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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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The voices of the past pointed out clearly that the concerns raised by this Task Force through consultations, research and deliberations are not new. Many of the issues that this Task Force has grappled with have been previously recognized and documented.

For example, the issue of decentralizing the accommodation of federally sentenced women and the issue of providing appropriate and adequate resources, have been discussed throughout the full history of the Prison for Women. Other issues, such as staffing, security and community involvement have been explored before, but are now becoming better understood within the context of a changing social perception of women, and in light of recent correctional trends to move beyond the traditional security approach towards a responsibility model. Why is it, that with such a solid body of consistent knowledge, change has been so slow in coming?

Factors Which Have Impeded Creative Change

Despite evidence of a mood of reform, a range of factors which have tended to impede change was identified by Task Force members, and through research99 commissioned for this report.

  1. The high incarceration rate for women and for men in Canada suggests that the use of incarceration is a deeply entrenched tradition.
  2. The relatively high rate of violent crime by Aboriginal women and the related over representation of Aboriginal women under federal sentence is related to the racism and cycle of violence so many Aboriginal women experience. Their history of institutionalization, the violence they have experienced at the hands of authority figures and in their communities, the high levels of drug and alcohol abuse, the high levels of self-abuse, and institutional and societal racism, all contribute to the over-representation of Aboriginal women among federally sentenced women. Racism and the cycle of violence also strongly influence Aboriginal women's experiences, and contribute to forming inadequate and inappropriate responses to their over-representation.
  3. There is a tendency to apply to women and to men, the same criteria used to assess risk, even though these criteria do not relate well to women. Women, therefore, are consistently over-classified in terms of security, and there is some indication that this tendency is even more pronounced for Aboriginal women.
  4. The argument that the small number of federally sentenced women results in unacceptably high per unit programming and accommodation costs for each woman, has been so consistently used, that it has been accepted. Accordingly, the provision of diversified, sensitive programming which meets the needs of women has been considered a fiscal impossibility.
  5. There is a continued concentration on control through punitive measures, despite findings that suggest such control likely provokes disruption.
  6. There appears to be a lack of political will to effect fundamental change for women.

The Central Conundrum

A review of the agreed-upon position that fundamental change was necessary to provide meaningful choices for federally sentenced women led Task Force members to identify a central conundrum. Members believe that society must move towards the long-term goal of creating and using community- based, restorative justice options, and an alternative Aboriginal justice system. Yet, the Task Force also concluded that substantial and significant changes must be made immediately in the environment of federally sentenced women. It seemed inevitable that significant change would require a capital investment of some type, either to renovate the Prison for Women or to lease, buy, or construct new residences. Would the extent of such an investment divert focus and action from the long-term objective?

Task Force members did recognize that the long-term goal could not be achieved within the context of its mandate. Nor could it be achieved within the present legislative framework. The Task Force examined the possibility of an Aboriginal justice system but concluded that such a system is an integral aspect of the broader Aboriginal goal of self-determination. The Task Force further recognized that the process of creating the social and political will to support fundamental legislative change in corrections would require significant time.

The Task Force decided that it was critical to minimize any potential conflict between long and short- term goals by developing a recommended plan as an interim step which respects the fundamental premisses of the long-term goal, and encourages responsibility for sentenced persons. As well, the recommended plan must not result in the deferral of the long-term goal even further into the future, but rather, should take a meaningful step towards making the vision which encompasses both the long-term goal and the recommended plan a reality.

These premises informed the Task Force discussions which are presented below. The discussions have been organized under four headings: Accommodation Options; Operational Environment; Pre-Release and Community Options; and Unique Realities.


From Institutions to Home-Like Accommodation

In order to frame its discussions on the issue of accommodation, the Task Force posed the following questions:

  • How can small numbers of women be accommodated close to their home communities and yet have access to a wide range of appropriate programs?
  • What type of accommodation would provide an environment which parallels community norms?
  • Should women prisoners be housed with male prisoners?
  • How big should the facility or facilities be?

In discussing these issues, the Task Force assessed the impact of the legislative restrictions on the Correctional Service of Canada's authority to enable federally sentenced women to participate in community-based programs. Members concluded that in terms of community-based residential options, the restrictions to movement in the period prior to day parole, would still cripple access to the community. However, while the law makes it clear through these limitations and rules that federally sentenced women must be physically separated from the community for a period of time, the law does not in any way define what a penitentiary must look like. The law speaks only to the protection of society and the humane and safe custody of those sentenced.

The consultations and research provided substantial evidence that the present facilities for women are largely antiquated and inappropriate. From these sources and group discussions, the Task Force articulated some design features that were seen as critical to any new facility:

  • several acres of land which would provide space to move, contact with nature, a designated location for Aboriginal spiritual ceremonies, and exercise and recreational areas for sentenced women and their families;
  • a home-like atmosphere with small cottage units which would promote independent living in small groups;
  • building structures which have lots of natural light, colour, good air ventilation as well as flexible, attractive multi-use and private space to promote healthy living;
  • proximity to large urban centres in order to facilitate visits by family members, attract appropriate professional, community and business resources, and to take advantage of existing educational, health, cultural and recreational facilities;
  • a size which would allow a personal, interactive, non-institutional atmosphere;
  • non-intrusive security measures in order to reflect the low risk to the community presented by most women.

