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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Nova Institution for Women

Section 6: Good order

Security and rules
Expected outcomes:
Security and good order are maintained through proactive 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 an assessment of an inmate's risks and needs, and are clearly explained, fairly applied and routinely reviewed.

6.1 There was good dynamic security, with information used for individual decisions, but there was little wider analysis to identify patterns. Some aspects of procedural security were too predictable. The rules were practical and clearly explained. The classification protocols were followed, but these required considerable emphasis on institutional behaviour as well as risk, and in our judgment, maximum security was too severe a response for some women who needed more support to live in the general population. There was little effective difference between the arrangements for those classified as minimum and medium security. Relationships between staff and women in the secure unit were good but limited. The culture of control in the maximum security unit contrasted greatly with the rest of the institution and there was insufficient purposeful activity there. The use of leg irons was not appropriate.

6.2 Nova held women classified as minimum, medium and maximum security risk. The perimeter security and searching protocols were, therefore, of necessity more than needed for minimum-security women alone. The perimeter fence had acted as an effective barrier to escapes, with no escapes since it was installed. Only one woman had been caught attempting to climb over it and there were indications this was in response to muscling. (See paragraph 3.6).

6.3 The gate had an x-ray scanning device, although this was not used effectively because of staffing pressures. Routine searching of staff and visitors was not comprehensive and unlikely to act as a deterrent to bringing in unauthorized items. Minimum- and medium-security women had access to most areas of the institution, including some offices and the gate area. This did not appear to cause security problems. There had been no major reportable incidents in the institution since 2002.

6.4 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. There were plans to deploy a dog trained to detect illegal drugs, in line with national policy, but there was little evidence of the need for this as use of illegal drugs in the institution was not a particular problem.

6.5 An institutional search plan described the systems and frequency of inmate, staff, visitor, property and area searches. Protocols required strip-searches to be conducted in such a way that women were never naked. Other than in reception, women confirmed that this was complied with. The occasions when women were frisk-searched or strip-searched were appropriate. Strip-searching was only conducted by female staff, and staff conducting strip-searches after incidents were routinely video recorded.

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. Staff were encouraged to submit reports about security-related matters which were individually analysed and used to inform decisions about location, programs and ultimately classification. There was limited staff time to collate this information and monitor trends in security information, including discipline charges, complaints and incidents that would help identify potential problem areas early.

6.7 Security measures for the general population did not impede their access to programs or facilities. This contributed to the relaxed atmosphere in the institution.

6.8 The rules of the prison were written clearly and included in the inmate information pack given to new arrivals. The rules included instructions about roll checks, smoking, clothing and house rules. Women had a good knowledge of the rules, which were practical and not over-controlling. A different information pack with the relevant rules was given to women in the segregation and secure units. All information packs included information about appeal or rebuttal systems, including information about local complaints and grievances and the Office of the Correctional Investigator. Minor infringements of rules were dealt with by a warning from primary workers or through informal resolution.

6.9 Women were classified as minimum, medium and maximum security. 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.

6.10 Previously, all women who had received a life sentence were 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 in some cases this had happened within the two year period. The power to decide whether exceptionally to overrule this default position had been devolved to wardens shortly before the inspection. As a result, the security classification of the two life sentence women at Nova in the first two years of their sentences had been reviewed locally, one had been reclassified and the other remained as maximum security.

6.11 Medium-security women were deemed to present a low to moderate probability of escape and a moderate risk to the safety of the public in the event of escape, and required a moderate degree of supervision and control in the prison. Minimum-security women presented a low probability of escape and a low risk to the safety of the public and required a low degree of supervision and control.

6.12 We interviewed the seven maximum-security women in the secure unit during the inspection. Some said that they did not know why they were in the unit and were very unsure about how decisions were made about their future progress, although all had attended their weekly reviews and reports were shared with them. Considerable weight was given to institutional behaviour in deciding security classification in line with classification procedures, and this meant that women with adjustment or coping difficulties, learning support needs or mental health problems were classified as maximum security. The maximum security unit was a very controlled environment, in great contrast to the rest of the institution and being placed in maximum security seemed too severe a response to poor institutional behaviour for those who found it difficult to cope in the open environment. Three of the seven women on the unit were Aboriginal, an over-representation consistent with a pattern for women's institutions in Canada.

