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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 6: Good order

Security and rules
Expected outcomes:
Security and good order are maintained through positive staff-inmate relationships based on mutual respect as well as attention to physical and procedural matters. Rules and routines are well publicized, proportionate, fair and encourage responsible behaviour. Classification and allocation procedures are based on assessment of a inmate's risks and needs; and are clearly explained, fairly applied and routinely reviewed.

6.1 Dynamic security was good with effective knowledge of individual women. Some trend analysis of security information was undertaken but the computer system was not used. Women were clearly informed of the institution's rules. The classification protocols were followed, but there was considerable emphasis on institutional behaviour rather than risk, and maximum security was too severe a response for some women who needed more support to live in the general population. Aboriginal women were over- represented in the maximum classification. There was little difference between the arrangements for those classified as minimum and medium classification . Relationships in the maximum secure unit were good but the culture of control was in contrast with the rest of the institution and there was insufficient purposeful activity. The use of leg irons was not appropriate.

6.2 GVIW held women of minimum, medium and maximum security classification so security procedures had to cater for all levels. Inevitably this meant that minimum-security women were sometimes subject to more stringent procedures than strictly necessary for them individually - such as the need for a perimeter fence. This was offset to some extent by the relatively relaxed environment. Women outside the maximum classification were able to move unescorted through the grounds and there was little physical security such as camera observation on the houses. This meant that the houses were difficult to supervise effectively and it was recognized that some incidents of violence occurred in the houses which went unreported.

6.3 The location of a metal detecting body scanner inside the entrance between two areas of the prison meant it was difficult to operate effectively as staff had to walk through it frequently during the normal course of their working day. It was possible to enter the main residential areas without going through the detector which was sometimes not staffed.

6.4 There had been a very serious hostage incident in the maximum secure unit shortly before the inspection in August 2005. Such major incidents were reviewed at national level to learn from any security deficits and to take remedial action.

6.5 The general population lived in unsupervised houses, which primary workers patrolled on a predictable schedule. There was no orientation or assessment period before women were located in the house and there were reports of tensions and intimidation on some houses. Assaults, threats of assaults and trading prescription drugs were identified as the main security issues.

6.6 Security focused on dynamic security, and staff had a good individual knowledge of the women but with little staff presence on residential units it was difficult for them to be aware of communal dynamics. The security intelligence officer received approximately 60 general information reports each week. These were assessed and security information was recorded in individual records and included in trend analysis. The locally produced trend analysis included frequency of reports for each inmate, injuries, incidents, type of incidents, assault on inmate or staff, and fighting. More sophisticated analysis was possible through computer software for which the security intelligence officer had received training but this was not used because of lack of time. There was a pattern of reportable incidents increasing each year reflecting the increase in the population. Inmates, staff and released women could also use a 24-hour confidential telephone messaging system to give information to the intelligence officer. As well as helping deal with incidents in the institution this helped deal with licence breaches in the community.

6.7 The security intelligence officer had good links with local police services, counterparts in other women's prisons and community parole officers.

6.8 An institutional search plan outlined appropriate arrangements for searching inmates, staff, visitors, property and areas. Protocols required that women were never naked during a strip-search and strip-searching was conducted only by female staff. Staff carrying out strip-searches after incidents were routinely video recorded.

6.9 The passive drug dog was mainly deployed to search domestic visitors (see section on family and friends).

6.10 The rules of the GVIW were written clearly and set out in the inmate handbook, with instructions about roll checks, smoking, clothing and house rules. Different information packs with amended rules were given to women in the segregation and secure units. All information included information about local appeal or rebuttal arrangements and explained how to take grievances to the Office of the Correctional Investigator.

6.11 Women were classified as minimum, medium and maximum security. Nine women were classified as maximum security, 22 were medium and 51 were minimum; others were awaiting classification. Classification took into account assessments of institutional adjustment, as well as escape risk and security factors. Maximum-security women were those deemed to present a high probability of escape and a high risk to the public, or to require a high degree of supervision and control. We were told that a new classification tool, which was 'gender-informed' had been in operation since June and was expected to reduce the use of maximum security and increase minimum security categorisations. This had not happened by September; indeed numbers in maximum security were increasing. There was little evidence that it had any impact on the number of women in the high security classification or on the over-representation of Aboriginal women.

