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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Nova 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 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 .

7.2 In our survey, 67% of respondents said that the food at Nova was good or very good, compared to 34% in the English surveys. Meals were prepared for women in the secure and segregation units but the majority of women in houses self-catered.

7.3 A food services officer prepared meals for women in the segregation and maximum security units, assisted by an inmate. There was a five-week menu cycle. Breakfast was served at about 8am and varied each day. Lunch was served at approximately 12 noon and the evening meal at 4.45pm, after each unit count was certified. On the houses, women tended to take meals just after roll count times, although they could eat whenever it suited them.

7.4 Women on the houses were allocated $4 a day each for food. Pregnant women were allocated an extra $10 a week for extra food and food services officers ensured that they ordered extra dairy and protein products.

7.5 When a new woman arrived the food services officer added this sum to the account of their house. If she arrived after lunch only $2 was allocated for that day, because it was assumed that she would have eaten breakfast and lunch. Staff expected women on the houses to feed any new arrivals with supplies from the house larder until the next food ordering day, but this did not always happen. We met one woman who had had only a chocolate bar to eat within her first 36 hours at Nova. In our survey, only 63% said that they got something to eat on their day of arrival, compared to an English comparator of 90%.

7.6 The inmate committee had proposed that the weekly food allowance should be increased, commenting that if a house were full it was very difficult to manage for a whole week. It had not yet received a reply. The amount had not changed for some years, although food prices had gone up.

7.7 Women were supposed to receive training in catering and budget management, and meet the dietician within their first 14 days, except if they had been at the institution before. However, records showed that this had not occurred. Those who had arrived since July 2005 had not had any catering induction, and those who arrived in the previous month had only met the dietician. We had concerns about whether women had sufficient skills to cater for themselves in this environment.

7.8 All the food supplied by the catering department was stored appropriately in the catering store. Health Canada inspected the store four times a year.

7.9 Food could be ordered twice a week, although the second order was expected to be smaller and mainly perishable items. The main food order was submitted on a Friday and arrived the following Monday. Women were expected to pool their food allocation money. There was no designated house cook, although each house had a representative. Women were not allowed to carry over any unspent money to the following week. They were also not allowed to take any food with them if they moved from one house to another during the week, and no extra funds were provided to their new house, even if there was not enough food there.

7.10 Women told us that they had been bullied and harassed for food, and that some women stole food from others during the night. We heard discussions between women about food missing from cupboards.

7.11 Food service officers checked that food orders met the 'Canada food guide'. They relied on other women, staff and their own observations to ensure that women were eating. There were no religiously required foods, such as halal products, on the food order and while there were products suitable for diabetics these were not specifically indicated. Women could request a 'diet of conscience', which was considered by the chaplain if it was for religious reasons or the warden. They were given an alternative food item of similar calorific value to the one they could not eat at no extra cost.

7.12 The kitchens in the houses had a large refrigerator, microwave oven, electric cooker, deep fat fryer, industrial coffee maker and a set of knives attached to a metal box by metal cords. In the medium-security houses, the knife boxes were locked between 7pm and 7am, but in the minimum-security houses, they were not locked away at all. There was also a freezer in each house. The kitchens were slightly shabby and described by staff as 'beginning to show their age'.

7.13 Food service officers checked the house kitchens monthly and kept records. They sent letters to each house following an inspection detailing any negative findings and the need for any monitoring. Women could be suspended from programs to clean the house kitchens if it was deemed necessary.

  Action points
7.14 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.

7.15 All new women should receive a meal on the day of their arrival, and food allowances should be allocated to houses quickly.

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

7.17 The system of catering on the houses should be reviewed and the introduction of a formal trained 'house cook' considered.

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

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.

7.19 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 .

7.20 On reception, women were given an $18 advance and the opportunity to buy canteen items within their first 24 hours. In our survey, 84% of respondents said they had access to the canteen within their first 24 hours, compared to an English comparator of 17%. However, the $18 advance had to last a possible four weeks, until the woman received her first wage payment. With 50g tobacco costing $14.70, this left very little to buy additional items. The full $18 was also recovered from the inmate's first wage payment, leaving her with potentially no money to buy goods for a further two weeks. The advance was insufficient for those without private money, and immediate repayment of the total funds unrealistic. This left women vulnerable to debt and muscling.

7.21 The canteen was well managed. It was open once a week. A staff member supervised it and it was operated by an inmate employee. Goods could be bought direct from the canteen. Women were called to the canteen by house and invited to approach the hatch one at a time, which was a commendable change to the previous queuing system that had been requested by the canteen committee. Items were ticked off the order list with the woman present, and she was given a receipt detailing her remaining canteen funds. Orders were delivered to secure and segregation women. Transfers from savings accounts to current accounts could be made up to four times a year, with one additional withdrawal for the annual holiday canteen.

7.22 The canteen list was reasonably priced with an overall capped profit of 10%. Price changes were discussed with the canteen committee, which met approximately quarterly. The committee could also influence the content of the canteen lists at these meetings. Although some suggestions were followed up at the next meeting, the outcome was unclear for others. Some toiletries specifically for black women were available. In our survey, 47% of respondents said the canteen sold a wide enough range of goods to meet their needs, which was similar to the English comparator of 40%.

7.23 Women could also buy additional toiletries, clothes and electrical goods through outside shopping every two weeks. Hobby items could be ordered through a similar arrangement.

7.24 Newspapers and magazines were available in the library, and women could borrow current newspapers from the front desk.

  Action point
7.25 The canteen advance should be increased to cover a four-week period, and repayment staged.

  Housekeeping point
7.26 All canteen committee agenda items should be clearly actioned and followed up at the next meeting.