Next, the Task Force members moved to a discussion of other factors against which to assess various accommodation options. Again, the consultations and research provided invaluable information in determining the critical factors. The ability to:

  • facilitate community involvement;
  • access appropriate programming;
  • address the needs of Aboriginal women;
  • meet language and cultural requirements;
  • facilitate release;
  • meet the articulated design features;
  • address existing realities (e.g.: the Burnaby agreement);
  • ensure proximity to home and cultural environment;
  • provide facilities and programs consistent with the needs and experience of federally sentenced women;
  • reflect the community consultations and research results;

were considered crucial to develop an accommodation option which would enhance creative choice, community involvement and shared responsibility.

Finally, a number of possible accommodation options were identified by the Task Force members. To determine the primary options, the Task Force reviewed the proposals which were put forward during the consultations. The primary options were:

  • maintain the Prison for Women and current Exchange of Service Arrangements (i.e.,maintain the status quo);
  • renovate the Prison for Women and enhance the Exchange of Service Agreements;
  • build a new federally operated central facility;
  • negotiate new Exchange of Service Agreements with all provinces;
  • make existing and new facilities co-correctional;
  • create regionally dispersed federally-operated women's facilities.

Each option was assessed against the factors listed earlier in order to determine which one represented the best balance. In attempts by Task Force members to apply several of the factors to the status quo, it became obvious that neither the maintenance nor the renovation of the Prison for Women could ever be made acceptable. Therefore, the discussion on these two particular options has been combined in the first summary below.

Should the Prison for Women and Exchange of Service Agreements be Maintained?

Assessed against all factors, this option was critically deficient and highly variable at best. To maintain the current arrangement would be to perpetuate the discrimination with respect to the programs, resources and proximity to home that women already experience. The status quo was not supported in any of the consultation feedback. The research results support the need for equitable treatment of women in environments very different from the Prison for Women. Accordingly the status quo, and the option of renovation or enhancement of the current arrangement, were rejected by Task Force members.

Would a New Federally Operated Central Facility Meet Women's Needs?

This option was preferred by some federally sentenced women and less than 20% of other groups consulted. The arguments offered were not persuasive. One of the supporting arguments was the fear that any geographic dispersion of women would result in very small groups of women being absorbed within the larger male system. However, the Task Force concluded this argument could be readily responded to through appropriate administrative and organizational mechanisms. This option, although it met the assessment criteria in a few areas, was ultimately rejected because it worked against providing more proximity to home, did not meet the needs of Aboriginal women, and did not support critical design criteria concerning size and security issues.

Could Enhanced Exchange of Service Agreements with A/1 Provinces be the Solution?

The option of negotiating enhanced Exchange of Service Agreements with all provinces was discussed at length. In order to meet the assessment criteria established by the Task Force, the federal government would need to implement a plan that breaks new ground in the correctional field. To involve provinces and territories in the full approval, development, implementation and administration of such a plan would be to presume a level of common interest and agreement which does not currently exist. It would also require extensive effort, time and capital to achieve this level of agreement. Provincial institutions are, for example, largely antiquated. Consequently, this option was ultimately rejected because of the belief that the federal government (which has a responsibility for women serving two years or more) must accept ownership for the present inequities, and should assume leadership in creating appropriate solutions. The Task Force concluded that federal responsibility was essential to the overall establishment of the recommended plan for women, but that this would not preclude the involvement of provinces who might be interested in a joint venture. However, Task Force members feel strongly that federal action should not be delayed in any way by efforts to seek and obtain provincial or territorial participation.

Should New and Existing Facilities be Co-correctional

The Task Force members heard extensive representations and considered existing research with respect to co-corrections. Although it was acknowledged that there were some distinct advantages to a co- corrections model, although a substantial number of the women voiced interest in such model and, although this approach could be designed to meet a number of our assessment criteria, the overwhelming view was that a co-corrections model was not desirable at this time. This decision was based on a number of factors, including the belief that a co-correctional setting would not be as sensitive to the situation of federally sentenced women in terms of their physical and sexual abuse histories. In addition there was serious concern about the likely disparity in the ratio of women to men in co- correctional facilities and the strong probability that the assessment and programming needs of women would not be met in a relevant manner. It should be noted, however, that some Aboriginal groups did not feel as strongly about this issue (due to cultural differences which bind them first as Nations of people), and secondly as women or men, particularly with respect to an alternative Aboriginal accommodation option.

Would Small, Regional, Federally-Operated Facilities Provide a Better Approach?

The idea of regional facilities for women received overwhelming support among the groups consulted by the Task Force, and this option fared well when examined against our assessment criteria. Research results also suggest support for facilities which bring women closer to home, place them near well resourced communities, and accommodate them in small, cottage style facilities.100 The Task Force concluded that this option would integrate best with community release housing options, would address the needs of all federally sentenced women, and would permit flexibility in movement and programming.

