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Warning This Web page has been archived on the Web.

Report on announced inspection in Canada by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales:
Grand Valley Institution for Women

Healthy prison summary

  HP1 All inspection reports carry a summary of the conditions and treatment of inmates, based on the four tests of a healthy prison that were first introduced in this inspectorate's thematic review Suicide is everyone's concern , published in 1999.
The criteria are:

Safety inmates, even the most vulnerable, are held safely

Respect inmates are treated with respect for their human dignity

Purposeful activity inmates are able, and expected, to engage in activity that is likely to benefit them

Reintegration inmates are prepared for their release into the community and helped to reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

  HP2 Throughout the report, the results from the survey completed by the women at Grand Valley Institution for Women are compared with the aggregated responses from prisoner surveys carried out in 12 women's prisons in England since April 2003, which we call the comparator. References are also made to results from Nova Institution for Women in Truro, Nova Scotia, which we also inspected. The full survey results are at Appendix 3.

HP3 The open living arrangements at GVIW had created a positive environment that allowed women to exercise some choices in their lives.   This appeared to have led to low levels of self-harm.   A new inmate-led orientation program was operating well. However, many women in our survey reported feeling unsafe and we found some evidence of 'muscling'. There was no structured support for women before they moved to live in unstaffed houses. The very controlled environment in the secure unit was in stark contrast to the good, relaxed conditions in the rest of the institution.

  HP4 Although not under the jurisdiction of the Correctional Service Canada (CSC ), women arrived at the institution in leg irons irrespective of their security risk.

  HP5 Although the admissions procedure was process-driven, an officer engaged with new women well and in our survey 79% (significantly better than the English comparator of 67% 4) said that they had been treated well or very well on admission. More sensitive assessments, such as for risk of self-harm, were carried out in appropriate privacy and strip-searching was carried out sensitively. All new arrivals received a free 15-minute telephone call. One problem for some new arrivals was insufficient funds to manage for the first few weeks in detention, which led to debt.

  HP6 There were no specific first night arrangements other than to place vulnerable women in the segregation unit and others on one designated but unstaffed house that did not provide sufficient support. A recently appointed orientation team of inmates met new arrivals on the day of their arrival but not during the admissions process. In our survey, only 73% of women said that they had something to eat on the day of their arrival.

  HP7 In our survey, 47%, significantly worse than the English comparator of 32%, said they had felt unsafe at GVIW. Many said they felt unsafe in their houses. There was almost an acceptance among women and staff of the inevitability of muscling as part of life in the institution. Forty-three per cent, against an English comparator of 24%, said they had been victimized (insulted or assaulted) by another inmate. There had been no internal survey or monitoring of women's experience of muscling but there was some monitoring of requests for house moves in case they were related to intimidation. Muscling as a specific subject was not routinely discussed at the inmate committee. Anti-harassment procedures and training were mainly related to staff employment issues. There was no clear reference in the inmates' handbook about muscling. Informal resolution, house moves or segregation were the chief responses when cases were identified.

  HP8 Levels of self-harm were very low and many women found support from others. However, a common response to those most at risk was to place them in segregation cells. There was no clear monitoring of the incidents or the use of strip-clothing and no alternative strategy. While there was some good ongoing support from specialists, particularly for residents of the structured living environment (SLE), there was little multidisciplinary involvement in the management of those at risk. Not all recommendations from an apparent self-inflicted death in 2003 had been implemented.

  HP9 Many security observations were recorded individually but monitoring of trends was limited and a computer system to analyse intelligence was not used because of lack of staff time. With no staff presence on houses there was relatively little interaction, and there was a reliance on good staff knowledge of individual women rather than knowledge of communal activity. It was known that some incidents of violence and intimidation in the houses were not reported.

  HP10 Most use of segregation was for short periods, with an average time of only three days. Segregation was properly authorised and supervised. Activities in the segregation unit were limited. There was little interaction and segregated women were routinely spoken to through the door hatch, through which they were also served meals and medication. The published objective of segregation was to provide a non-punitive, full regime for women out of association from the general population but this was not reflected in its operation.