6.12 Previously, all women who had received a life sentence had been classified as maximum security for the first two years of their sentence unless it was agreed nationally that exceptional circumstances applied. Figures supplied by the CSC suggested that this had happened within the two year period. The power to decide whether to overrule this default position had been devolved to wardens shortly before the inspection. The classification of two life sentenced women in the secure unit had not yet been re-assessed but we were told that the process was underway. However, the new arrangement still meant that when a woman sentenced to life was initially classified as maximum security a review might not take place for two years, which was too long.

6.13 Those presenting lower levels of risk of escape and to the public, and who required lower degrees of supervision and control were classified as either medium or minimum security accordingly. Thirty-seven minimum-security women were waiting for a place in a minimum-security house.

6.14 The information on which decisions were based was detailed but the classification process required considerable weight to be given to institutional behaviour in deciding security classification. This led to some women with adjustment or coping difficulties, learning deficits or mental health problems being placed in maximum security because of poor behaviour.

6.15 Security classification decisions were communicated to women in writing, with information about how to appeal. Minimum security classification was reviewed annually, that for medium and maximum security every six months and that for life-sentenced women at least every two years.

6.16 Women on the maximum secure unit understood what was required of them to help reduce their security classification. Medium-security women said they had little motivation to reduce their classification because their program and conditions would largely remain the same. The minimum-security women believed that they had more restrictions than their male counterparts in that they did not have accommodation outside the perimeter fence and had few opportunities to take part in activities in the community.

  Action point
6.17 All life sentenced women should have their initial security classification decided on the basis of an individual risk assessment.

  Secure unit
6.18 Women classified as maximum security lived in the secure unit, a separate part of the prison, isolated from the general population and staffed by its own staff group. There were nine women there at the time of the inspection. The unit was accessed through electronically controlled doors and all communal areas were covered by cameras, although these did not have a continuous recording facility.

6.19 The unit had one central area with three pods, with five cells with integral sanitation and in-cell electricity. Each pod had a communal eating area, kitchen equipment, laundry facilities, an exercise machine and a social area with a television. The corridors were covered by live camera monitoring and women had their own cell key, so were able to secure their rooms during general unlock. There were two program rooms and office space for managers, specialist staff and the unit managers, as well as a good-sized exercise yard with a basketball net and small garden area. Primary workers visited each pod every 30 minutes primarily to complete security checks. When the unit had first opened we were told that staff routinely ate with women in the secure unit as part of pro-social modelling but that this practice had stopped as women did not welcome the practice. Women ate their meals together locked in the dining area on the pod.

6.20 The unit opened in October 2004 and was well designed and light and quiet. The general atmosphere was calm and well ordered. Relationships between primary workers, specialist staff and inmates were generally relaxed and familiar, and first names were used by all, but not always in documentation. Primary workers had a good knowledge of the individual women and worked in partnership with psychologists and behavioural counsellors to help them progress, but their opportunities to influence women were limited as they were locked on their units without staff for most of the time.

6.21 While there were superficially good relationships on the unit there was also a strong culture of control which was in marked contrast to the rest of the institution and unlikely to help prepare women for return to the general population or for release. Despite this, there had also been a number of assaults by inmates on others which staff seemed to accept as inevitable, particularly if a woman had given information about another.

6.22 Most of the women had between one and four hours of purposeful time programmed each weekday. Only those on level four, or occasionally three, of the security classification could participate in activities in the general population but these opportunities were very restricted because of the lack of staff for escorts. Some women were undertaking individual programs and self-directed learning or participated in a weekly horticulture project. Women were unlocked for 13 hours each weekday but some said that filling this time was difficult with so little focused activity and sharing the living space for a considerable time with only a maximum of four other women could become oppressive.

6.23 Within the maximum security classification, there were four levels of security applied to women being escorted off the unit. All the women started on level one without any individual assessment of risk and movement through the levels was usually slow. The levels were a measure of progress, improved behaviour, reduced risk and proximity to moving to medium security. Movement from level one to level four was recommended by an interdisciplinary team each week and agreed by the program board. Level one women were moved off the unit in handcuffs and leg irons. Yet all women, whatever their level, were unlocked on their pod without staff supervision. The contrast between this and the requirement for some to be moved in restraints was very marked. We did not consider the level of risk posed by any of the women justified the use of leg irons which was degrading (see use of force section).

6.24 It was not clear why women who could be safely unlocked together could not participate in schools or programs in small groups when they would be supervised by staff.