The Recommended Option

Based on these discussions, the Task Force decided to recommend a series of regional women's facilities, run by the Correctional Service of Canada and located in each of its five regions101 (It should be noted that dedicated accommodation for Aboriginal federally sentenced women is discussed in a subsequent section of this chapter.) Having determined the most effective accommodation option, the Task Force then considered the size and location for each Regional Women's Facility:

How Large Should Each Facility Be?

The Task Force discussions on size were focused on three factors:

  • a low rate of projected growth in the number of federally sentenced women;
  • the potential impact on these projections of an aggressively pursued community release strategy; and,
  • the need for some flexibility to enable transfers between facilities.

The Task Force conclusions were supported by preliminary analysis from the Correctional Service of Canada planning division. Data indicates that the projection of an annual population increase of two percent is realistic. Given the low number of federally sentenced women, this rate will result in little change in actual numbers. As well, improved community release interventions are anticipated to offset potential minimal growth. Finally, historical information confirms that the number of women from each province or territory is also very stable.

Therefore, the Task Force concluded that the Regional Women's Facilities should be built to current requirements, with minimal additional space to enable the occasional transfer between regions. The Task Force recognizes that the size of the Prairie facility will need to be integrated with the planning for any dedicated accommodation for Aboriginal federally sentenced women.

Where Should the Facilities be Located?

In discussing location within each region, the Task Force assessed potential options against two critical factors: first, proximity to home communities of women from that region, and secondly, the availability of essential community resources. These resources were defined, at a minimum, as a university or college; a range of mental health services; a teaching hospital and an Aboriginal community. On this basis, the following locations were determined: Halifax, Montreal, Central/Southwestern Ontario, Edmonton, a Prairies location which will be more definitively pinpointed in relation to a unique Aboriginal accommodation option (to be discussed later in this chapter); and the lower mainland of British Columbia.

As part of the location discussions, the Task Force considered two related concerns. First, the existence of the recently approved agreement with British Columbia for federally sentenced women, as well as agreements with Quebec, P.E.I. and Newfoundland, and secondly, the special situations of women from remote, isolated areas.

What Effects Could Existing Agreements with the Provinces have on the Location Decision?

The Task Force recognizes that the federal government Agreement with British Columbia (the Burnaby Agreement) will enable federally sentenced women from British Columbia to be accommodated in their own province in the immediate future. The Task Force also acknowledges that the Burnaby Agreement is a unique agreement in that it incorporates resource standards and provides for ongoing federal involvement and joint federal/ provincial responsibility for women transferred under this Agreement. The Task Force concluded that the Correctional Service of Canada has a responsibility to ensure that the Agreement is implemented and managed as consistently as possible with the Task Force principles for federally sentenced women (which are detailed in the next chapter). The Task Force has only projected a requirement for a federally-operated Regional Women's Facility in the lower mainland if the Burnaby facility fails to meet the premises underlying the Task Force plan.

The Task Force further recognizes that the current agreement with Quebec for federally sentenced women (Tanguay Agreement), terminates in April, 1992. The Task Force concluded that in order to honour Exchange of Service Agreements such as this one and in order to protect the interests of the women, the Correctional Service of Canada must review the status of the current agreements and negotiate interim agreements (if necessary), which will ensure a smooth transition to the use of new facilities.

The Task Force also discussed the situation of federally sentenced women from Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. In the former case, there is rarely even a sole federally sentenced woman from PEI. In the latter, the unique agreement signed with Newfoundland in 1949 provided that all federally sentenced persons remain in the province. This agreement cannot be terminated unless a federal facility is established in Newfoundland or another appropriate accommodation option is determined. In assessing both situations, the Task Force concluded that federally sentenced women should not be obligated to serve their sentence on the mainland and that the Correctional Service of Canada must work jointly with these provinces to develop creative, individualized solutions.

Can Regional Facilities Southern Locations Meet the Needs of Women from Northern and/or Isolated Areas?

The same is true for women from remote, isolated areas such as the far north. The new regional facilities in the south could not be fully responsive to the needs of women from such areas. This is particularly true for Aboriginal women from the north, for whom a southern facility would mean dramatic separation from not only their home but also their culture. A separate Aboriginal facility might respond to some of their cultural needs, but not to their relationships with their communities. As well, to depend solely on the Aboriginal facility would effectively remove any possibility of choice. On the other hand, it is not feasible to establish a federal facility in remote locations, as there is rarely more than one or two federally sentenced women at one time from the far north. As with the two island provinces, the Task Force members concluded that the realities of women from remote isolated locations require a unique response. Further work is required to define specialized solutions because it would appear that such solutions will be dependent on increased legislative flexibility.


Under this major heading, the Task Force considers a number of issues and dilemmas which are related to four major areas: programming, staffing, security and administration. The discussion below is organized under headings related to these areas of concern.

From Programs to Resources

It has been well documented in corrections literature that, historically, despite high need, programs for women are poorer in quantity, quality and variety than those for men prisoners.102 The reasons for these disparities have also been extensively articulated.

Although efforts to improve programming at the Prison for Women and at provincial institutions through Exchange of Service Agreements have been made in recent years, it is clear from the consultation and research results produced for this Task Force that a further shift in the approach to programming for women is urgently needed.