6.13 Although reviews of maximum-security women were due every six months, some were put back because managers indicated that the women would not be ready to move down to medium within that time scale. However, we were told that reviews could also be brought forward if a woman's risk was thought to have diminished.

6.14 Medium-security women said they felt little motivation to reduce their security classification because their program and conditions would remain largely the same. The minimum-security women believed that their assessment should entitle them to a much less restricted environment to give them equity with their male counterparts, including accommodation outside the perimeter fence and increased access to community opportunities such as spiritual activities, college and employment.

6.15 Security classification decisions were communicated to women in writing, with information about how to appeal. Security classification was reviewed annually for medium- and minimum-security women.

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

  Secure unit
6.17 The secure unit was accessed through electrically controlled doors. There was a secure office with CCTV monitors showing the secure and segregation unit communal areas, and a desk for primary workers outside the two five-person residential pods. The member of staff in the office controlled access to the pods, and primary workers visited each unit twice an hour. The pods were bright, modern and clean. They each had five cells with fixed furniture and integral sanitation. There was a communal sitting area, fixed dining furniture and a laundry, fridge and sink and microwave. Each pod had one cardiovascular exercise machine. There was a central exercise yard, decorated with wall murals, which had a sitting area and views across trees and open grassed areas.

6.18 The average time that women spent in the secure unit was six months, and the longest stay had been two years. Since the secure unit had opened its population had gradually increased until it had nine residents just before the inspection. At the time of the inspection three were Aboriginal, which, as noted above, was disproportionate to the general prison population. We were later told that only one was from the Atlantic region and the other two were awaiting a transfer to Fraser Valley.

6.19 Activities for women on the secure unit were very limited, with typically only between six and eight hours purposeful activity a week. Some were on one-to-one programs and some had supported education. Those in schooling spoke very highly of the teachers and said they were supportive and reliable. All of the women had some cleaning responsibilities but these were not demanding. Most said they spent a lot of time in their cells, although they were unlocked for up to 13 hours each weekday. Those who had been there for some time said they found it oppressive and stressful to live in such a small unit with very limited contact with people other than the few on the unit. Some said they felt punished without a chance to deny or defend the reason they were there.

6.20 Within the maximum security classification there were four levels of security applied to women when they were escorted off the unit. These levels were a measurement of progress, improved behaviour, reduced risk and proximity to reducing to medium security. Movement from level one through to level four was recommended by the interdisciplinary team. Level one women were moved off the unit in handcuffs and leg irons and escorted by two staff. However, whatever their level, all women on the unit were unlocked with all others on their pod without staff supervision. The contrast between this and the requirement for some to be moved in leg irons and handcuffs seemed marked and anomalous. 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.)

6.21 All women were given a comprehensive secure unit handbook, but there was no formal orientation for the unit. Women said they found out about routines and entitlements from other residents. All the women knew the managers of the unit, parole officer, behavioural counsellor, teacher and primary workers, and all used first names in addressing each other. But some of the written records referred to women by their surname alone. They all had ready access to specialist staff and managers. Some women said they felt there was unfair and inconsistent treatment, and that they did not see the point in complaining or appealing decisions. One example given was that one woman had received a birthday cake when a birthday two weeks previously went unmarked. The Elizabeth Fry Society representative visited weekly and advocated on some issues for women on the secure unit.

6.22 Weekly interdisciplinary team meetings reviewed each woman's program, made immediate decisions about activities, dealt with any requests and decided on individual security levels. Individual case reviews were also held with all specialist staff. We attended one of these. All the staff had a comprehensive knowledge of the women and were working consistently on strategies to progress them through the levels.

  Action points
6.23 Patrols of houses should be frequent but unpredictable.

6.24 More information should be monitored and cross-referenced locally to help target security resources more effectively and ensure women's safety.

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

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

6.27 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.

6.28 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.

6.29 The number of disciplinary charges had been reducing, but proceedings did not always allow women to put their full case before guilt was decided. There was no local quality assurance system. Procedures were relaxed and punishments were not high. Use of force was low and well planned and recorded, but we considered the use of leg irons for restraints was inappropriate. The average time spent in segregation was low, but its use was increasing. Activities for segregated women were very limited and contact with staff was restricted. Authorization for segregation and reviews were completed thoroughly and on time.

