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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 5: Activities

Education, schooling and library provision
Expected outcomes:
Inmates are encouraged and enabled to learn both during and after sentence, as part of reintegration planning, and have access to good library facilities.

5.1 Education provision was reasonably good, with many women involved and student success celebrated. Schooling was integrated in to the correctional plan but links with the local college were not well developed. Provision for women on the secure unit was insufficient. Library resources appeared stretched.

5.2 Three qualified teachers were managed by a team leader. The school was accredited by the Ontario Board of Education and the achievements of students were recognized in the community. The school was based in the programs department and included two classrooms and a computer suite. The computers were not networked.

5.3 Provision centred on adult basic education, levels 1 to 4. Within two weeks of entry, educational assessments (Canadian adult assessment tests) were completed by a guidance teacher. Previous transcripts were requested from any former institutions or schools attended. Education plans were developed for all those who tested below grade 12, and all those scoring below grade 10 were identified as a priority for schooling and required to attend part time as a component of their correctional plan. Of the current population, 67% of women had been tested at below grade 10. Teachers were assisted by some inmate tutors.

5.4 No teacher was contracted to work on the secure unit and it was increasingly difficult for teachers to devote adequate time to women there. At the time of the inspection, this amounted to one hour a day for 10 students. Cell study and independent learning courses were being offered on the secure unit, which meant that completed work was marked by staff from outside the institution.

5.5 Some women had progressed through the Ontario secondary school diploma (OSSD), with 26 graduating between June 2004 and April 2005. Appropriate award ceremonies were arranged to celebrate this success and the women involved could invite a guest.

5.6 Educational needs were integrated into the correctional plan through the initial assessments. These were considered by the program board and assignments were made within two weeks. There was a flexible approach to education to meet other aspects of the correctional plan. Any applications for education opportunities, including correspondence courses and cell or home study, needed to be approved by the programs board. Computers were not allowed in the houses, which did not help women in home study.

5.7 Students had no direct access to the internet and had to rely on staff to research subjects on their behalf. Some provision was available for students learning English as a second language. Post-secondary education had to be paid for by students but they could qualify for a bursary. Some distance learning was also provided. Sixteen women were completing independent learning courses.

5.8 Approximately 49 women were participating in education (including the secure unit) and 21 of these were in full-time education. There were 56 places available.

5.9 Around 101 tests for vocational aptitude had also been completed during 2004/05, although none had been done since February 2005. Efforts were being made to recruit a teacher for this work. A computer-based career guidance program was also available.

5.10 In our survey, 67% of women, higher than the English comparator of 47%, said they felt education (including basic skills) would help them on release. Many knew whom to contact to help them to arrange or continue further education on release but few did so. This had been done for one woman wanting to continue an Autocad (assisted computer design) course. There were no established links with the local community college through students attending schooling there on unescorted temporary absences.

5.11 The library was based on the second floor of the programs department next to education. It was open for two hours in the morning and again in the afternoon from Monday to Thursday. There was no evening or weekend provision and the library was closed on Friday for an inventory check and cleaning, although library assistants would accommodate some individual requests such as for videos for private family visits. Women who were not on programs or in school could visit the library during their coffee break but needed a movement pass to do so, which could inhibit access. Library staff visited the segregation unit every Tuesday. In our survey, 58% of women, more than the English surveys and Nova, said they went to the library and resource centre at least once a week.

5.12 The library was staffed by a part-time teacher with a part 1 librarian qualification. She worked three days each week and was supported by two inmate assistants. Some training needs in the use of the computer-based program for tracking book loans had been identified; a large part of the process still relied on book loans being tracked through an index card system.

5.13 Kitchener mobile public library visited monthly and book request forms were available. This provided access to a wide range of books and materials, including inter-library loans from local colleges and universities.

5.14 Only 25% of women, lower than the English comparator of 46%, said they could get access to a newspaper daily. The local paper was provided, as was access to a Toronto or French paper. A range of magazines was also available.