Program issues inevitably surfaced in all Task Force discussions, whether the explicit subject was accommodation or community release options. Not only did this underscore the importance of program issues, but in fact, its frequent appearance under different guises, ultimately led the Task Force to adopt a broader definition of programs to include all of the services, opportunities and supports that should be made available to federally sentenced women. In adopting this position, the Task Force concluded that there should be a shift from "programs" to "resources".

Programs are designed to respond to clearly defined, categorized needs, defined not by the women, but by the program leader, or corrections officials. Within this model, the woman must fit herself and her needs to the available program. In contrast a "resources" approach would require the Correctional Service of Canada to seek out and obtain the required resources to respond to individual needs as identified by the women.

What Makes Programming Effective?

The Task Force discussed how this shift in perspective could be reflected in the approach taken by the Correctional Service of Canada. From the research, particularly the exemplary programs survey and the needs survey, the Task Force identified several premises which appear to increase the effectiveness of programs:

  • programs are women-centered; that is, they reflect the social realities of women and respond to the individual needs of each woman;
  • one objective of programs is to support the development of self-esteem a autonomy;
  • the element of personal choice, particularly in such areas as health care and nutrition, is critical;
  • programs must be oriented towards release;
  • programs must be developed and provided in a culturally sensitive manner.

Underlying these premises, is one broad strategy. Programs must be approached from a holistic perspective. That is, all programming must work together to respond to the multifaceted, inter- related nature of a woman's experience. For example, there must be an understanding that psychic trauma, (such as the trauma caused by sexual abuse) can affect an individual's every action, including the learning of basic literacy skills. Persons involved in the delivery of a specific program must, therefore, be aware of and sensitive to the lives of the women and the effect their past and present experiences may have on such factors as their ability to concentrate or deal with new skills.

What are the Most Critical Program Needs?

The Task Force utilized the findings from both consultations and research to determine which areas were perceived to be most critical.

The program areas which emerged were: education, skills development, mental and physical health care, alcohol and drug addiction programs, and programs to help maintain and strengthen family ties and community relationships. In addition, programming as it pertains to particular groups of women such as long-termers or Aboriginal prisoners was highlighted. The Task Force determined that each regional facility must make resources available in these core areas.

The discussion on mental health issues was particularly problematic. Although the Task Force received preliminary data on the mental health needs of women at the Prison for Women as assessed by the Diagnostic Interview Schedule Survey (DIS Study)103, the Task Force concluded that more analysis needs to be done to situate these needs in a broader social context. The ask Force members did however argue that the DIS Study confirmed the perception of many workers in the corrections area, namely, that federally sentenced women have a high need for mental health related support and intervention.

In discussing the implications of hospitalization for women in severe psychotic episodes, the Task Force concluded that its lack of knowledge regarding existing mental health facilities limited its ability to make a definitive recommendation. Further work is required to determine whether and where suitable facilities can be found. In the interim, rather than moving to construct such facilities itself, the Correctional Service of Canada should utilize provincial mental health facilities but only when hospitalization is absolutely required. When hospitalization is considered necessary, correctional workers should be involved for the duration of the woman's stay, and the woman should remain in hospital for the shortest possible time.

Why is Community Involvement so Essential to Effective Programming?

The Task Force discussed the issue of in-house versus external resources. The provision of resources by community agencies or individuals was considered important to maintain the link between women and the community. Community agencies are in a better position to ensure that programs are continually revitalized and updated. Workers in community agencies are often well connected to programs from other areas not directly connected to corrections. They can therefore more easily plan a multi- dimensional programming strategy and facilitate continuity for the women upon release.

However, the Task Force did identify the current instability in community resource delivery which appears primarily to be associated with the annual funding process. The Task Force considers that the important benefits associated with community service delivery could be guaranteed through a more stable and long- term funding structure.

From Staffing for Security to Staffing for Support

What Role Should Staff Play?

The debate on staffing issues has traditionally focused on the security versus programs conflict, while the more recent thrust towards dynamic security and unit management is based on the idea of integrating the concepts of control, support and assistance. It is, however, becoming increasingly clear that the full expression of such integration, because it is dependent on establishing stable, productive personal relationships rather than institutional ones, will be difficult to achieve in traditional correctional environments.

Certainly, during research and consultations, federally sentenced women told Task Force members that they needed support from staff rather than security. The women said they needed staff to respond to their pain and to support, motivate and reinforce the growth of self-esteem and judgment.

Federally sentenced women reported relating positively towards non-security staff such as nurses and psychologists as well as staff in program positions including paid and volunteer workers from community groups. While women reported that individually they liked some security staff better than others, there was the overwhelming view expressed that the security staff role was a guarding function, that they had no counselling skills, and that there was not sufficient trust between guards and prisoners to allow prisoners to confide in the guards. And yet, often, particularly in the middle of the night or at other times of crisis, there is no other person available for support.

The women also raised the need for cultural sensitivity among staff members. For example, while some effort has been made in the Prison for Women and in some provincial institutions to introduce Aboriginal programming, women observed that staff members rarely understand the meaning and importance of Aboriginal spirituality and traditions, particularly in those places where federally sentenced women are incarcerated in the provinces.

Current staffing does not respond well to women's needs and preferences. The present correctional system is security driven in that by far the greatest number of staff are security staff, the largest proportion of the correctional budget is allocated to security, and many restrictions and limitations to programs and other activities are based on "security needs".

