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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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

Section 2: Environment and relationship

Residential units
Expected outcomes:
Inmates live in a safe, clean and decent environment within which they are encouraged to take personal responsibility for themselves and their possessions.

2.1 The open environment, the good quality accommodation and the level of responsibility women were allowed provided a relatively normal living environment. Women had free access to baths, showers, laundry and cleaning facilities. They could wear their own clothes, buy new clothing through outside shopping and a set of clothing was provided for women due to be released.

  Accommodation and facilities
2.2 GVIW promoted an open and independent environment, with women living in individual houses that could accommodate up to 10 women (eight in the SLE). Nine houses were designed in a horseshoe around a communal garden and gazebo, facing the administration centre. One of these was designated for new receptions, one was the mother and baby house, and another was the intensive support unit. All other houses were intended for medium- security women. At the time of our inspection, all nine houses accommodated both medium- and minimum-security women. The newer SLE and two further houses accommodating only minimum-security women were located beyond the horseshoe.

2.3 All houses were extremely well designed, light, well furnished and well ventilated. Most living accommodation had recently been redecorated and was in a good state of repair. A few houses, including the reception house, were awaiting redecoration. Apart from the SLE, all houses were based on a similar design: a communal living area, dining room and kitchen, four single bedrooms and a private bathroom downstairs, with four single and one double bedroom (originally intended to be used as a den) and a private bathroom upstairs. Washing facilities in the minimum-security houses had been designed to meet the needs of women with disabilities. All houses had a laundry and all medium-security houses contained an additional storage room downstairs. The SLE had similar well-designed facilities on a single level, with full facilities provided to a maximum of four women on each side of the unit.

2.4 In our survey, 76% of respondents, against an English comparator of 61%, said it was normally quiet enough to sleep at night.

2.5 All women had keys to their own house and room. Observation panels were not obstructed but shams were used to provide the women with some privacy.

2.6 There was one telephone on the ground floor of each house and one on each side of the SLE. The positioning of these provided some privacy for callers and telephones were accessible throughout the day and evening. An internal telephone (see paragraph 1.17) was also provided on each general house for use in an emergency and emergency call bells were located in each bedroom in the SLE. Only 44% of respondents to our survey said emergency calls were responded to within five minutes.

2.7 Each house had a communal television, while the SLE had one on each side of the unit. Women could also have personal televisions in their rooms and could apply to the chair of the inmate committee to borrow one for six months if necessary. Televisions were allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

2.8 The inmate committee met bi-monthly. Meetings were minuted, with action points followed up at the next meeting. However, its purpose was called into question by the fact that the committee had been instructed to obtain managers' agreement before adding issues to the agenda.

  Hygiene, clothing and possessions
2.9 All women had 24-hour access to the kitchen and private bathroom facilities. They were responsible for maintaining the cleanliness of their own houses and cleaning materials were provided. All accommodation facilities were extremely clean and the women made efforts to personalize their communal living areas to create a more homely environment.

2.10 Although only 79% of respondents to our survey, compared with 91% in the English surveys, said they could get free sanitary products when required, these were provided to each new arrival and could be replenished free once a month. Each woman received a fortnightly allowance of $4, which could be supplemented by other funds, to spend on hygiene items from the canteen.

2.11 New arrivals were also issued with a bedding kit or could request their own bedding. Women were responsible for laundering their bedding. Mattresses were generally in good condition. Blinds were installed in all living areas.

2.12 Women could wear their own clothing and buy additional items through outside shopping (see also section on reception). A set of clothing was provided for women due to be released. The women could use laundry facilities on their house units freely. Washing powder/liquid was provided and women could also buy laundry powder through the canteen.

2.13 Items not held in-possession were held in storage in admission and discharge (A&D). One storage box was allocated to each woman and two for those with a life sentence. Applications to access stored items were made to the A&D officer. This could be done at any time, although seasonal clothing could usually be changed only twice a year. Staffing pressures had led to delays in processing property and requests in late 2004/early 2005; only 25% of respondents to our survey said they could access their stored property when required. More recent allocation of staff support to A&D had allowed the A&D officer to reduce the backlog.

