Publications

The Closing of the Prison
for Women in Kingston
July 6, 2000

Post-war Decades

In 1949, during the tenure of Supervising Matron Miss Amelia May Gibson, the first representatives of the Elizabeth Fry Society began visiting the prison, first leading recreational and educational activities and, later that year, giving courses on language and art.

During 1950-51, while Miss Lorraine L. Burke was the Supervising Matron, the prison's recreational facilities were improved and more activities were introduced, including concerts at Christmas and Easter. Organized softball was a big hit, no doubt bolstered by the Prison of Women's team participation in a prison league and additional games against "outside" teams. Tennis and volleyball became increasingly popular, and the Elizabeth Fry Society began supervising shellcraft and leathercraft hobbies, as well as giving physical education and folk-dancing classes. Motion pictures were shown more frequently, often paid for by the Inmate's Welfare Fund or provided by supporters on the outside.

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In the 1950s, the prison's recreational facilities were improved and more activities were introduced such as softball and volleyball.

In 1950, the arrival of the first of 14 Doukhobor women placed serious strains on maintaining discipline and good order at the Prison for Women. These women, members of a religious sect, employed a number of strategies while incarcerated, including hunger strikes and disrobing. A prison administrator of the time stated as follows: "Their presence has had a most disturbing effect on the balance of the population."

The years 1951-52 saw marked improvements for the now 121 inmates. The library was expanded and improved, and ear phones were installed in each cell and in the prison hospital, dramatically improving radio-listening quality. School activities including stenography classes were expanded and improved (14 students were enrolled in typing). A beauty parlor was completed and home grooming courses commenced, and hobby craft activities continued to advance beyond traditional knitting and embroidery.

Helpers from the "outside" continued to make their mark. The Elizabeth Fry Society played an increasingly significant role, counselling individual inmates, offering formal classes and assisting women to find employment upon release. The Salvation Army offered individual guidance and donated soft drinks, ice cream and candies for various group activities.

The late 1950s saw the continuation of the move toward more humane treatment of prisoners. Fifty-six garden plots were allocated to inmates to plant seeds and grow plants provided by the farm at Kingston Penitentiary. An annual Field Day was begun with prizes provided by the Inmate Welfare Fund, and an ice-skating rink was built. Thursday evening recreation programs, conducted by the Elizabeth Fry Society, grew in scope and popularity, with the last Thursday of each month devoted to entertainment. Other weekly programs included ballroom dancing, charm school, woodburning, jewelry and wire designing, belt making, choral singing, square dancing, lacing slippers and drama.

Institutional privileges also became more generous during this period. For example, the Inmate Canteen was opened two times per week, on Wednesdays and Sundays, for an hour on each occasion and, in 1956-57, Christmas gifts purchased from the Inmate Trust Fund were distributed for the first time. Entertainment and treats were available at Christmas and Easter. In September 1956, television was introduced to the prison and was received with much enthusiasm, particularly by the older inmates who could not participate in physical activities.

Contact between the inmates and the community was promoted during these years. Competitive sporting activities, from softball (typically 20 games a season) to volleyball, brought more and more inmates into contact with "outside" competitors. Various organizations, church groups and service clubs became more frequent in their visits and, for the first time, representatives from the Children's Aid Society began to visit.

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Concerts, dancing and drama became regular activities for inmates.

Increasingly, the notion that not all women inmates were the same and that they could and should be assisted as individuals began to take hold. In 1956-57, the first "pre-release program" was carried out. The Elizabeth Fry Society would pick up an inmate at 1:00 p.m. and return her to the prison at 4:00 p.m., between which times she was escorted to stores and homes and taken for a drive. In 1957, the first social worker was appointed to the staff and the first classification reports were completed on new inmates with a goal to provide initial, follow-up and pre-release reports on each woman. Psychiatrist Dr. O. Karabanaw was appointed to the staff in 1959.

From its opening until 1962, the Chief Administrators of the Prison for Women reported to the Regional Director through the Warden at Kingston Penitentiary. Between 1962 and 1965, they reported through the Warden at Collins Bay Institution for men and the position became known as a Superintendent in the early 1960s. In 1965, the Superintendent was given powers equal to that of wardens at men's institutions reporting directly to the Regional Deputy Commissioner.