The historical basis of this current staffing model, which included the use of ax-military and RCMP staff, still retains some pare-military flavour with uniforms, rankings and a strict hierarchy ordering the relationships between various staff members and between staff and prisoners, despite strenuous efforts by the Correctional Service of Canada in recent years to move to a different model. According to research results, this is problematic for women who do not react well to this type of authoritarian structure.

In order to help women take responsibility for their lives in prison and prepare for self-sufficiency upon release, staff must create an environment where relationships based on role-modeling, support, trust and democratic decision making can thrive between staff and federally sentenced women.

How can Staff Selection and Training Promote a More Supportive Approach?

In order for staff working with federally sentenced women to assume more supportive rather than security oriented roles, the focus of selection and training will need to shift.

Staff will require life experience, social service work histories, and/or academic backgrounds which prepare(s) them to work specifically with women. They will require a sound understanding of women's issues, including the socialization of women, and will need a high awareness of the abuse experienced by many women throughout their lives. In addition, staff will require an appreciation of Aboriginal and other cultural issues and a sensitivity to the dynamics and expression of racism.

The skill profile of staff working with federally sentenced women would also include highly developed interpersonal, communication skills, crisis intervention and negotiation abilities. Efforts to recruit Aboriginal people and individuals from ethnic minority groups should be a priority, undertaken in a culturally sensitive manner.

Should Male Staff be Hired?

The research commissioned for this Task Force clearly demonstrated that the majority of federally sentenced women are survivors of physical and/or sexual abuse, primarily suffered at the hands of men with whom they shared their daily lives.104

In addition, women in Canadian society are generally considered or treated as unequal to men and are often dependent on men economically and emotionally. Women are also frequently subordinate to male authority in their work and home lives.

Women require the greatest possible freedom to work on past injuries and to gain strength to move forward to a world where they can interact with women or men on a sound foundation. Task Force members believe that the presence of women staff, particularly in key positions, provides a powerful message of self sufficiency to women. Teaching strength and self-esteem to women can be achieved best when they can daily observe these characteristics in other women.

Based on these realities, hiring male staff to be the primary support for women in their day to day living situation would be counterproductive to the encouragement of increased self-esteem and independence. In addition, the hiring of male staff for such positions could interfere with the healing process for those who have survived physical, sexual and/or psychological abuse.

Task Force members agreed, however, that there are roles, for example in education and vocational training programs, that could be filled either by women or men who are sensitive to women's needs and realities. However, in order to create meaningful choices for federally sentenced women, all staff must understand the philosophy that equality and fairness will only result when fundamental changes occur in the ways that staff relate to federally sentenced women.

From Risk Management to Individual Planning

In the current correctional system, the management of federally sentenced women is based primarily on security considerations. This approach is built on several assumptions which Task Force consultations, research and deliberations indicate are not relevant or constructive for women.

One of these problematic assumptions is that federally sentenced women are a risk to society. Based on this assumption, federal women are divided into the same security categories and subjected to many of the same static security measures as are men. And yet, most federally sentenced women are not a risk to society. Where women do present risks, these risks tend to be to themselves.

Another assumption underlying the current management of federally sentenced women is that some of the women's needs are more important than others. This assumption leads to the prioritizing and separate categorizing of needs. Instead, Task Force research and consultations stressed that needs must be dealt with holistically.

A third assumption on which the present system responds to federally sentenced women is that case management should be primarily an internal correctional system responsibility. There is evidence to suggest that a team approach to case management105 can be very useful.

As Task Force members deliberated on these assumptions and their implications for the current system, a number of dilemmas arose. These dilemmas will be discussed under three main sub-headings dealing with security, classification and case management.

What are the security needs of women?

Through consultations and research, the Task Force was told by federally sentenced women that they needed support, not security. Many others consulted also believe that the traditional security system has little relevance for women whose value systems are rooted more in relationships than in systems.

Aboriginal people consulted, also stressed that the concept of punishment is alien to the Aboriginal culture. The focus on restoration of harm and finding direction through teachings and spirituality in traditional culture is diametrically different from the punitive models that have grown up in non-Aboriginal, western civilizations. The punitive model is, therefore, particularly irrelevant and harsh in its effect on Aboriginal women.

The discussions around this question among Task Force members, focused primarily on how to achieve an open environment while ensuring the protection of society.

Are Federally Sentenced Women a Risk to Society?

Experience, now validated by the Task Force research and consultations, confirms that all federally sentenced women are high need regardless of sentence length or nature of offence.106 Regarding risk, women generally are not a danger to others. There are a very small number of women who have come to rely on violence in order to survive overwhelming abuse throughout their lives. It is believed that these women will respond well to a more supportive environment.

Women do, however, present risks to themselves. Research107 suggests this risk is directly associated to their histories of abuse. Self-abuse is related to feelings of low self-esteem and unresolved pain, often from physical, sexual and/or psychological abuse. Therefore, federal women could pose less risk to themselves if they were supported to develop better self-esteem and independence, and if they were helped to heal from the effects of abuse in their lives.