5.15 A reasonable selection of recreational audio compact discs and videos for loan was available for private family visits only. The library held a range of books reflecting diverse needs. This included sections on women's health, women's studies, Aboriginal culture, black history and world religions. Many books had been donated. There were some old legal textbooks. Commissioner's directives were available on compact disc but had to be accessed through the librarian or library assistant on the single computer for help in finding specific sections of directives. There were some out-dated hard copies.

5.16 It was difficult to ascertain whether the library was meeting the women's needs. We were told that requests from women were considered but no survey of the inmates' use of the library or how they felt this could be improved had been undertaken.

  Action points
5.17 Teaching provision for women held on the secure unit should be improved.

5.18 Computers for home study should be provided.

5.19 Supervised access to the internet should be provided.

5.20 Links with the local college should be developed and opportunities provided for students to study there on unescorted temporary absences.

5.21 Library staff and assistants should be trained in the computer-based program to monitor book loan and aid stock control.

5.22 The opening hours of the library should be extended to improve access to those women not attending activities in the programs department.

5.23 Computer resources in the library should be improved. Women should have access to a computer from which they can research current commissioner's directives and standing orders.

5.24 There should be an annual survey of women's use and views of the library.

  Housekeeping points
5.25 Computers in the computer suite should be networked to aid learning.

5.26 A wider range of daily newspapers should be provided and made accessible in the library.

Employment and vocational skills
Expected outcomes:
Inmates are engaged in safe work and are treated fairly. Work should prepare inmates for employment on release and help to reduce reoffending.

5.27 Work assignments were flexible and integrated into the correctional plan. Sufficient places were available but there were few realistic work opportunities and no recognized vocational qualifications. Some work releases were planned but not enough priority was given to the employment and employability program.

5.28 Operational Procedure No. 1 - Program Board (2004/07/09) outlined the processes and responsibilities of the program board and inmates involvement in these. The board assessed individual needs and priorities and ensured that appropriate program, work or education assignments were made as part of an inmate's correctional plan.

5.29 The board considered all applications, suspensions and terminations from work and reviewed those who were unemployed. A sample of the program board minutes indicated there were typically fewer than 12 women unemployed or working part time. This was usually because of suspension, sickness or through the woman's choice not to work. The program board highlighted the cases of unemployed women to their case management team. Women could attend the board in person and some did. The flexible approach to work ensured that women could attend other programs as part of their correctional plan.

5.30 There were sufficient work opportunities to complement education and programs, which were the main activities. Jobs with job descriptions were posted on the employment board in the programs department and advertised on teledon , an information channel available on television sets. Women could discuss positions with the pay clerk and were encouraged to apply for posts within the first two weeks of their arrival. They were assigned activities reasonably quickly, within two weeks. For some jobs in high demand, the application process attempted to simulate that in the community and involved interviews. There was no routine monitoring by race of successful applicants.

5.31 Instructors provided reports on performance, and inmates' pay levels were reviewed every 90 days. The level was dependent not only on work but on continued progress in the correctional plan.

5.32 The employment and employability program (EEP) had a low profile among staff and the EEP committee had recognized the need for staff training. A considerable amount of work needed to done to meet the 2005/06 targets set for the institution. For example, only two certificates from a target of 40 had been achieved in the workplace hazardous materials information system (WHMIS) and none, against a target of 35, had been achieved in Safer Start, pre-employment certification. Ten Autocad (assisted computer design) certificates had been awarded, six at level one and four at level two, against a target of 15. (We were told later that targets for the year were eventually met.)

5.33 Few jobs were relevant to outside work. Most of the estimated 54 full-time and 67 part-time jobs involved cleaning and grounds maintenance and were not high quality. There was room for developing more realistic work opportunities, especially for those serving long-term and life sentences.

5.34 Minutes from the three EEP meetings held during 2005 evidenced some future plans for developing work opportunities, including making blankets for a world relief project. A computer workshop to recycle computers for schools was also planned in partnership with CORCAN (the CSC employment and training service for offenders) . Six to eight women would be employed and some would also be involved in its construction. The work was scheduled to begin in October 2005, with the workshop operational by January 2006. There had been some previous short-term CORCAN projects that offered the opportunity for incentive pay but none since last year.

