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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Nova 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 focused on women's basic educational needs. There were good links with their previous learning. School provision was flexible and well integrated into the correctional planning process, and met a range of need. Vocational aptitude testing was available for some. The library needed to be developed under the supervision of a qualified librarian.

5.2 Schooling was delivered as a contracted service with 2.5 teaching posts. Accommodation included an office and one classroom with sufficient computer workstations. An inmate provided some administrative support. Women attended promptly and sessions lasted between 9am and 11.30am and 1pm and 3.30pm, with appropriate breaks.

5.3 The school met a range of needs. One teacher spent four half-days a week in the secure unit providing one-to-one tuition. Women in the secure unit with a level four security assessment could be escorted to the school. There were also three one-hour sessions a week on the SLE.

5.4 The school director promoted the importance of linking women into education, and made presentations to new primary workers and provided information for parole officers.

5.5 Within two weeks of their arrival at Nova, women who had not achieved the secondary school diploma (grade 12), which was most, were given the Canadian adult achievement test (CAAT). This assessed levels of literacy, numeracy and problem solving. Test results were entered on the offender management system and correctional plan. The average grade on initial testing was six. Many women had to attend school because of their education deficits - most required provision for the two lowest adult basic education levels. About half of the women attended school each day part-time.

5.6 Educational provision was flexible to enable women to attend other programs that were part of their correctional plan. There was a good awareness of the potential impact of other programs on behaviour in the classroom.

5.7 Women who scored above 9.8 on the CAAT, were under 55 and met other criteria were given employment assessment tests to identify suitable potential careers. These tested abilities, interests and values and aimed to identify particular jobs suitable for individual aptitudes. There had been approximately 60 such tests since 2002.

5.8 Educational planning started at an intake interview with the school director. There were good links to previous learning. Although Nova rarely received information from provincial prisons, the school director obtained CAAT scores and records of learning from previous schools, with inmates' consent. An individual plan was developed for each woman. Educational and employment goals were recorded and future learning needs identified. Recommendations were made to the correctional planning board. Further quarterly progress reports were included in the correctional plan. The individual coursework records we saw showed a good knowledge of the progress students were making.

5.9 Twenty-one students were attending the main school and eight the secure unit provision at the time of this inspection. The curriculum focused on adult basic education in maths, English and science, and was delivered through a computer-based learning package supported by textbooks.

5.10 Few women were at Nova long enough to complete higher level adult basic education (ABE) courses. In the year 2004-05, 25 had completed ABE 1- 3 (grades 1-10.9), four ABE 4 (grade 11 to high school diploma) and one had achieved the general equivalency diploma (GED) - equivalent to grade 12 general high school graduation. In our survey, 59% of respondents felt that their education, including the basic skills they had learnt, would help on their release, compared to 47% in England and Wales.

5.11 A few women had also completed correspondence courses in a range of subjects. Some funding for further education courses was available from charities. One other source of funding was from the fines imposed on men convicted of sexual offences. Students had no direct access to the internet to research subjects.

5.12 Few women continued their schooling after release and there were no substantial links with post-release education provision. There were some links with the local community college, which provided some teaching in computer skills and guidance counselling in the institution. There were few developed opportunities for women to attend college on unescorted absences.

5.13 'Keys to family literacy' was offered three times a year, enabling women to record story books and send them to their children, and also to write their own story. The course aimed to encourage literacy and creativity, and learning about how to interact positively with their children.

5.14 The library was open from 3.30pm to 4.30pm on weekdays and from 1pm to 4pm at weekends. It was also open on five evenings from 6.30pm to 8.30pm. Women visited the library as part of their orientation program. A library service was provided to the secure unit two evenings a week, and some women from the unit were also escorted to the library. In our survey, just under half of respondents said they used the library at least once a week. There had been no survey of women about their views on the library. There was some approximate measure of library use in the leisure reports provided by the social programs officers. These indicated a relatively low use, of usually around three to four women each night, but were not an accurate survey of full use.

5.15 The library was staffed by one inmate. The leisure reports recorded occasions when there had been no library worker and the library had not opened. Funding was available for a part-time library assistant but this post had not been filled. There was a computerized system for managing book loans. The institution had received book donations from the local library and a selection of legal text books from a university. The programs coordinator reviewed the stock annually and also responded to inmate suggestions for new books. Around $3,000 a year was spent on library resources, and this was considered preferable to bringing in a mobile library service.