In addition, there is some understanding currently that a punitive environment exacerbates and may indeed be a contributory motivating influence in self-directed violence. Punishment such as segregation, whether in response to disciplinary offenses, the "good order of the institution", or whether in response to an individual being victimized by other prisoners, is inappropriate when the aim is to empower women to accept responsibility and make good choices for themselves.

After extensive discussion, the Task Force concluded that the assumption underlying the current management of federally sentenced women should not be risk/security but risk/ support. The Task Force finds the four current security classification categories inappropriate for the small group of federally sentenced women.108 Current "security" would best be replaced by the provision of a healthy environment, supportive staff, and a good planning process. This dynamic form of security-support will allow federally sentenced women to utilize the legislated period of incarceration to confront and resolve the trauma underlying their inner-directed anger.

Task Force members also concluded that overall, facilities for women should not be security driven. Every woman regardless of offense should be given the opportunity to respond to supportive and dynamic intervention. On the rare occasion where a woman poses a threat to the safety of others, her free movement amongst others may have to be curtailed temporarily. Even in this instance, static security measures must be used to the least extent possible. Every effort should be made to avoid creating a barrier through static security measures to human support systems (including friends). In addition, intensive human intervention must be maintained until the woman can abandon violence and develop safer coping skills.

It should be noted that the concept of risk/support is consistent with principle of non punitive restoration of harm central to Aboriginal traditions.

Is Classification Appropriate?

Research conducted for the Chinnery Report109 and the Needham Report110 demonstrates that male criteria are not relevant for women, and suggests a methodology for developing a female based classification system. In addition, through consultations, Task Force members learned that the current criteria are not culturally relevant and, therefore, Aboriginal women, in particular are affected negatively by the current classification system.

Initially, Task force members supported the concept of woman-based criteria for classification as suggested by previous studies but ultimately came to the conclusion that assessment to gain better understanding of a woman's needs and experiences is more appropriate than classification. This conclusion is based on the Task Force perception that classification maintains the focus on security and on assigning a security rating for the women. Assessment, on the other hand, looks at the whole spectrum of women's needs from a holistic perspective, including needs relating to programming, spirituality, mental and physical health, family, culture and release plans. Through this assessment, staff can then respond to the constellation of needs by appropriate support and intervention strategies which also consider the protection of society and the reduction of risk.

Experience has shown that sound assessment facilitates early release by identifying at the earliest possible point in the sentence what the program, service and personal needs are for each individual woman.

Members of the Task Force felt that future work needs to be done to develop a woman based, interactive assessment model to be used for federally sentenced women.

How Can Planning be Most Effective in Creating Choice?

The importance of developing the skills and insights they need to gain self-esteem and autonomy was reported and identified by many federally sentenced women. Some form of planning was seen to be important to achieve these ends. However, much criticism was directed towards the current case management approach in that women did not feel they were a part of their own planning and were not encouraged at an early stage to take responsibility for their lives.

The research has also validated the commonly held belief that a very high proportion of federally sentenced women have very abusive backgrounds, and therefore, have the psychological and emotional needs resulting from such abuse. The relationship between these needs and the more practical socio- economic needs (vocational training, etc.) is fundamental. How, for example, can a woman learn to read when she is in psychological distress? The Task Force concluded that only through a holistic approach can intervention be meaningful and effective. Such an approach is diametrically different from the case management strategies tool which not only prioritizes needs but creates artificial distinctions between "types of needs". These distinctions are particularly meaningless in the "emotional needs areas", where emotional stability is perceived as independent of needs related to families, marriage and companions.

During the needs survey, federally sentenced women expressed their considerable support for the former National Liaison Worker (NLW) position. The NLW, an employee of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, was funded by the Correctional Service of Canada to provide national, community-based, pre-release support for women in the Prison for Women. The contract, however, was terminated in 1987 because the Correctional Service of Canada felt that the NLW "duplicated" the work of the case management team.

Building on this information, the Task Force examined the possibility that case management or the planning function could be done most effectively by someone who is not a Correctional Service of Canada employee but rather an employee of a community-based group. If community support is an essential component for early release, then perhaps a community-based employee would be more appropriate.

The Task Force concluded, however, that a team approach to planning, where facility staff and community groups are jointly responsible for encouraging and assisting each woman to develop and manage a personal plan was the preferred approach. Within this approach, a Correctional Service of Canada staff-person would take the initiative and would be held accountable for developing and participating in an active and creative working team which would include the federally sentenced woman and one or more community workers.

Task Force members also believe that such a team approach will be most successful if it is built on a goal of equal partnership between correctional systems, community groups and federally sentenced women. This would reduce the difficulty associated with maintaining an equal partnership between staff and federally sentenced women. An external structure would also be able to provide specialized expertise on an "as required (and, therefore, cost effective) basis".

In surveying innovative correctional strategies reflecting this tripartite responsibility (federally sentenced women, Correctional Service of Canada and the community), the Task Force was struck by the similarity of objectives between the National Liaison Worker concept and the client-specific planning approach as developed by Jerome Miller111 of the National Centre on Institutions and Alternatives, U.S.A. Within this latter model, the use of expert private sector workers to develop correctional and release plans, prevents an individual woman from getting lost in the "case management system"...a system which is often unable to pay sufficient attention to the unique features of each individual case, or to develop creative alternatives based on full knowledge of the resources available in the community.