5.35 The program board evidenced that some efforts were being made to identify women who were eligible for work release. There were other planned work schemes such as graffiti cleaning, habitat for humanity and work with the Humane Society.

5.36 No formal vocational qualifications were available. The cosmetology course offered the opportunity for women to earn hours of credit towards an apprenticeship on release. Some basic computer-based training was available in food hygiene for house cooks. Around nine women had completed a course on entrepreneurship in 2004 and 10 had completed a self-development course, 'Steps to Success', in August 2005. The latter included a budgeting skills component. A new employment skills program for women offenders was scheduled to be delivered twice a year from January 2006. In our survey, 47% of women, compared with 34% in the English surveys, said they felt their job would help them on release.

  Action points
5.37 Greater emphasis should be given to the employment and employability program to generate more realistic employment opportunities, qualifications and vocational skills relevant to reintegration and to ensure women are 'job ready' on release.

5.38 The job application and appointment processes should be monitored, including ethnic monitoring.

Physical education and health promotion
Expected outcomes:
Inmates are encouraged and enabled to take part in recreational physical education, in safe and decent surroundings.

5.39 The gym was not used to its full potential and women with free time during the day were unable to make use of it. The weights room was too small and the equipment was old and in a poor state of repair. No one had induction training and some women sustained sports-related injuries. There were no links with health promotion through physical education activities and too much reliance on self-motivated women.

5.40 There was a large gymnasium and a small weights room within the main block. The gym had floor markings for a variety of games and a volleyball net in situ during the inspection. There was also one new treadmill, an old step machine, a television, a video player and some exercise videos, and two pool tables. The weights room, which was cramped and poorly ventilated, contained a range of fixed weights machines, all of which were old and in a poor state of repair.

5.41 In our survey, 17% of women said they did not want to go to the gym and 38%, against an English comparator of 25%, said they went twice a week. The gym was closed between 8am and 4pm to ensure that women who should have been attending programs did so, but this also meant that women with free time during the day could not use the facilities.

5.42 There was no induction to the gym or how to use the equipment, which resulted in some women sustaining injuries. An inmate recreations officer occasionally organized team games such as volleyball or basketball and assisted in arranging activities in the gym for family days.

5.43 The daily timetable indicated that aerobics was available every evening but this was 'self directed'. Women we spoke to could not recall there having been any aerobics within the last year and all said they did not feel inclined to use the exercise videos provided. The only activity we witnessed in the gym was a group of women playing dominoes.

5.44 No health promotion or personal fitness programs were arranged for women. We did meet some women who regularly walked around the grounds. They knew how far one circuit was and set themselves targets to achieve.

  Action points
5.45 Women should have a formal orientation on the use of the gymnasium, cardiovascular equipment and weights room.

5.46 The fixed weights machines should be replaced and housed in a room that is adequately ventilated and fit for purpose.

5.47 Health promotion activities should be encouraged and a physical education teacher should be employed to provide leadership and exercise classes.

Expected outcomes:
All inmates are able to practise their religion fully and in safety. The chaplaincy plays a full part in prison life and contributes to inmates' overall, care, support and reintegration.

5.48 Most spiritual needs were being met and women were positive about the work of the chaplaincy. Provision for the secure unit relied on goodwill. Many women were involved in chaplaincy-run programs and active volunteers provided links with the community. An elder led Aboriginal spiritual meetings and provided pastoral care. While there had been some recent improvement in meeting the spiritual needs of Aboriginal women, regular sweat lodge ceremonies were not provided.

5.49 The majority of women were Christian or declared no religion. There was only one Muslim woman, one Hindu, one Buddhist and one identified as solely native spirituality.