  Action points
2.14 Women should be able to exchange their clothes at least four times a year.

  Good practice
2.15 The housing for minimum- and medium-security women and the relatively free movement within the boundaries of the institution provided a relatively normal living environment and allowed women to exercise some control over their day-to-day lives.

2.16 Women due to be discharged were provided with free release clothing, which was particularly beneficial to those with no private savings and/or who had been in the institution for some time. This allowed women to maintain some dignity and relieved them of one financial burden immediately following their release.

Mothers and children
2.17 There had been 13 children with their mothers in the institution since it opened. All the children had left the prison when their mother finished her sentence so there had been no planned separations. Admissions procedures were thorough and based on the best interests of the child, but did not involve an appropriate child protection assessment of the environment. A qualified social worker supported women before and after their baby arrived, including those who did not bring the baby into the prison.

2.18 Pregnant women due to give birth during their sentence and those who had children before starting their sentence could apply to have their child with them. National guidelines allowed for children to live full-time in custody until they were four years old, and part-time until they were 13. All applications were decided giving primacy to the best interests of the child. No applications for older children to live in the institution had been made at GVIW and no women who had given birth prior to their sentence had applied to have their child in the prison with them.

2.19 Thirteen children had been allowed to stay with their mother in the seven years that GVIW had been open. The most children in the prison at any one time had been two and the maximum length of stay for a child had been 13 months. There was one mother with a six-month old baby in the prison during the inspection. We did not consider the facilities and arrangements suitable for post school-age children on a part-time or full-time basis.

2.20 Mothers and children in the prison were located in one of the normal residential houses, with slightly larger rooms. They used the same bathing and kitchen facilities as the other women living in the house. There was no child-appropriate wall decoration in the communal areas; this was limited to posters on one notice board in their shared bedroom and a mobile over the cot. Apart from their bedroom, there was no specific area dedicated to the baby or child.

2.21 Pregnant women lived in normal residential houses throughout the institution and were provided with ante-natal care by the healthcare services or the local hospital when necessary. They were seen by the manager responsible for the mother and child program and all aspects of the selection criteria and facilities were explained.

2.22 Babies were born at the local hospital and women remained there until medically discharged. New mothers returning to the institution could use the private family visits facility for a few days to allow her some privacy and quiet. Women who decided not to keep their baby in prison were provided with emotional and practical support to cope with the separation.

2.23 The application process required a full set of assessment reports from the mother's primary worker, parole officer, community parole officer, psychologist and a medical assessment. An assessment report was also commissioned from the local child and family services in Kitchener as to the best interests of the child. It was expected that this department would liaise with the mother's home child and family services before making this assessment. In assessment reports we saw, the Kitchener child and family services specifically stated that their assessment did not extend to confirming any child protection arrangements in the institution. We were assured that the institution carried out its own assessment of child safety provision.

2.24 There was no assessment of the facilities or the safeguards in place equivalent to that which would be undertaken for other state-maintained residential facilities for babies. There were no local child protection arrangements within the prison agreed with the local child and family services.

2.25 A qualified social worker acted as adviser to the prison and provided support and advice on parenting for pregnant women and mothers. The mother in the prison reported that she had weekly meetings with the social worker and found her advice and support very helpful.

2.26 In the course of arranging for a baby to come into the institution, an assessment was undertaken to assess the suitability of the other women who would live in the same house. However, babies could be taken to most areas of the institution without any formal child protection safeguards.

2.27 There had been three child protection referrals to the child and family services since the institution had opened. All of these had been investigated by the local department and none of the concerns had been founded.

2.28 A cot, mattress, bedding and age-appropriate chairs were provided. All other items required for the baby were expected to be provided by the mother, who was not entitled to state benefit for the baby. After the birth, mothers could have a 12-week period off work when they would receive their normal pay; an extension to this period could be agreed, allowing the mother to continue to care for her baby. Although there was a supply of baby clothing, the mother was expected to provide food, toiletries and clothing and consequently relied heavily on the support of her family.