6.30 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, which could lead to any of the four levels of disciplinary action. With the agreement of the woman involved, informal resolution was used when previous warnings had been given or if a misdemeanour was too serious for a warning. Team leaders decided which case should have a formal hearing and at which level. There was no monitoring or review across cases to ensure that similar matters were dealt with consistently and at the appropriate level.

6.31 We found some apparent inconsistencies in how cases were dealt with. There was no review of which staff used minor resolutions and which did not, or of the level of punishments.

6.32 There was no local system to monitor trends in the disciplinary charges to identify the frequency of certain charges, locations that attracted the most charges, or the ethnicity or race of women subject to charges. Proven minor charges had increased in 2004-05, reflecting the increase in the population, but this was projected to decrease in 2005-06. The most frequently used sanctions at minor courts in 2004-05 were fines, warnings, loss of privileges and extra work. Restitution had been used on two occasions.

6.33 Serious charges had increased from 51 in 2002-03 to 171 in 2003-04 but had reduced significantly to 63 in 2004-05. The projected figure for 2005-06 was a further reduction to 38. The most frequently used sanctions at serious disciplinary courts in 2004-05 were fines (28), loss of privileges (17), segregation (eight), extra work and warnings (eight), and restitution had been used twice.

6.34 Penalties at serious and minor disciplinary courts were generally low, with an emphasis on discussions with the women to prevent a repetition of the behaviour rather than punishment.

6.35 An appointed independent legally qualified person chaired serious disciplinary courts. At Nova this had been the same person for some years.

6.36 We looked at a sample of 16 cases. Some procedures were contrary to natural justice, including some of those heard by the independent chair. These included cases where the chair had witnessed the offence, amendment of facts of the charge despite objections from the woman, and the chair amending oral evidence from a primary worker to support the charge. In one case, it was reported to the independent chair that the woman refused to attend, and she was found guilty in her absence, although she had been waiting outside to attend. The matter was not restarted to allow her to put her case. There was no internal quality assurance system to identify and rectify these practices. Although many had pleaded not guilty none had appealed.

6.37 All minor and serious disciplinary courts were audio taped. Many hearings we listened to were not recorded all the way through, some were inaudible, and in most cases the chair did not identify themselves. The procedures were conducted in a relaxed manner. The substantive part of the case - ensuring the charging procedures had been complied with, hearing the evidence and discussing it - was hurried. Much more time was given to discussing an appropriate punishment with the woman, including negotiating the extent or time scale of a punishment.

6.38 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 the chair 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. In one case, during the hearing the woman presented a complete defence to the charge - challenging that her behaviour in the community on licence was not against the institution's written rules. The chair acknowledged this defence but since the woman had pleaded guilty there was no review of the verdict in the light of her more detailed explanation.

  Use of force
6.39 Planned and spontaneous use of force was low. There had been five incidents in the previous year, three of which were spontaneous. One incident involved two women fighting and two involved a woman with mental health problems who was subsequently transferred to a mental health facility. The local cell extraction team had been used to relocate this woman. During one incident they had sprayed chemical agent into her cell nine times to gain her compliance. Eventually the team was instructed to enter the cell and restrain the woman.

6.40 All uses of force were well recorded with detailed information from all staff involved. When force was planned there were full briefing notes, and the briefing given to the warden, the briefing to staff, the use of force, post-incident medical assessment of the women and the strip-search were all video recorded. For unplanned use of force the incident was videoed as soon as possible, and post-incident assessments and searches were videoed. Video cameras were located around the prison for this purpose.

6.41 After an unplanned use of force, the responsible staff member had to explain why this was not predicted allowing pre-planning and deployment of staff. All uses of force were reviewed locally and regionally to identify any learning points. There was a well-trained cell extraction team and regional institutional emergency response team. All of these staff were female. The prison had not deployed the regional team.

6.42 All women were transferred between institutions in handcuffs and leg irons, and all level one maximum-security women were put in leg irons and leg irons when they were moved off their secure unit. Rule 33 of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners says that: 'Chains or irons shall not be used as restraints'. Other instruments of restraint shall not be used except in a number of defined circumstances, including as precaution against escape during a transfer or to prevent self-injury. Despite this, the use of leg irons was a national practice, and we did not consider their use was appropriate

6.43 The prison had a prone restraint chair on which to strap a woman actively engaged in self-harm. Although this had not been used we did not believe it was appropriate for looking after vulnerable women.