5.16 The library carried a range of legal text books and human rights materials as well as commissioner's directives, and a good selection of books on self-help and personal development. There was also a selection of books on different cultural backgrounds, including Aboriginal, African, Canadian and French sections. There were small sections on Native and Black studies. Specialist needs were catered for and women had good access to computers and a range of magazines. Information leaflets on addictions and support for minority groups were available in a room next to the library.

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

5.18 Supervised access to the internet should be provided.

5.19 A part-time qualified librarian should be employed to manage the book stock and develop the library service.

5.20 There should be an annual survey of women's use and views of 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.

5.21 Relationships between staff and inmates were generally positive and 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 and how it fitted with the principles of Creating Choices .

5.22 The program board allocated women to activity taking into account the need to balance the various demands of the employment and employability program (EEP), the jobs available and correctional planning and schooling needs. The EEP, a CSC initiative developed in 2000, refocused the contribution of work and vocational skills to reintegration, and aimed to get women 'job ready', Nova had produced occasional newsletters for staff and inmates about EEP activities.

5.23 There were around 39 part-time jobs and four full-time jobs. Occasional projects were also offered through CORCAN (the CSC employment and training service for offenders) along with a range of vocational skills courses. There was sufficient work available for the current population. However, most of the jobs were in cleaning and general maintenance and did not provide relevant work experience and marketable qualifications. There was a good flexible approach to managing work, which allowed women to participate in education and programs. Women living in the SLE and involved in cognitive behaviour courses were encouraged to take up work in the general population.

5.24 Jobs were advertised and open to all to apply. There were efforts to simulate the real world of employment through the use of advertisements, job descriptions and applications. However, there was no monitoring of success in job applications.

5.25 Pay levels were related not just to work but also to cooperation and progress with the correctional plan. More was paid to those making consistent progress. Those participating in program assignments related to their correctional plan who had continued to make recent progress were paid at level C ($5.80 per day) or above. This was 78.2% of the population and included 16.4% in the top level ($6.90) who had sustained continued progress. A further 10.9% were on the lowest level ($5.25) because they had accepted a work assignment but had refused to participate in any other program. The remaining 10.9%, who were unable to participate in a program for reasons beyond their control, were given a daily allowance of $2.50.

5.26 There were good links with correctional planning to recognize skills that women achieved in work. Employment supervisors had to set standards for each job and complete evaluation reports of inmates' progress. These identified all competences achieved and gave feedback to women, for example in effective communication, punctuality and problem solving. All work supervisors were now required to complete a three-day course in managing offenders in the workplace.

5.27 There had been only three work releases in the first eight months of 2005. A group of women had been involved in a graffiti cleaning program, 'walls anew', in partnership with Truro police. Women were referred to CORCAN on their release.

  Vocational skills
5.28 There were some opportunities, but not sufficient, for women to acquire a good range of vocational skills to help gain employment, through training in areas such as horticulture, traffic control and the canine program. The clear focus was on women acquiring marketable skills.

5.29 Horticultural work was seasonal, May to November. Certification in this area was awarded by Nova Scotia Agricultural College. Students progressed through modular learning to achieve a range of certificates, including landscape installation techniques and garden centre working. Nine women had achieved certificates over the previous year.

5.30 Workplace signing and traffic control courses ran three times a year. Twenty women had successfully completed the traffic control course between July 2004 and August 2005. The agency facilitating the course was able to offer employment to women on release, which reduced their obstacles to getting a job that was reasonably paid. Two women had successfully gained employment through this scheme. Five women had been on a useful forklift truck operating course, but this had run only once.

5.31 We were particularly impressed with the canine program, which had run for 10 years and was very popular. It was the only one in a Canadian prison. This three-phase program taught the women a wide range of skills involved in dog obedience training, and provided trained assistance dogs for people with special needs. It involved the local community, gave women a range of life skills and provided some with real job opportunities on release. These included looking after dogs of working owners, work in veterinary clinics and in pet foods. We heard a moving testimony to the benefits of the program from the mother of an autistic child who had received an assistance dog trained at the prison and who visited Nova regularly with her family. Nine women had completed phase one and three phase two between July 2004 and August 2005. Due to the length of time women stayed at Nova few had completed all three phases - four since 1999.

5.32 While there had been no formal needs analysis to check that work available was applicable to the population, these vocational skills were geared to identified job markets.

