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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 7: Services

Expected outcomes:
Inmates are offered varied meals to meet their individual requirements and food is prepared and served according to religious, cultural and prevailing food safety and hygiene regulations.

7.1 Women were positive about the quality of food. Those in the security and segregation units had their meals prepared for them, but the majority in the houses cooked for themselves. Houses were supposed to have a designated cook but not all had, and there was no practical training. There was a heavy reliance on women having previous catering experience. Food met the 'Food for Canada' guidelines but some women could not easily obtain culturally appropriate food. Women could supplement their weekly food order with produce grown in their own house gardens.

7.2 In our survey, 74% of women, against an English comparator of 34%, said the food was good or very good.

7.3 The catering department was informed of each new arrival and added $4 a day to the account of the house to which she was located. This amount had remained unchanged for some time. The house cook was also informed and was able get additional supplies from the catering department to meet the new woman's needs. However, our survey revealed that only 73% of women received something to eat on the day of their arrival (see section on first days in custody).

7.4 Within their first week, new arrivals met the catering manager. He gave them a pack of information about small meal preparation but did not have the facilities to provide practical training or demonstrations and relied on the women being able to cook.

7.5 We were told that each house had an allocated house cook, employed to cook both the midday and evening meals for the house residents from Monday to Friday. However, only half the living units had a nominated cook and those who were employed tended to provide meals on all seven days of the week. Women on living units without a cook either took turns to prepare meals or cooked for themselves. House cooks were selected by the programs board on the recommendation of the catering manager, but there was no input from the healthcare department. Some women were concerned that an woman with a communicable disease could be selected. Most house cooks had some previous experience of cooking for a group but none received any training in basic hygiene, catering or health promotion. The catering manager had an 'open door policy' and was happy to discuss issues with any of the women. This was confirmed by the women we spoke to.

7.6 Meals in the secure and segregation units were served just after roll count times. Women in the general population could eat whenever it suited them to do so.

7.7 The kitchens in the living units were equipped with a large refrigerator, a microwave, an electric cooker, a rack of coloured chopping boards (to ensure that various food items were not cut on the same boards), a deep fat fryer, an industrial coffee maker and a set of knives attached to the wall by metal cords. There was also a freezer in each house and the inmate committee had bought an electric barbecue.

7.8 The catering manager and his food services officers undertook monthly checks of the house kitchens. There were records of these visits but no audit trail of action taken to follow up issues raised with the house cook or others during the inspections.

7.9 All food supplied by the catering department met the 'Food for Canada' guidelines and was stored appropriately in the catering store. The Workplace Health and Public Safety Program of Ontario inspected the store annually.

7.10 Religious food requirements were provided within the allotted food budget, as were foods for vegetarians, diabetics and those requiring gluten-free products. However, we met one woman, who was not black, who said that she had had to join the black inmates and friends association simply to obtain her food requirements. The healthcare department informed catering staff of any woman requiring a therapeutic diet and her living unit order was checked to ensure the correct items were being ordered. Food ordered was for consumption by inmates only; the catering department did not provide any food for babies residing with their mothers. Pregnant women did not get any extra financial allowances but were advised to ensure that their living unit weekly food order included extra milk. Women supplemented the living unit food order with food grown in their gardens, including tomatoes, egg plant and fresh herbs.

7.11 Women in the secure and segregation units had their meals prepared by a food services officer who had qualifications in sanitation and hygiene. The menu was on a five-week cycle. Financial restrictions on the number of hours they could work in the kitchen meant that the food services officer did not start work until 9am and women were therefore given their breakfast on the previous evening. We were told this was not a problem and that no resident had ever complained. Lunch was served around noon and the evening meal at 4.45pm after the count for both units had been certified.

  Action points
7.12 The amount of money allocated for food for each woman should be independently reviewed to ensure that it is adequate to provide a healthy and nutritious diet.

7.13 All women should be given theoretical and practical training about food preparation and personal and food hygiene, and catering staff should ensure that every woman is able to prepare a variety of meals for herself.

7.14 A decision should be made in consultation with women whether house cooks are required. If so, there should be a healthcare screening process and managers should ensure that all houses have an appointed cook at all times.

7.15 Monthly checks of the living unit kitchens should record whether action has been taken to rectify previously identified problems.

7.16 The food available should be sufficiently culturally diverse to meet the needs of the population.

7.17 Breakfast should be prepared and served on the maximum security and segregation units on the day it is to be eaten.

  Good practice
7.18 Women were able to supplement their food order with home-grown produce and were therefore able to take a pride in their own efforts.

7.19 The provision of barbecues provided an alternative method of cooking and opportunities for socialization.

Canteen (prison shop)
Expected outcomes:
Inmates can purchase a suitable range of goods at reasonable prices to meet their ethnic, cultural and gender needs, and can do so safely, from an effectively managed shop.

7.20 The canteen was well managed with good access. The collection and receipt system allowed women to rectify any mistakes and provided them with a record of their remaining finances. External shopping alternatives supplemented the canteen list and provided a source of ethno-cultural purchases.

7.21 On reception, women were advanced $30 to spend in the canteen (see paragraph 1.14) and 90% of respondents to our survey, compared with 17% in the English surveys, said they had access to the canteen within their first 24 hours.

7.22 The canteen was owned and operated by the inmate committee. All funds for the canteen came from inmate funds and all profits (restricted to a maximum of 10%) went back to the inmate committee to fund events. Prices were reasonable, although the cost of tobacco products was high for those without private money.

7.23 The canteen was well managed. It employed three inmates as canteen operators and was open to women three times a week. Canteen items could be purchased direct from the shop. Representatives from the inmate committee monitored canteen with some additional oversight by the social program officer and patrol. Women in the secure and segregation units were issued with their canteen items on the unit. Individuals signed a receipt for their orders and were provided with a copy of the receipt stating their remaining available funds. Transfers from savings accounts to current accounts could be made up to four times a year, with one additional withdrawal for holiday canteen.

7.24 Women could suggest additions to the warden's optional canteen list via informal weekly meetings between the inmate committee chair and the head of management services. Ethno-cultural products could regularly be purchased through the inmate minority ethnic groups such as the black inmates and friends association and the native sisterhood. This allowed them to create funds to support cultural-specific events.

7.25 Only 41% of respondents to our survey said that the canteen sold a wide enough range of goods to meet their needs. However, the opportunity to purchase goods through outside shopping and specific inmate groups, as well as the separate arrangement for buying hobby materials, increased the purchase options for those with sufficient funds. Holiday canteen also gave women the opportunity to buy products outside the canteen list once a year, just before Christmas.

7.26 Women could fund their own subscriptions to newspapers and magazines.