2.29 The mother was required to nominate a woman to look after her baby when she was at an appointment or for up to two days should she have a medical emergency. She was encouraged to maintain complete control of her baby, including deciding who could hold the child. Arrangements were made for babies to spend 72 hours each month with suitable close family members to develop their family relationships and to accustom the baby to wider experiences outside the prison. For a baby who was over nine months old, arrangements had been made for the child to attend the local child care nursery in order to develop social and other developmental skills.

2.30 No additional training, such as child protection, baby resuscitation or child development, was provided to primary workers or healthcare staff.

  Action points
2.31 The facilities and arrangements for the care of children in the institution should be subject to the same auditing and inspection arrangements as other residential child care facilities in the community.

2.32 Child protection protocols should be agreed with the local child and family services and an individual child care plan should be developed for each child in the prison.

2.33 Women caring for their babies in custody should have access to the same state financial benefits as mothers in the community.

  Housekeeping point
2.34 Wall decorations should be appropriate to support the sensory development of babies and children.

Staff-inmate relationships
Expected outcomes:
Inmates are treated respectfully by staff, throughout the duration of their custodial sentence, and are encouraged to take responsibility for their own actions and decisions. Healthy prisons should demonstrate a well-ordered environment in which the requirements of 'security', 'control' and 'justice' are balanced and in which all members of the prison community are safe and treated with fairness.

2.35 Women had mixed views about their treatment by staff but relationships observed were generally respectful. There was relatively little informal engagement between staff and women inmates and limited opportunity outside scheduled activity time for staff to model pro-social behaviour. We questioned the recent decision that primary workers should wear uniform.

2.36 We observed reasonably good and relaxed relationships between staff and women inmates. However, women in groups were not so positive about their treatment by front line staff. Stakeholders (a group of representatives from agencies that had some input in to the institution) told us that relationships had deteriorated in recent years and that staff concerns about labour relations problems had resulted in a loss of rapport between women and officers. Staff were divided between their security and their supportive roles and some did not have the necessary basic 'people skills'.

2.37 Women themselves said that officers did not interact with them when doing rounds of houses and it was clear from our observations and activity records that, with some exceptions, this was the case. Rounds of houses sometimes took less than one minute and patrols of all the houses could be completed in less than half an hour. This gave little scope for positive relationships to be established. Some women also expressed the view that staff were not welcome on the houses and that they would not want to be seen talking to them for fear of being regarded as informers. There had been some unsubstantiated complaints of primary workers failing to announce themselves when entering the units. However, one case that had been formally investigated found that it was easy for women who were in their rooms at the time not to hear the officers' announcement and this should be done on entering both the lower and upper hallways.

2.38 The relatively few primary workers on duty each day meant that there was little opportunity for much informal interaction with women, although the interactions we observed were friendly and respectful. Often, involvement between primary workers and inmates was for a specific purpose only. There were some good relationships between women and other staff in the prison and also with managers, who made themselves available to the women and knew them well. The warden was particularly visible and approachable.

2.39 Most members of staff used women's first names when addressing them but sometimes used only surnames when referring to or writing about them. Lists and documents, including the official count sheet for primary workers on patrol, were often printed with only surnames, which did not encourage respectful address.

2.40 In our survey, 79% of women, similar to the English comparator, said that most staff treated them with respect, and 77% said they had a member of staff they could turn to for help if they had a problem. However, 35%, against an English comparator of 18%, said they had been victimized by a member of staff and 25%, compared with 10%, said staff had made insulting remarks to them. Staff conduct represented the single biggest category of complaint. Women often told us that they were treated inconsistently by staff.

2.41 The principles of Creating Choices (empowerment, choice, respect, dignity and responsibility) were in line with our expectation that women should be supported to take responsibility for their actions and decisions. Creating Choices also envisaged that staff should create an environment where relationships based on role-modelling, support, trust and democratic decision-making could thrive, but with little staff presence on houses, opportunities for staff to model pro-social behaviour were mainly limited to programmed activity time. We observed one staff-inmate committee meeting at which the interactions were positive and respectful. However, some of the women later told us that these meetings were orchestrated, with little willingness to engage in difficult issues.