6.44 There were no unfurnished cells or cells without integral sanitation. Water could be turned off in individual cells, and this was sometimes done if women were believed to have drugs secreted.

  First night
6.45 The segregation unit was an annex of the secure unit. It was staffed by the secure unit primary officers and managed by the secure unit team leader. It had three good-sized cells with fixed metal furniture, and there was a separate shower on the annex. The unit was small, clean and well ordered with a separate exercise yard.

6.46 Authorization for segregation was recorded thoroughly and women were involved in their reviews. In our survey, 28% of respondents said they had spent one night in the segregation unit in the previous six months, compared with 18% at GVIW.

6.47 Women were segregated in compliance with the published directive. All segregated women were given a comprehensive segregation handbook, which explained all aspects of the routines and entitlements on the unit.

6.48 Forty-two women had been segregated in the previous six months. Average time in segregation was reducing and was down to three days. Six women had been segregated because of concern about self-harm. There had been an increase in the use of segregation. In the previous year (2004-05), 45 women were involuntarily segregated, 11 were voluntarily segregated and one was placed in the unit after a disciplinary hearing. In the first two months of the 2005-06 reporting period, 22 women had been involuntarily segregated and two voluntarily. The average time was eight days in involuntary segregation and two days in voluntary. The patterns in the use of segregation were not monitored routinely locally to identify trends such as length of stay, reasons for segregation, ethnicity and the growing pattern of use.

6.49 Some weeks before the inspection the segregation unit had been full and one woman suspected of hiding drugs was segregated on one pod of the high secure unit. She was locked into her cell while the other women were unlocked and associating unsupervised outside her door all day. This had caused problems for some of the other women who were then suspected of having access to drugs.

6.50 Reviews of segregation were held within 72 hours and 30 days thereafter. Although most women were moved from segregation well before the 30-day review, this maximum period, dictated nationally, was too long. Women were encouraged to participate in their reviews. However, they were not given specific behaviour targets to achieve to demonstrate their progress.

6.51 There was a management protocol for the management of a small number of women deemed to pose the most serious risk. One such woman was held at Nova. She attended her review meeting with hands cuffed behind her during the meeting, and was kept in handcuffs when outside in the exercise yard alone. Women on this protocol continued to be reviewed locally, although important program or security decisions were made at national level.

6.52 The assistant team leader and deputy warden visited all segregated women daily, and the warden visited weekly. Segregated women could spend one hour each day in the exercise yard on their own and to take a shower. The regime was very limited. They had little or no other activities, programs or work to do in their cell.

6.53 Segregated women were routinely spoken to through the hatch in the door, designed for serving meals to women who were too violent to unlock. The hatch was also used for nurses to speak to women and administer drugs, for serving all meals and to pass on paperwork or other items. This was disrespectful and did not help women develop a more positive attitude. Use of the door hatch and other risk management strategies were not subject to individual risk assessment and were not consistent with the published objectives of segregation to provide a non-punitive, full regime for women out of association from the general population.

6.54 A spiritual adviser did not visit segregated women each day, although the Aboriginal elder attended the unit once a week and a chaplain visited when requested.

6.55 The use of the segregation unit and its regime for women at immediate risk of self-harm appeared to be punitive and unlikely to have a positive affect on reducing distress or risk.

  Segregation unit
6.56 Disciplinary procedures, including informal resolution, should be monitored to ensure compliance with procedures and consistency and fairness of approach in charges and punishments.

6.57 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.

6.58 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.

6.59 Chemical agent should not be used to incapacitate disturbed mentally ill women.

6.60 Segregated women should not be held on the maximum secure unit unless there are exceptional circumstances.

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

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

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

  Housekeeping points
6.64 Audio tapes of disciplinary hearings should be audible and record the whole hearing.

6.65 The chair of the disciplinary hearings should identify themselves at the beginning of each hearing.

  Good practice
6.66 Video recording of the use of force and related administrative briefing and assessments safeguarded inmates and staff against unobserved assault or false allegations arising from the incident.