  HP11 The restrictive conditions in the maximum secure unit contrasted greatly with the open environment and culture of the rest of the institution and appeared to sit uneasily with the principles of Creating Choices . In accordance with the CSC classification tool some women were reclassified as a response to poor institutional behaviour rather than risk of escape or risk to the public, and there was an over-representation of Aboriginal women. At the time of the inspection, activities and programs for women on the secure unit were more limited than usual because of a recent serious incident. However, access to dialectical behaviour therapy, psychologists and behavioural counsellors was good. Education was limited and delivered individually, even though the women associated together. The women felt involved in the development of their targets and, although primary workers were supportive, the operation of the unit meant they had very limited interaction with the women.

  HP12 Disciplinary matters were well managed but there was a potential for inconsistency in approach between use of informal resolution by primary workers, which needed to be monitored. There had been an increase in the number of disciplinary hearings. A detailed review of compliance with disciplinary procedures had been undertaken and good support was provided to women after hearings.

  HP13 There was little use of force, either planned or spontaneous, and staff were well trained in the procedures. Planned use of force was video recorded, which was a good safeguard. The routine use of leg irons for some women was not an acceptable practice.

  HP14 The institution drug tested by urinalysis 5% of the population with 10% positive results in the year to date. The response was usually a serious institutional charge with typically a fine of $15. Although the location of the site made it vulnerable to drug drops, this was not apparently a problem.


HP15 Relationships between primary workers and women were generally respectful with some good contribution to reports, but there were there was little interaction and positive role modelling outside formal programmed time.   Living conditions were very good. Spiritual needs were generally met. There was no evidence of adverse outcomes by race or ethnic background but there was no regular monitoring to demonstrate this. Improvements were needed in the handling of complaints and in the delivery of healthcare services.

  HP16 Women gave us some mixed accounts about how they were treated by officers but 79% in our survey said they were treated with respect by most staff. However, 35% said they had been victimized (insulted or assaulted) by a member of staff and complaints about the conduct of staff were the biggest single category.

  HP17 There was limited interaction between primary workers and women on the houses and therefore little role modelling. The impact of staff recently changing to wearing uniforms was unclear. Only 23% said they met their primary workers in the first week, which was significantly lower than the 46% at Nova. However, most of the women said they found their primary worker helpful or very helpful and we saw good written contributions to casework reports.

  HP18 The open layout of the institution provided a relatively normal living environment. The houses were of a good standard, well looked after and personalized. There were no problems with access to showers and baths or laundry and cleaning facilities. Efforts had been made to redecorate the houses but the house for new arrivals was in the worst condition and was a poor introduction to GVIW.

  HP19 The canteen worked well and the special needs of Aboriginal and black women were catered for through their support groups. In our survey, 90% of respondents, compared with only 17% in the English surveys, said they had access to canteen within 24 hours of their arrival.

  HP20 Apart from those on the secure and segregation units, all women catered for themselves. Each house was supposed to have a nominated cook but some did not. Some women reported difficulty in getting food on their first night. There was little training in cooking but 74% of respondents to our survey said they found the food good or very good. The communal arrangements meant that some women found it difficult to get culturally appropriate food. Supplies could be supplemented with food grown in the garden.

  HP21 In our survey, women said that they were not able to access complaint forms easily. They were available from the inmate committee office but this was not always open. About a third of women, similar to Nova, said that they had been made or encouraged to withdraw a complaint. Of the complaint forms we sampled, some had no answer and had been withdrawn without explanation. Responses to complaints were of variable quality and few apologies were given when complaints were upheld. Timescales for answering them were too long but there was an emphasis on resolving matters informally. There was no local analysis of data for management information and quality assurance.

  HP22 There were two Christian ministers, with active volunteer participation, and sufficient services. The secure unit had no agreed cover and was relying on the goodwill of one of the chaplains. Facilities appeared adequate for services. An elder led Aboriginal spiritual meetings, provided pastoral care and advocated for Aboriginal women. Some recent improvement has been made in meeting the spiritual needs of Aboriginal women but regular sweat lodge ceremonies were not provided.

