appropriate post-incident support, and ensures accountability.

Crisis management generally describes a formal process for dealing with security incidents, including planning in the event that force might be used. All institutions must develop Contingency Plans in order to be prepared for any kind of major crisis, be it offender-driven or a natural disaster (earthquake, fire, ice storm) or related occurrence. The purpose of these plans is to prepare for and guide emergency response action. They also include established procedures and memoranda of understanding/protocols for external assistance from local police (limited to perimeter security and isolation and containment of the situation), hospitals and fire departments or other CSC institutions should they be required. In preparation for the opening of the regional women’s institutions, and over the past decade, CSC developed and continues to refine strategies and policies to ensure an effective response to crises.

Crisis management has several inter-related components. Since 1999, planned interventions are guided by the Situation Management Model which is described in CSC policy and addressed in staff training. This model provides for increasing levels of intervention, but also includes the very important element of allowing crisis managers and the Emergency Response Team (ERT) to step back and reassess if a situation changes mid-stream. The ERT is a highly trained group of staff that is called upon when a situation requires an emergency intervention to respond to an incident in the safest manner for staff and offenders. Prior to an ERT intervention taking place, a detailed plan, including a back-up plan, is developed so all team members are well prepared.

The focus of the regional institutions, and more particularly the staff training, is to ensure that staff have the knowledge about the individual woman with whom they are working (through both experience and specialized, mandatory training), and the necessary skills to recognize and respond appropriately to defuse potentially difficult situations before they escalate into a serious incident (generally referred to as non-violent crisis intervention). In the event that staff arrive on the scene when a situation has already escalated, they must also have the knowledge and skills to be able to intervene quickly and appropriately, ensuring both their own safety and that of the offenders involved.

Incident responses and procedures need to be effective while adhering to the philosophy inherent in Creating Choices. A graduated approach, using increased interventions as the situation warrants, is the goal. This approach is supported with monitoring and accountability mechanisms. Most crises in women's institutions involve one offender and entail a cell extraction, i.e., moving her from one area to another. Throughout the intervention, staff speak to the woman using her first name, rather than surname. After isolating and containing a situation (so no one can be hurt), verbal intervention and support, and later more formal negotiations with trained crisis negotiators, are used as the first response. This continues for as long as the situation remains contained and the offender is safe, as time does not drive the process.

Following the negotiation stage, a women-only ERT may be called upon to physically intervene. At that time, the ERT will provide clear verbal direction to the offender as to how the team will proceed. There will be an opportunity for the offender to do what is requested of her on her own (allowing her a choice), prior to them entering the cell/area and bringing the situation to a conclusion. For example, in pre-planned use of force situations, an offender will be advised that she will be sprayed with a chemical agent if she does not comply with orders; subsequently, she is given an opportunity to comply.

In women's institutions, the majority of front line staff (Primary Workers) are women, though there is a small percentage that are men. CSC policy mandates that: a first response in a pre-planned use of force must be a women-only team; men cannot frisk search (pat-down) women offenders; and, men cannot participate in or witness a strip search. This latter policy, in fact, goes further than both the recommendation in the Arbour Report and the CCRA, which both specified that men could conduct a strip search in the event of an emergency. However, if a spontaneous incident occurs, men can physically intervene with offenders to stop an incident, but then women staff will assume responsibility for the physical interventions as soon as possible.

Every pre-planned use of force or ERT intervention is videotaped, usually including the lengthy negotiation. This provides context for the situation in which the use of force is eventually used. Videotaping is done in order to have a visual record to ensure both offender and staff safety and policy compliance with forceful interventions and cross-gender issues. These recordings, and all reports accompanying a use of force of ERT intervention, are then reviewed by the Warden (or designate), as well as staff at the regional and national levels. Interventions with women are reviewed by staff in the office of the Deputy Commissioner for Women. Interventions in treatment centres or involving health issues are reviewed by staff in the office of the Director General, Health Services.

Key Accomplishments

  • In 1994, an interim policy was implemented that no men could participate in or witness strip searches of women even in an emergency situation. This policy goes further than what both Justice Arbour recommends and the law indicates.
  • In 1995, a new Crisis Management Course was developed and offered to staff across the country. Updated versions are offered and the course is now part of the National Training Standards which outlines mandatory training.
  • In 1995, all operational polices were reviewed to determine requirements for the women's institutions and a women-specific policy on use of force and crisis interventions was developed.
  • In 1995, non-violent crisis intervention training was introduced. The course focused on learning to identify the various stages of a crisis and using stage-appropriate interventions to de-escalate the situation; and, deconstructing a situation after it is over (lessons learned for staff and to help offenders understand their patterns). These elements have since been incorporated into various other CSC approaches: the Situation Management Model used to respond to incidents; use of force policy; ERT training and interventions; and post-incident stress management debriefings (for both staff and offenders).
  • In 1995, Contingency Plans were developed and put in place prior to the opening of the first women’s institution, and are reviewed annually. They detailed how help would occur from outside agencies or men's institutions if it was required. All Contingency Plans were in place by the time the other institutions opened.
  • By 1996, women-only ERT’s were in place for regional women’s institutions.
  • In 1997, training on CSC and the Law (developed by Legal Services) commenced nationally. It has since been incorporated into the Correctional Training Program for new Correctional Officer recruits as well as the New Employee Orientation Program (for non-Correctional Officer recruits).
  • In 1997, the CAPRA decision-making model was implemented. The acronym refers to: client; acquiring and analyzing; partnership; response; and, assessment. The CAPRA model facilitates the acquisition and analysis of client and situational information, and the consideration, through partners, of response strategies. Continual assessment of the effectiveness of the response is an integral aspect of the CAPRA process.
  • In 1999, the Situation Management Model was implemented to assist staff in determining the best response options for managing security situations the purpose of which is to exercise the least intrusive measures while protecting public safety.
  • Detailed directions were provided to the women’s institutions in July 2003, and were updated in July 2005, specific to use of force interventions with pregnant offenders. Health Services and Psychology staff are consulted and involved in the decision-making process in these cases.

Challenges and Next Steps

Monitoring of the management of security incidents in ongoing to ensure interventions are carried out in a manner that respects fairness, dignity and human rights. CSC will continue to improve crisis management interventions and skills through training, video review of incidents and specialized interventions. The goal is to decrease the frequency, duration and seriousness of incidents, increase effectiveness of interventions and ensure staff, offender and public safety.