2.42 Primary workers had recently begun to wear military-style uniform. Women told us that they had noticed a distinct difference in staff attitudes at first but that they had now got used to it. We considered that the impact on relationships was unlikely to be positive. Creating Choices noted that research indicated that women did not react well to the authoritarianism of uniforms, although we were told that current opinion was that the impact of wearing a uniform was neutral. It was difficult to see why a decision had been made that appeared contrary to the Creating Choices model.

  Action points
2.43 Primary workers should be encouraged to take longer on their house patrols and to spend time interacting with women inmates.

2.44 The impact of staff wearing uniforms on relationships between inmates and staff should be evaluated, taking full account of the specific perspective of women and the principles of Creating Choices.

Primary workers
Expected outcomes:
Inmates' relationships with their primary workers are based on mutual respect, high expectations and support.

2.45 Not all women were meeting their primary workers soon after arrival and others had some difficulties in access. Most women found their primary workers helpful and reports were completed to a satisfactory standard but there was little involvement of families.

2.46 Women were told the names of their case management team, including their primary worker, assistant team leader and team leader, soon after arrival. Primary workers were responsible for a wide range of tasks, including completing progress reports on the correctional plan, recommendations about pay and assessments on such matters as parole and temporary absences. The intention was that primary workers should meet the women for whom they were responsible at least monthly and complete a monthly structured casework record.

2.47 All primary workers received the standard 11-week correctional officers' program, two weeks of parole officer training, 10 days of women-centred training, and training in the offender management computer system. The women-centred training aimed to make staff aware of issues such as sexism, racism, disability, sexual orientation, physical and sexual abuse, self-injurious suicidal behaviour, addictions, mental health and Aboriginal traditions and spirituality. It also contained modules on wellness and maintaining boundaries. The parole officer training covered the skills required for completing assessments and reports. Despite this, some stakeholders said that primary workers were not sufficiently well trained and that reports were often late or completed without properly involving the woman. We saw no current evidence of late reports (although it was acknowledged that this had recently changed) but there were some examples of women not being fully consulted during the preparation of important reports.

2.48 In our survey, 62% of women, against an English comparator of 37%, said they found their primary workers helpful or very helpful. However, only 23%, compared to 46% at Nova, said they had met their primary worker in their first week. We met a number of women who had yet to meet their primary worker even though they had been in the institution for some weeks.

2.49 Shift work, leave and other commitments meant it was sometimes difficult for primary workers to have much face-to-face contact with the women for whom they were responsible. However, they were required to complete a monthly structured casework record reporting on progress on the correctional plan, use of time, attitude and other matters. Some of these reflected the difficulties women had in meeting their primary workers. One primary worker noted that an inmate had asked to meet the previous week to discuss current issues but 'to date this writer has not been able to meet with her due to work schedules'. It was nearly three weeks before she was able to do so. Some casework reviews indicated that the primary worker had met the woman on a 'couple of informal occasions' in the previous month and some showed that interviews were conducted over the telephone. Commendable efforts had been made to get casework up to date but women told us that one way of achieving this was by primary workers telephoning them in their houses late at night or coming to see them as late as 1am. Some had agreed to this as the only way they could see their primary worker within a reasonable time but it was unsatisfactory.

2.50 The records we saw were all up to date and most were thoroughly completed with good quality contributions, which demonstrated that the primary workers had a good knowledge of the women for whom they were responsible. There were some references to family issues but little evidence that families were directly involved. Contributions to other reports were also satisfactorily completed.

  Action point
2.51 Primary workers should introduce themselves to the women for whom they are responsible within the first week.

2.52 Primary workers should have a personal talk with women at least once a month at a reasonable time in order to complete structured casework records.

2.53 Primary workers should make direct contact with inmates' families in appropriate cases to encourage the maintenance of family ties to support successful reintegration.