  HP23 The population was made up of 63% Caucasian, 22% black, 11% Aboriginal and 3% Asiatic inmates. Although there was no evident discrimination, there was no regular monitoring to assure this. Support groups were run for black and Aboriginal women. Complaints with a racial element were not separately identified and there was only limited promotion of positive race relations or cultural diversity. There were eight foreign national women, all of whom spoke English. Liaison with the immigration authorities was good.

  HP24 At the time of the inspection, there was one mother and baby. Healthcare was provided in the prison and a qualified social worker acted as an advisor to the prison and supported the mother. Admissions procedures were based on the best interests of the child. However, there was no wider assessment of the appropriateness of the institution's facilities or the risks posed by other women. There was no formal child development plan, and the baby's room was not decorated in a child-friendly way.

  HP25 Women were dissatisfied with the healthcare service and 73% of survey respondents said it was bad or very bad. Staffing shortages were impeding effective delivery. We found some inadequate systems and waiting lists were poorly managed. Procedures for managing and administering medication had insufficient safeguards. There was a high use of prescribed medication and most women were able to keep their medication in their possession. The mental health service was psychology led and dealt with women in crisis. There was no sharing of information between psychology and psychiatrists. Women were able to see a wide range of specialists, either in the community or in the institution.

  Purposeful activity
HP26 Most women had good free movement throughout the site. Educational provision was reasonably good with many women involved. The majority of women were fully occupied, but there was room for developing work opportunities and skills training further, particularly for long-term women and lifers. There were plans for new opportunities in a computer workshop. Some new work release opportunities were being promoted to women. There were some good, organized leisure activities.

  HP27 There were good opportunities for recreational and purposeful activity. Women had regular periods of leisure time each day but opportunities for those in the secure unit were limited. We were told that this was partly as a consequence of a very serious incident there not long before the inspection. Some well-organized activity took place, including an excellent craft session that involved many women. There was also some educational recreation, although many of these were very recent initiatives.

  HP28 Educational needs were well integrated into the correctional plan. Approximately 49 women were participating in education, with 56 places available. The main emphasis was on adult basic education to complete high school and there had been progress in getting women through their grade 12 diploma. Many believed that the education skills they achieved would help them on their release. Some distance learning was also provided. Many knew who to contact to help them to arrange or continue further education on release but few did so. There were no links with the local community college, or any schooling provided using temporary absences.

  HP29 In our survey, 58% of respondents, higher than at Nova and against an English comparator of 44%, said they went to the library and resource centre at least once a week. However, the library was not open at weekends or in the evening. Only 25% said they could get access to a newspaper daily, which was only a local one. A good range of books covered diverse needs but there was only one computer.

  HP30 Each woman was allocated to activity and employment within two weeks of arriving and there were sufficient work opportunities to complement education and programs, which were the main activities. Most of the work was cleaning and maintenance with few more stretching or realistic jobs. This was unsatisfactory for women such as lifers who remained at GVIW for some time. There had been some previous short-term CORCAN (the CSC employment and training service for offenders) projects and plans were under way to provide a 'computer for schools' workshop. There were no formal vocational qualifications available. Forty-seven per cent of respondents to our survey said they felt their job would help them on release compared to 60% at Nova. We welcomed recent initiatives to encourage participation in work release opportunities.

  HP31 Physical activity was not linked to health promotion and was too reliant on self-motivation. There was a gym and cardio-vascular equipment but no induction about how to use the equipment. The weights room was cramped and the equipment old and in a poor state of repair. There were few organized team games. The gym was closed between 8am and 4pm, when women were supposed to be involved in other activities. However, this meant that some such as house cooks could not use it at times convenient for their work.