Finally, the Task Force members, through the consultations and research, summarized needs which must be addressed in order to move toward an individual planning approach. These needs include:

  • the need to ensure that planning is based on the needs of the individual, not driven by the resources which are commonly available within correctional settings;
  • the need to aggressively recruit or create new resources to meet the needs of individuals; the need for a comprehensive initial assessment which addresses the socio-economic and psychological context of each individual;
  • the need to work in equal partnership with federally sentenced women;
  • the need to ensure the individual planning approach is an integral aspect of the operational plan rather than a program or a function carried out by a particular individual;
  • the need to ensure case management remains focused on people rather than on paper;
  • the need to ensure that case management is actively oriented towards release; and finally,
  • the need to ensure that case management is based on a holistic approach.

From Advisory to Action

Can Federally Sentenced Women have a Voice under the Current Organizational Structure?

In reviewing correctional and criminological literature, it is immediately apparent that almost all the attention is directed towards men in the criminal justice system. Members of the Task Force are very aware that in Canada there are approximately 12,500 men in federal penitentiaries compared to 208 women. Understandably, most of the resources and attention of Correctional Service of Canada are directed towards men. As discussed in earlier chapters, current correctional strategies are developed within a male orientation with subsequent adjustments or exemptions for federally sentenced women.

At issue for the Task Force in considering this reality, was the question of how effectively a new approach to the needs of federally sentenced women would operate within the current federal system.

Lee Axon has concluded in her analysis of correctional systems that the successful implementation of woman-based corrections is dependent on the appointment of a woman to a very high level management position, with the responsibility, status and authority to implement fundamental changes. It could be argued that this need was implicitly recognized in Canada as early as the Ouimet Report. In 1969, Ouimet recommended that a woman be appointed "to a position of senior responsibility and leadership".112 In 1981, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies put forward a recommendation that a Deputy Commissioner for Women be appointed and that women be considered a sixth region. This recommendation, which was reiterated in the Canadian Bar Association Report113 and referenced in the Daubney Report'114, suggests a general perception that the intent and underlying objective of the Ouimet recommendation has not been met -the male orientation continues to pervade correctional practices for women.

At present the Native and Female Offender Program Division, part of the Correctional Service of Canada headquarters, reflects this orientation. Its primary role is only advisory, both with respect to operational units, (specifically the Prison for Women), and in relation to other divisions with responsibility for relevant matters, such as Case Management and Community Release. In addition, this small division has a mandate which includes a variety of significant special needs groups so that the division cannot give federally sentenced women or any of the other special needs groups the attention they deserve. The division is also placed relatively low in the organization. Thus, while Correctional Service of Canada has implicitly acknowledged the need for a separate voice for women through the existence of the division, the ongoing disadvantaged situation of federally sentenced women suggests the ineffectiveness of the approach taken.

These organizational factors will become even more critical when the accommodation of federally sentenced women is fully regionalized (a central part of the Recommended Plan of the Task Force). Under such a system, the structure must be capable of ensuring that all the decentralized components function within the national framework for federally sentenced women, with a minimum of regional variances in fundamental areas, and that each component support and learn from the others. Without direct organizational relationships, the Task Force fears that each decentralized facility would be isolated within its home region.

The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and some other members of the Task Force believe that a new plan for federal women must be managed by a woman Deputy Commissioner in order to ensure the effective integration of the women-centered approach. This concept is difficult to envisage given the decentralized management style currently utilized by the Correctional Service of Canada and therefore it will, along with other administrative options, require further discussion.

In addition to the requirement for internal administrative adjustments to support a new plan for women, Task Force members endorsed the establishment of a National Advisory Council which would advise the Commissioner of Correctional Services with respect to issues pertaining to federally sentenced women. This council would be drawn from Regional Planning Councils supporting each women's facility. The Solicitor General could appoint members in consultation with interested and expert community groups.


Does our Current Release System Really Help Women Integrate into the Community

Both our research and consultations suggest that there are inadequacies at almost every stage of the community release process.

The often great distances between a federally sentenced woman and her friends, family and home inhibit on-going contact with those supports. Great distances also cause administrative and financial problems around obtaining temporary releases to make the transition from home to community gradual and effective.

Women do not have adequate information about conditional release systems and do not understand the process of passes, day parole and full parole. This is particularly critical because of complex differences between federal and provincial release systems. For example, over half the women interviewed for a recent joint Correctional Service of Canada and National Parole Board study,115 found that a high number of women did not know that federal legislation grants them an automatic hearing before the National Parole Board at their day parole eligibility date. Women also did not understand the process or the significance of waiving this review.

Federally sentenced women reported to the Task Force that they had difficulty obtaining information from Correctional Service of Canada officials about conditional release and often had to rely on other sources such as other prisoners or community groups for that information. Women also had difficulty learning what services are available in various communities... essential information for release planning.

Federally sentenced women in provincial institutions reported even less support for release planning, For example, the problem of obtaining needed information is even more pronounced for federally sentenced women serving their sentences in the provinces.