5.50 The spiritual needs of Christians were met by one full-time Protestant chaplain and one part-time Roman Catholic contracted to work six hours a week. The chaplains were occasionally assisted by religious students on field placements and by a large volunteer base from different traditions. The full-time chaplain oversaw the range of chaplaincy services apart from Aboriginal spirituality, and arranged for ministers of different faiths to see women or conduct services as necessary. Some women were escorted out of the institution by volunteers to attend particular services in their faith tradition, including Jehovah's Witness and Hindu. A recently appointed imam visited occasionally.

5.51 The chaplain promoted the spiritual services available through the orientation video and made an appointment to see all new arrivals. In our survey, 73% of women said their religious beliefs were respected and 80% said they were able to speak to a religious leader of their faith in private when required. Both results were significantly higher than survey results in England and higher than those at Nova.

5.52 The spirituality room was well located at the centre of the main building. It was light, attractive and well used, and an adequate size for the numbers attending regular formal services. There was also a quiet room for reflection and prayer.

5.53 Catholic Mass and a Protestant service were held each Sunday, with about five and between 20 and 30 attending each respectively. Services were well advertised and held at the same time each week. There were no constraints on women in the general population attending services.

5.54 There was, however, a problem with the provision of spiritual services for women in the maximum security unit. The chaplain visited the unit on request but believed that the additional facility had been built without any consideration of the need to increase chaplaincy resources. The Catholic chaplain had provided a contracted pastoral service on the unit between April and the end of August 2005 but the contract had ended and he was now providing the service voluntarily. Managers believed the chaplain should provide a service to the whole institution irrespective of the change in the facility. Whatever the correct position, women in the segregation and secure units were not getting an appropriate service.

5.55 The chaplaincy involved many external volunteers in running a wide range of classes and programs, although the scope to run some of these had been affected by budget cuts over the years. About 50 women were involved in spirituality programs.

5.56 Some good links to the community had been established and included regular visits by a group of women to a local Mennonite nursing home to serve dinner. Volunteer visitors were also arranged for women who did not have family or friends in the area. The practice of volunteers bringing in home-made food to religious celebrations to share with the women had been stopped due to liability issues and only commercially-produced food was now permitted. The chaplain believed this was an unnecessary restriction and not one imposed in male prisons.

5.57 While the chaplaincy was clearly a vibrant part of the institution's life, the chaplains were not routinely involved or consulted about the case management process. They provided contributions if requested by individual casework officers and always wrote reports on the outcome of programs such as the grief and loss programs but the chaplain was unsure whether these were used as part of the dossier for the parole board. They also occasionally acted as advocates for women in challenging such decisions as not to allow escorted temporary absences but were not routinely involved in cases of self-harm, which tended to be seen entirely as a psychological issue. They were not able to authorize telephone calls for pastoral reasons without the approval of a primary worker and parole officer, nor were they able to send a memo without the signature of a team leader.

5.58 One gap in provision was the lack of a community chaplain in Toronto, where a large number of the women came from and returned to at the end of their sentence. There had been one until two years previously who met women in the institution and arranged home gatherings and support in the community after release.

5.59 An elder who attended on Mondays and Tuesdays provided services and individual support to Aboriginal women, including to those in the segregation and secure units. Women who were not in the maximum secure unit had the use of the spirituality room, a sweat lodge and had just acquired a tepee. The elder was able to escort minimum-security women to ceremonies in the community such as Sun Dance ceremonies and Pow Wows. Aboriginal women considered the services provided insufficient and thought that there was a general lack of understanding among staff about their culture, including the importance of sweats to help release tensions and anxiety without the need for reliance on medication. The elder did not hold sweat lodge ceremonies. The last such ceremony had been held in August and the one before that in April. The women believed it would be possible to obtain the services of a community volunteer to run weekly sweat lodge ceremonies.

  Action points
5.60 Full chaplaincy services should be provided to women in the segregation and secure units.

5.61 The chaplain should be informed at the outset of all cases when a woman is regarded as a risk of suicide and self-harm in order to provide pastoral support and assist in case management in appropriate cases.