5.33 There were other short, recognized work-related courses. Nineteen women had completed workplace hazardous materials information system training over the previous year, and seven had completed 'superhost', a one-day training for frontline staff in the service industry. In the previous 12 months, four women had successfully completed a training course for janitors that also included an entrepreneurial component for those considering becoming self-employed. Basic food hygiene and first aid courses were also offered.

5.34 Women were identified for suitable vocational courses and placed on a waiting list but these were short - most had fewer than six waiting for places. Most women were able to take part in and complete the vocational courses they applied for. In our survey, 62% said that the skills they had acquired at Nova would help them on release.

  Action points
5.35 The job application and appointment processes should be monitored.

5.36 There should be more opportunities for job release.

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

5.37 There was a large gymnasium and weights room, which were well used by women and also available to the local community. However, there was no formal orientation about how to use any of the equipment or active encouragement to use it as part of health promotion. There were very few organized team games.

5.38 There was a large gymnasium with floor markings for a variety of games. An adjacent room had fixed weights machines and cardiovascular (CV) equipment. There were three treadmills and three exercise bikes.

5.39 The gymnasium was open every evening and in the afternoon and evenings at weekends. It was available to the general population on five evenings and to those on the secure and segregation units on Monday and Thursday evenings.

5.40 In our survey, 54% of respondents said they attended the gymnasium at least twice a week, compared to an English comparator of 25%. Twenty-three per cent said that they did not want to go to the gymnasium at all.

5.41 There was no orientation for the gymnasium or CV equipment. Women using the CV room told us that they relied on other women to show them how to use the equipment. Most were unaware of the need to warm up before using the equipment.

5.42 Community groups also used the gymnasium, and a small kitchen next to it, during the day. They used a separate entrance to the facilities, direct from the perimeter, and the doors to the main block were locked off during these times.

5.43 There were no health promotion or explicit personal fitness programs for women, and there were no team activities or exercise classes. There was a leisure, education and wellness program, described as low intensity, which targeted the positive use of leisure time. It had a waiting list of three and would begin when there were more participants.

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

5.45 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.

5.46 Spiritual needs were met by the equivalent of one full-time Christian minister, with active volunteer participation and an Aboriginal elder. Although the spirituality facilities were adequate for most services they were cramped, as they had been built for a much smaller population. Aboriginal women did not feel fully included in the use of the spirituality room.

5.47 The spiritual needs of Christians at Nova were met by a Protestant chaplain employed for approximately four days (30 hours) a week and a Catholic deacon for one day. These ministers were supported by a large group of volunteers from a range of faiths in the local community, including United, Baptist, Vineyard, Wesleyan and Salvation Army. Other ministers, such as Pentecostal, attended on request to see women of their faith. The chaplaincy made arrangements for representatives of other faiths, such as Buddhist or Muslim, to attend as necessary. Minority religions were unusual and all except one Wiccan woman at Nova at the time of the inspection had entered their religion as Christian or none. In our survey, 74% said that they could speak to a religious leader of their faith in private if they wanted. The chaplains were supported by a spirituality committee from the local community.

5.48 The spirituality room was pleasant and attractive, but it was not possible for women just to drop in. It was small as it was built for a much smaller population. It was adequate for some services but more cramped on other occasions, such as fellowship events, when volunteers from the community attended. An ecumenical service was held every Sunday at 2pm and eight or nine women usually attended. Catholic Mass or liturgy was said at 6.30pm. Mass was usually said at least twice a month when a priest was available, or the deacon officiated if not. Women were free to attend services and did not need to make any prior arrangement. Sometimes the services were announced over the public address system. A service was also held in the secure unit on Sunday at 3pm, and the chaplain met individual women on request.

5.49 The chaplains did not see each new woman on arrival but identified them and arranged to tell them about the work of the chaplaincy and give them a welcome pack. New arrivals were invited to see the chaplain during their orientation if they chose. The chaplain estimated that about 50% did. As well as services the chaplaincy provided a range of religious activities. On Mondays a fellowship night, attended by outside volunteers, had speakers and some Bible readings. Occasional outside groups visited. During the inspection a gospel choir entertained a small group of women one evening.

5.50 The chaplaincy was not directly involved in initial correctional planning but provided reports and comments when requested for women who participated in chaplaincy activities. There was also involvement in interdisciplinary meetings in the secure unit, the mental health committee and individual case conferences. The chaplain was not always informed when an inmate suffered a bereavement, although when involved provided pastoral support, arranged memorial services or, in some cases, accompanied women to family funerals. There was no routine direct involvement in the management of women regarded as at risk of suicide and self-harm.

