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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Ten-Year Status Report on Women’s Corrections


Administrative Segregation

The findings in the Arbour Report indicated that CSC did not fully understand nor comply with existing CSC policy and/or the law in dealing with the women offenders in segregation during the incidents at Prison for Women in 1994. The Report also concluded that segregation was used in a punitive fashion because although many of the interventions were said to be based on "security", it was reasonable to suggest that few were needed to ensure security and, in fact, may have escalated some of the situations.

In its 2004 report, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, focused on follow-up from the Arbour Report and the recommendations of the Task Force on Administrative Segregation (1997), namely, the impact of segregation on women, the length of time a few women were spending in segregation and the use of segregation for Aboriginal and/or visible minority women, who spent longer time in segregation than non-Aboriginal women.

Administrative segregation is the most restrictive measure described in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) (1992). There are two types: involuntary segregation and voluntary segregation.

To ensure that inmates who must be kept from associating with other inmates for a limited period of time are segregated in a safe and humane fashion, subject to the least restraint necessary, in accordance with a fair and reasonable decision-making process, and are returned to the general inmate population, in the institution, or in another institution, at the earliest appropriate time.

Involuntary segregation: the institutional head may confine an inmate in involuntary administrative segregation if the institutional head believes on reasonable grounds that: the inmate has acted, has attempted to act or intends to act in a manner that jeopardizes the security of the institution or the safety of an individual, and that his or her continued presence in the general inmate population would jeopardize the security of the institution or the safety of any person; the continued presence of the inmate in the general inmate population would interfere with the investigation of a criminal or serious disciplinary offence; the inmate would be in danger in the general inmate population and the inmate does not request segregation.

Voluntary segregation: The institutional head may order that an inmate be confined in administrative segregation if he/she believes on reasonable grounds that the inmate would be in danger in the general inmate population and the inmate requests segregation.

In law, segregation is considered a status, not a location. That being said, institutions have specific areas called segregation units given that placing all offenders on segregation status in one area, ensures their daily activities and/or restrictions are managed more effectively. Often staff are assigned to this unit for a period of time so that they become very familiar with the offenders in this unit. The women in segregation are often in crisis and at risk of self-harm, therefore, staff assigned to this unit must demonstrate strong interpersonal skills to de-escalate situations.

Offenders in segregation are permitted to have their personal effects with them and participate in programs; however, these activities may be limited at times depending on the reasons for the segregation placement. For example, the Warden may have to restrict access to certain personal effects if an offender is at risk of using an item in a dangerous manner. For offenders who endanger others, there is also a need for temporary isolation from, or protection for, other inmates and staff.

The segregation capacity in a women’s institution is 3-4 cells. The cell utilities (sink, toilet with a privacy screen) are stainless steel, the doors have food slots and the furniture is secured to the floor. There is also a small exercise yard.

Administrative segregation is not a measure that is used lightly. There are legislative reasons and very clear processes for admission to, and discharge from, segregation, regular reviews of the inmate's status as well as very strict accountability mechanisms. All this ensures that an inmate's legal and human rights are respected. For example: inmates are informed of their right to legal counsel and they must be given reasonable opportunity to retain and instruct counsel without delay (within 24 hours); staff use logs to ensure all rights and privileges are respected; it is mandatory for staff to document various aspects of the placement; formal reviews of the status are done are done at 1 day, 5 days, 30 days and 60 days and then Regional Headquarters reviews individual cases of inmates who are in segregation longer than 60 days. Additional monitoring is also done through national audits and Management Control Frameworks, which are tools for institutional management to assess compliance. Both Regional Headquarters and National Headquarters have managers assigned to monitor and advise on segregation issues. Extensive training on law and policy commenced in early 1997 and is ongoing.

Management Protocol

Segregation tends to have a significant impact on women offenders. Generally speaking, women are linked to each other through relationships and the isolation of segregation, combined with the crisis or stress the woman is experiencing, can take its toll, particularly for those who spend long periods in segregation. For the most part, women who are placed in segregation, spend no more than a few days there.

There is a very small group of women who may spend more time in segregation. These are women who have intentionally hurt others. Currently, there are four (4) women (less than 1% of the incarcerated population) who have spent a longer period of time in segregation because they have seriously assaulted staff or taken staff or inmates hostage. Their actions all resulted in outside criminal charges.

Given their small number, our preferred approach to manage the risks and needs is to use the Management Protocol. It is a detailed framework, based on legislation and CSC’s segregation and transfer policies, to keep staff, other inmates, the public and the inmate herself safe. Safe reintegration into the general population is the other element of the Protocol, but can be a very gradual process, which may have an impact on the woman because of the length of time she is in segregation. Women on the Protocol have their situation reviewed weekly and have regular and daily access to various staff (Primary Workers, Behavioural Counsellors, Team Leaders, Psychologists, Elders, etc.). As soon as is safely possible, they also have access to programming and eventually other inmates and regular activities.

Key Accomplishments

  • CSC established the joint Task Force on Administrative Segregation, involving both CSC and external partners. The report, Task Force Report on Administrative Segregation – Commitment to Legal Compliance, Fair Decisions and Effective Results was submitted in March 1997 (available on the CSC website: As a result, national segregation policies were reviewed and updated and accountabilities were added; a Segregation Handbook was developed; institutional Standing Orders were updated to ensure that roles and responsibilities of key institutional managers with respect to segregation were clear; the Offender Management System was revamped and made consistent with the segregation review process; a national audit framework and tool was developed and implemented for segregation and the elements of this tool are now in the Management Control Framework; a three-day training course was developed by Legal Services (CSC and the Law) which included aspects of segregation and was delivered to managers throughout CSC.
  • A national Population Management Committee has been established, the mandate of which is to take a strategic role on population management concerns, including more problematic segregation cases, and inter-regional transfer options.
  • A joint committee with CSC managers and the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO-SACC-CSN) has been established to refine the Management Protocol used with women offenders, increase effectiveness to ensure staff and inmate safety and enhance reintegration possibilities.

Challenges and Next Steps

Creative alternatives to segregation, without having to transfer women to other regional institutions at a distance from their families and community support, are an ongoing challenge. As per CSC’s Action Plan on the CHRC report, a Segregation Advisory Committee (CSC and external members) is being implemented as a two-year pilot project at Edmonton Institution for Women starting in fiscal year 2005-06. At the end of the pilot, the results will be reviewed and evaluated for broader application of the project. For those women offenders who spend a longer period of time in segregation, CSC is committed to examining approaches that will increase opportunities for out-of-cell activities and interaction with others while maintaining the safety of all concerned.