6.25 All nine women in the secure unit understood why they were there. Two were there because of the previous requirement that life-sentenced women had to spend the first two years of their sentence as maximum security. Their cases were under review. The other women were in the unit because of acts of violence or intimidation . Three of the nine women were Aboriginal which was disproportionate to the general prison population and reflected a national pattern.

  Action points
6.26 Security procedures on entry to the institution should be reviewed to ensure that they are necessary and effective.

6.27 Security intelligence should be developed and analysed using the computer system to help target security resources effectively to ensure inmate safety.

6.28 The drug dog should not be used when it is overdue for its annual retraining and retesting.

6.29 Minimum-security women should have increased access to community programs and activities outside the perimeter fence.

6.30 Sufficient minimum-security places should be provided in the institution to match the number of women.

6.31 The overall number of women held in maximum security should be reduced by more focussed and frequent assessments concentrating on risk to the public rather than institutional adjustment and specific interventions to enable women to live in less secure conditions.

6.32 Risk assessments should result in individual management plans that provide a consistent and proportionate response to managing each woman's individual risk.

6.33 Each of the four levels of maximum security should represent a stage of identifiable progress to act as an incentive. Not all women should be started on level one unless this is merited by their risk assessment.

6.34 More programs and purposeful activity should be provided for women in the secure unit.

Expected outcomes:
Disciplinary procedures are applied fairly and for good reason. Inmates understand why they are being disciplined and can appeal against any sanctions imposed on them.

6.35 The disciplinary process was designed to deal with misdemeanours quickly and at the lowest level. Punishments were generally low, but there were some inconsistencies in how particular offences were dealt such as when informal resolution was used. The number of serious charges was increasing. Use of force was low and well managed, but the use of leg irons for restraints was inappropriate. T he average time spent in segregation was low but its overall use was increasing. Activities for segregated women were limited and contact with staff was very restricted.

  Disciplinary procedures
6.36 A four-tier discipline system increased in seriousness through warnings, informal resolution, minor and serious disciplinary courts. Warnings attracted no specific punishment and were recorded on individual records. Staff of all grades could produce reports that could lead to any of the four levels of disciplinary action. Provided the woman agreed informal resolution was used when previous warnings had been given or if a misdemeanour was too serious for a warning. The informal resolution process was a commendable process designed to deal quickly with unacceptable behaviour with an open discussion with the primary worker. An internal review of the disciplinary process was completed in June 2005. This identified that many informal resolutions were unrecorded which made it difficult to ensure consistency of treatment. A small sample we examined suggested that similar behaviours were dealt with by different procedures.

6.37 Team leaders decided which cases went to disciplinary court and at what level, but there was no regular monitoring to ensure that charges were dealt with consistently and appropriately. A recent review of disciplinary boards including quality had provided some useful information and action points.

6.38 In the hearings we reviewed, most of the time was spent discussing the merits and practicality of potential punishments. Paragraph 44 of Commissioner's Directive 580 instructs that if an inmate renders a guilty plea: 'The person conducting the hearing ... need only review the summary of the evidence before rendering a verdict.' There was no onus on chairs to satisfy themselves that the charge was proved. This left some women vulnerable to being found guilty when a proper enquiry might have found they had a defence, such as being coerced to take the blame for the actions of others. The emphasis of the discipline process was to prevent repetition and punishments were not severe.

6.39 No women had used the rebuttal process to review the outcome of their hearing, although some had discussed the hearing with the team leader responsible to help clarify the implications.

  Use of force
6.40 The incidence of planned and spontaneous use of force was low, with only nine incidents in the previous year, five of which had involved the same woman. All incidents were well recorded with detailed information from all staff involved, with extensive briefing for any planned use of force. Planned use of force briefings, the use of force itself, post-incident medical assessments and the conduct of strip-searches were all video recorded. Unplanned uses of force were videoed as soon as possible.

6.41 All uses of force were reviewed at local and regional level to identify any learning points. There was a well-trained cell extraction team and regional institutional emergency response team, all of whom were female. The regional institutional emergency response team had never been used.

6.42 There were no unfurnished or cells without integral sanitation. One cell in the segregation unit had a bed fixed in the centre of the room to allow access on both sides if soft restraints were used but this had never been done.

6.43 Maximum-security women on the highest security rating left the secure unit only with two primary workers escorting and in handcuffs and leg irons. Women on level two required one primary worker and handcuffs. No individual assessment of the use of restraints was undertaken which were clearly unnecessary in many cases. Leg irons and handcuffs were also used routinely when moving any women outside the prison and were kept on throughout journeys. The use of leg irons appeared contrary to Rule 33 of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners which says that chains or irons should not be used as restraints.