HP32 An Ontario strategic reintegration committee aimed to meet the needs of women offenders but there was no strategic overview at institutional level to coordinate some of the good reintegration work which was taking place. Comprehensive correctional planning led to good involvement in high quality correctional programs but there was a need to ensure that these were appropriate for Aboriginal women. The SLE provided good therapeutic support. There had been recent improvements in meeting casework targets including for parole. A woman-centred drug program operated and met the needs of many women. There was insufficient support for survivors of abuse and trauma. More priority needed to be given to maintaining links with family and receiving help with jobs on release.

  HP33 There was a relatively new strategic reintegration committee aimed at meeting the needs of CSC women offenders in the Ontario district. A number of local committees met to discuss aspects of reintegration but there was no clear strategic overview at institutional level to pull their work together. There had been some historical problems with casework but these had now been addressed, with considerable data collection and some analysis to help this. This information was well used operationally but did not inform the reintegration strategy.

  HP34 Women's offending behaviour needs were fully assessed at intake and all assessments had been completed within the target period in the current fiscal year. In our survey, 61% of women, against an English comparator of 26%, said they were involved or very involved in the development of their correctional plan. Plans were comprehensive and identified women's prioritized needs, including women who had returned to the institution after a revocation of their license. The gender applicability of some of the assessment tools and their appropriateness for Aboriginal women were being reviewed. Past problems with delay and quality of plans and reports appeared to have been addressed with the appointment of an additional parole officer who provided training and mentoring to primary workers. Reports were quality assured.

  HP35 The correctional programs offered generally met the prioritized needs of the population with few on waiting lists. Women were positive about programs and 64% of respondents to our survey, compared with 26% in English women's prisons felt that their correctional programs would help them on release. The SLE provided an impressive therapeutic milieu with a multidisciplinary approach not available elsewhere in the institution. It provided good specific treatment interventions and outreach support to previous residents as well as members of the general population. The survivors of abuse and trauma program was not meeting the full needs of the population. Only 15 women had been able to access individual therapy in the last contract year and 26 women remained on the waiting list. We welcomed the intention to provide a new contract for group therapy but there was a need to ensure that the provision was sufficient to meet need.

  HP36 Security classification was as much about institutional behaviour as risk. There was little differentiation between medium and minimum security levels. There were too few minimum-security houses and few opportunities for women to experience open conditions. GVIW managed the minimum-security Isabel McNeill House in Kingston but there was little promotion of that facility for suitable women.

  HP37 Twelve women were serving a life sentence. The cases we sampled showed that the correctional planning had been done thoroughly. There was frequent contact between managers, caseworkers and lifers but arrangements for annual reviews did not fully involve the women lifers as part of the casework team. There was little opportunity for a full 'career' with meaningful employment for women who would spend many years in same institution. Until recently the policy was that all women lifers were held in maximum security for the first two years of their sentence unless it was agreed nationally that exceptional circumstances applied. We were told this had happened to some women within the two year period. This power had just been devolved to wardens.

  HP38 There were difficulties in obtaining appropriate identification documents as part of preparation for release. Identified family links and employment needs were not always addressed, but there was some use of escorted temporary absences to support contact with family. There was good community support work, including circles of support, which needed to be extended, particularly to cover the Toronto area, and to take account of the special reintegration needs of Aboriginal women.

  HP39 Visits facilities were good. These included the private visits facility, which was well used for visits and personal time out. Family days were popular. The visits area was pleasant and there were plenty of opportunities for visits at times accessible to families and friends. However, the system for checking visitors meant there were delays and many were not allowed because they had criminal records. Too many closed visits were used, including on a drug dog or ion scan indication alone.
  HP40 There was no formal provision for financial assistance for families who could not visit because of the cost, and no specific family support to encourage and facilitate family contact, although chaplaincy volunteers helped to bring some visitors. Women reported some difficulties with telephones, including delays in getting numbers authorized, the expense of the call-collect system and a lack of privacy.

  HP41 A good woman-focused drugs program involved many of the women and met their needs. It was run by a local therapeutic community and some women made good links that helped them after release. In our survey, 62% of respondents, compared with 31% in England, said they thought the substance misuse program would help them on release. Eleven women participated in the intensive support unit but, mainly due to staffing difficulties, there was little testing or ongoing support.