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BY G. Chartier, Communications Officer, Communications and Citizen Engagement
Lucille Stewart, an institutional parole officer at Nova Institution for Women in Truro, Nova Scotia, has just finished talking to some primary workers. Stewart is their case management supporter/coach/mentor. Both here and at the four other federally sentenced women’s facilities across Canada, primary workers perform many of the functions of correctional officers in men’s penitentiaries. They also handle most parole officer functions, such as case preparation work.
“While I do some one-on-one work and some case work, the biggest chunk of my time is taken with primary workers who run the cases,” Stewart says. “I make sure they are on the right track, completing the necessary paper work, and ensuring that they’re aware of the cutoffs so they can get the information to the parole board on time.
“The primary worker does all the recommendations and I think that really affects how they interact [with inmates],” she says. “They really have to know their women.”
In total, there are two parole officers and 60 primary workers supervising 63 offenders around the clock at Nova Institution.
“Primary workers here have to balance women-centred principles with their case management and security,” says Stewart. “They have a huge responsibility in more than one area.
“There is plenty of open communication,” she says. “Inmates know if they have a problem, they’re supposed to go to their primary worker.”
Like so many CSC employees, Stewart had a previous career that involved helping people.
“I use to work at Children’s Aid as a child protection worker with Aboriginal families. When Nova first opened up, they put a call letter out to the general public, so I applied. I thought that it sounded interesting, different but similar to the work I had been doing — dealing with individuals and helping them along in life.”
She was hired as a primary worker when Nova began operations in 1995.
“When we first opened, there was such a strong sense of commitment to working with people. I think what surprised me was how universal that commitment was. We all trained together, we were all committed to the same thing together — a very strong belief in creating choices.”
Nova Institution for Women has a correctional approach that promotes an open and supportive environment, which is essential for community living. Its goal is “to model, promote and empower women to make meaningful and responsible law-abiding choices with a focus on safe and timely reintegration.
“The community seems to be very accepting,” says Stewart. “They held meetings before Nova was opened and now it’s very rare that we get complaints. We’re trying to create a strong community environment.”
“Nova has the Structured Living Environment that assists individuals who have difficulty within our population as a result of mental health issues, rule violations and certain patterns of behaviour. We have psychosocial rehabilitation for the lower functioning women who require a higher level of staff intervention than the average offender. They don’t have the know-how, the skills to take care of themselves, to protect themselves. They don’t know how to shop for themselves, they don’t know how to cook for themselves.”
Since 2003, Nova also has had a secure unit that accommodates up to 10 maximum-security inmates.
Stewart was not surprised when she first started handling the problems that she now encounters daily.
“I think I had a good idea what kind of people I’d be dealing with. But I believe that people can change,” she says. “The day that I lose that belief, I’ll stop working here. I know it can’t happen overnight, but we can help set the foundation for moving ahead.
“For some of these women, this is one of the few places that they’re treated with a certain respect and dignity. They know that on some level, every person here cares.”
After this article was written, Lucille moved to a new position in the Reintegration/Programs Division, effective November 1, 2005. She is coordinating Section 81 and Section 84 requests and liaising with the National Parole Board and Aboriginal communities in an effort to provide Aboriginal offenders support in their pursuit of Section 81 and 84 releases. ♦