5.62 Chaplains should be able to authorize telephone calls when they judge this is necessary for the pastoral support of women.

5.63 Chaplaincy volunteers should be allowed to bring in home-produced food.

5.64 Efforts should be made to support a community chaplain scheme in the Toronto area.

5.65 Sweat lodge ceremonies should be provided weekly.

Time out of room
Expected outcomes:
All inmates are actively encouraged to engage in out of room activities, and the prison offers a timetable of regular and varied extra-mural activities.

5.66 Women living on the houses enjoyed free movement around the grounds. Other than for formal counts, they were given responsibility for managing their time. Most women were assigned programs, work or schooling and a good range of leisure activities was offered. A strong group of volunteers ran some popular activity sessions. There was little activity for those in the secure unit.

5.67 Women had keys to their own rooms and could move freely within their houses but needed to be present for formal counts. Minimum-security women were allowed on the porches of their houses from as early as 5.30am and most women had free movement around unrestricted areas from 7.45am until 10pm. We were told that appropriate clothing was made available in inclement weather.

5.68 Women in maximum security also had to be present for formal counts but otherwise were out of cell between 7.30am and 10pm. Those assessed as security level 1 to 3 had more restrictive movement but those at security level 4 could participate in structured activities with the general population under the supervision of staff. However, there were few activities on the secure unit itself.

5.69 Women in segregation were allowed one hour's exercise and time to shower and do personal laundry. They could also, by arrangement, have visits from members of the inmate committee and other inmate representative groups.

5.70 Trained primary workers and behavioural counsellors supervised activities on the SLE but residents were also encouraged to attend activities in the general population. Routines were explained in the inmate handbook.

5.71 The majority of women were fully occupied, including some good organized leisure activities. They were expected to be at their supervised assignments between 8am and 11.30am and again between 1pm and 4pm each day. Anyone not at her assigned activity required a movement pass to be elsewhere and anyone remaining on her unit had to explain why to patrol officers. Women were not paid for sessions they did not attend without authorisation.

5.72 Women had regular periods of leisure time between 6pm and 9pm each weekday. Many activities were supervised by contractors or volunteers while primary workers and social program officers patrolled. Overall interaction between inmates and volunteer staff was good. Gym and sports were the main activities at weekends along with a Stride nights run by volunteers as part of a community justice initiative. (Stride also ran circles of support in the community.) We saw some well-organized activity, including an excellent craft session supervised by Stride volunteers which involved 43 women and was a weekly event. One of the program goals was to create greater awareness among women of the circles programs in the community. Unfortunately, the community program was in jeopardy because of a lack of funds.

5.73 The institution relied heavily on volunteers, some of whom said that activities were sometimes cancelled at short notice without their being notified. There were no formal records of the number of cancellations or the reasons for these. Women were informed of cancellations on a notice board outside the gym or at the social program officer's office.

5.74 An inmate employed as recreation assistant generated ideas for, and organized, activities. The range of provision was good, including some educational recreation, a number of health promotion activities, religious and Aboriginal activities supervised by the chaplaincy and native spiritual leaders, and some self-help groups. Some timetabled pursuits, such as the parenting group and coping with separation, were not taking place. We compared the structured activities offered between June and September 2005 and found that many of those currently offered, such as the walking club, weight training, wellness workshops and an introduction to music therapy, were very recent initiatives, which should continue.

5.75 Women could be involved in several community service and charitable activities. An 'adopt a road' community service activity to improve the environment took place twice a year, and women had helped to make quilts for expectant teenage mothers. Minimum-security women trained by the Kitchener Humane Society could also take part in voluntary, unpaid work on the kitten program, which involved fostering pre-weaned kittens for three to five weeks.

  Action points
5.76 There should be improved leisure facilities for women held on the secure unit.

5.77 Volunteers should be given good notice when activities are cancelled and the reasons for cancellations should be recorded.

  Good practice
5.78 The Stride volunteers provided good support and activity for women within the institution and promoted their services in the community to aid reintegration.