5.51 Some community chaplains visited three or four times a year to make links with women who might need support after their release. Circles of support were available to help women after release in Truro and in Halifax. Further development had stalled because of the lack of a coordinator to organize training for volunteers and funds.

5.52 There were 11 Aboriginal women at Nova, the most it had ever held. An elder led the ceremonies, established links for those leaving prison and provided individual pastoral support. Visiting the secure and segregation units was a high priority each week, because most of the women there could not attend communal ceremonies. In response to the recently increased population, an Aboriginal liaison officer from a local reserve had been appointed part-time to support the women and complement the work of the elder.

5.53 The spirituality room had been specially designed and decorated to accommodate Aboriginal ceremonies and meetings of the native sisterhood. However, these ceremonies did not take place there because of a housekeeping problem, and a recent request to use the room had been refused. The group therefore met in other rooms. The sisterhood had a sweat lodge for weekly use. It had a large program of events planned for the forthcoming Aboriginal awareness month, many of which involved outside visitors. The group did not have a drum, which it was hoping to make during a specialist class during the awareness month.

  First night
5.54 There should be a larger and more accessible spirituality centre to meet the needs of all faiths at Nova.

5.55 The chaplain should be informed of women's bereavements known to the institution.

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

5.57 Indoor Aboriginal sisterhood ceremonies and meetings should be accommodated in the spirituality room.

5.58 Funds should be provided to establish a coordinator to develop circles of support.

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.

5.59 Women were not confined in their rooms and had good access around the institution. Most had been assigned programs and activities and attended these. There was a reasonable range of structured activities involving volunteers, and individual projects and some social events, but not many women took part.

5.60 Except for those held in the secure unit, women were not confined to their rooms, could move around houses and benefited from plenty of time in an open, relaxed environment and in purposeful activity. Women in the secure unit could also spend a good amount of time out of their cells.

5.61 Most women were occupied throughout the core day in correctional programs, work or school. According to the 'inmate pay report', which was calculated on 20 sessions over a two-week period, 32% were allocated some activity for all 20 sessions and 75% were allocated 16 sessions or more, that is, for 85% of their time. Women received a copy of the programs and work they had been assigned to.

5.62 Sessions started at 8.30am or 9am to 11.30am and 1pm or 1.30pm to 3.30pm or 4pm. Under the employment and employability program (EEP) institutions were required to adopt a standard workday as close to 7.5 hours as possible

5.63 There had been a drive from the CSC set out in a document called Maximizing use of offenders' time to ensure that structured activities contributed to successful reintegration. Institutions had been set targets to identify and increase structured activities and the numbers of women participating in them during 2004-05.

5.64 Leisure time was from 6.30pm to 9pm each evening and for most of the day at weekends. This was organized and supervised by social program officers. They produced a daily report of activities and noted what had taken place, the numbers taking part and any issues. We looked at a sample of 20 recent reports. They showed an average 31 attending activities, and a reasonable range was offered. Socialising and playing cards were the most regularly attended activity, along with fitness and gym. However, activities such as such as arts and crafts which were offered less frequently were more popular

5.65 There were opportunities for educational leisure. Evening computer classes were provided through the Nova Scotia Community College, and about 18 women had completed Word level one or two in the previous 12 months. Support groups for survivors of abuse and relapse prevention were well attended. Aboriginal activities were offered. Women could go to Bible studies or the 'read aloud' program supported by the Elizabeth Fry Society. This involved reading stories on tapes for children. Others were compiling an inmate committee cookbook. There were occasional and very popular social events, such as bingo and a poetry competition. There had been visits from outside groups, including a Ugandan choir and the Salvation Army. Some women had been involved in supporting the work of a cancer charity. The library was open during leisure time but not well used.

5.66 Little structured activity was available at weekends, apart from the gym and library. A few women were involved in a canine class for members of the public.

5.67 Access to leisure activities in the secure unit was too limited, scheduled for two evenings a week. However, some women on the secure unit were escorted to facilities in the leisure area, including the library and fitness room.

5.68 The opportunities for staff-inmate interaction during leisure time were limited. In our survey, only 23% of respondents said staff normally spoke to them during leisure/unstructured time. But leisure reports showed evidence that staff sometimes played badminton or engaged in other activities with inmates.

  Action points
5.69 There should be an annual survey of inmates to establish their views on leisure time and structured activities. This should aim to increase the numbers participating in activities.

5.70 More structured activities should be offered at weekends.

5.71 There should be improved leisure facilities for women held on the secure unit.