6.44 During the inspection, two women in leg irons were walked through the prison by two primary workers, even though the protocol indicated that there should be two primary workers for each woman. This was unsafe as without someone on either side of her, each woman was at risk of falling when negotiating stairs and ramps. Nor did the routine use of restraints contribute to security: we witnessed one woman who had cuffs applied so loosely when being taken to the secure unit that she slipped them off and handed them to staff when she got there.

6.45 Chemical agent spray was available but not routinely carried. Permission to draw or use chemical agent had to be given by a senior manager but we were told that it had never been used.

  Segregation unit
6.46 The segregation unit was next to the secure unit and accessed through electronically controlled doors. It was small, with four cells and a shower, and a small outside area enclosed by high walls. The unit had its own laundry facilities and was clean and well ordered. Each cell had a fixed metal bed and table and a fixed sink; none contained a chair or stool. Two of the cells had camera cover and could be monitored live by a primary worker who managed all movement in the secure unit. One cell had a bed that had been fixed to the centre of the cell (see paragraph 6.42). All cells had many ligature points, including barred windows.

6.47 Mattresses and bedding were distributed to each woman as she arrived in the unit. Some women at risk of self-harm or prone to damaging property were issued with thin tear-proof rather than standard mattresses.

6.48 Records indicated that 30 women had accounted for the 33 segregations for the six months beginning April 2005. Of these women, 13% were black, 20% Aboriginal and 46% Caucasian (the remainder had been released from custody and records were not available). The average time spent in segregation was three days, with a range of one to 19 days. Records for the six months before the beginning of April showed that 13 women had accounted for a total of 15 segregations, with an average stay of 5.8 days and a range of one to 22 days. This again was a significant increase on the six months before that, when segregation had been used eight times for seven women for an average of 1.75 days. In the whole 18-month period, over half of the segregated women had left the unit on the same or following day.

6.49 Authorisation for segregation was recorded appropriately and reviews, which were held within the 72-hour, five-day and 30-day timescales, involved the women when appropriate but very few women were there long. The regime for segregated women was limited to one hour in the exercise yard and a daily shower. There were examples of a few women who stayed in the unit longer being allowed additional personal property and extra time out of their cell in the fresh air, cleaning or watching television in the corridor.

6.50 The assistant warden and secure unit assistant team leader visited segregated women daily and the warden visited weekly. There was no formal provision of spiritual support (see paragraph 5.54).

6.51 Segregated women were routinely spoken to through the hatch in the door, designed for serving meals to women who were too violent to unlock. During the inspection, one woman with a history of violence and a current risk of self-harm was spoken to through the hatch by a nurse on her daily rounds and by primary workers; she was also passed paperwork and meals through the hatch. Although positive interaction with staff was very limited, primary workers demonstrated sensitivity and patience. However, the woman had been subject to an emergency transfer and all her case records were in French. It had taken nearly a week before a French-speaking primary worker was assigned to her, reviewed the file and briefed others.

6.52 In the six months before the inspection, one woman had been segregated for 10 days as a punishment after a serious disciplinary court hearing and six women had been segregated because they were at risk of self-harm. Six of the segregated women in 18 months were recorded as voluntarily segregated.

6.53 The published objective of segregation was to provide a non-punitive, full regime for women out of association from the general population. This objective was not fulfilled.

  Action points
6.54 Disciplinary procedures, including informal resolution, should be monitored to ensure compliance with procedures and consistency and fairness of approach in charges and punishments.

6.55 Chairs of minor and serious disciplinary courts should satisfy themselves by reasonable enquiry that charges are proved before coming to a verdict, irrespective of whether an inmate pleads guilty.

6.56 In the light of better, alternative interventions to manage violent or self-harming women protocols to allow women to be restrained to beds or chairs should be abolished.

6.57 The programs and regime for a segregated woman should be individually tailored to address the reasons for her segregation.

6.58 Women in the segregation unit should not be spoken to or served meals though the door hatch.

6.59 Patterns in the use of segregation should be monitored to identify trends, including length of stay, reasons for segregation, ethnicity with the aim of reducing its use.

6.60 Full briefings in the appropriate language should be prepared before a woman at risk to others or herself is transferred between institutions.

  Good practice
6.61 The video recording of the use of force and related administrative briefing and assessments safeguarded women and staff against unobserved assault or from false allegations arising from the incident.