Women also have fewer options to help them integrate into the community on release. In the system for men, it is common to grant a series of escorted, and then unescorted passes, to the community to which one wishes to return, so that success in limited community release can lead to something like day parole in a half-way house. These incremental steps help the Parole Board decide whether to take a chance on a full parole for that individual. However, for many federally sentenced women, the great distances and expense involved in being transported from their facility to their community, and the small number of halfway house beds for women, tend to inhibit this process.

Many halfway houses prefer to meet the individual first in the institution, and then during a weekend release, before deciding whether the person is suitable for their program. Again, the large distances between an institution and the releasing community make this sort of gradual release extremely difficult.

A further problem is that there are very few halfway houses which are geared to the needs of federally sentenced women. A woman who is a candidate for conditional release often has to choose between going to a community which is not near her home or continuing incarceration.

Women on conditional release tend to have a large number of problems to cope with, including children, child care and custody problems; making a living; finding decent affordable housing; finding appropriate health care; dealing with addictions and other problems.

These problems are exacerbated by the fact that federally sentenced women report that much of the training in institutions is not in fields where they are likely to find employment after release. Where it is in such fields, the equipment they work on (such as computers) is out-of-date, thus reducing their chances of getting and keeping a job on the outside.

In dealing with these multi-faceted problems, it is evident that women need support in dealing with the many services and agencies in the community that are available, and need assistance in finding other resources which they-require. The great majority of women will eventually return to the community, and the way in which that transition occurs is integral to the safe and successful (re-)integration of the women into the community.

However, many communities do not have a coordinated approach for assessing and addressing the needs of disadvantaged women. A variety of federal, provincial, regional and municipal agencies may be involved in one or more parts of the puzzle. Community agencies, volunteer groups and individuals may also be involved. Often, however, the overall picture of availability and gaps in services for women is not collectively known, let alone evaluated and addressed. Community education concerning the needs and risks for women returning to the community is also not often present.

To expedite the (re)integration of women into the community, Task Force members agreed on five guidelines to promote planning for integration.

  1. The experiences of the woman during the incarceration phase of her sentence should do as much as possible to prepare her for release and for the outside world which awaits her. There needs to be continuity between the services and programs offered in the facility and those offered in the community.
  2. The woman needs to be sufficiently informed about the release system to make sound choices and release plans.
  3. In order to ensure that the release plan is realistic, concrete and responsive to her risk and needs, community assistance, support and controls must be an integral part of the release plan.
  4. The release decision needs to be based on a sound understanding of services available, the needs of women, and any limitations which might inhibit an effective response to these needs. Information and a full understanding of these concerns should be shared by the woman, by correctional officials and by community groups which will be supporting the woman throughout the release process.
  5. The community portion of the sentence needs to be managed in a way which ensures all the elements necessary to successful (re-)integration.

The Task Force concluded that opportunities for community groups and individuals to act in advisory and service provision capacities both in the facilities and in the community, would form an additional link between the institution and the community to smooth the release process.


From Afterthought to Alternatives

How Can the Aboriginal Perspective be Heard Clearly?

One of the central issues faced by the Task Force with respect to Aboriginal women was the discrimination within discrimination that is experienced by this group of federal women. This inevitably led to a discussion of the struggle by Aboriginal people for their own justice system within the context of self government. It was impossible for the Task Force to tackle this broad issue within its mandate, but acknowledgment of the struggle did result in a decision to approach Aboriginal concerns from two vantage points. Task Force members agreed that fundamental broader issues as seen by Aboriginal members would be addressed by them in their own way, in a separate chapter of the report. In addition, it was agreed that every effort would be made by the non-Aboriginal members to understand the Aboriginal perspective and to integrate this understanding, with support from Aboriginal members, throughout the report. In this way, Task Force members hoped to lessen the "add on" or "afterthought" mentality so often associated with minority or disadvantaged groups.

In order to gain understanding, Task Force members endeavoured to consult with Aboriginal communities but were not successful in this attempt. Time constraints, and a lack of knowledge about how to effectively link with these communities in their own way, contributed to this failure. The Task Force members did nonetheless, have the benefit of advice and input from many Aboriginal federally sentenced women, from numerous Aboriginal organizations and from several Elders. In addition, the Aboriginal research conducted by Fran Sugar and Lana Fox116 contributed to our understanding of how to learn from women in Aboriginal cultures.

The voices from those Aboriginal people with whom we did consult were clear in their message. Just as we cannot tack women onto a men-oriented system of corrections, so we cannot tack Aboriginal women onto any system be it for men or women. Aboriginal prisoners, for example, told the Task Force of their need to be with other Aboriginal women, and to have free and wide access to the teachings and healings of their culture. They also spoke of the importance of keeping in touch with their families and communities. Added to this, Aboriginal groups stressed the need for the Task Force members to learn from the Aboriginal approach when planning new systems for women. They highlighted the holistic view of responding to women in difficulty, and indicated the strong need for improved cross-cultural training to address the lack of sensitivity and knowledge which blocks the ability to benefit from the strengths of Aboriginal cultures.

The Task Force members concluded from the many consultations held and also from the failed consultations, that it is not very realistic to think that non-Aboriginal people can develop and operate Aboriginal programs. The most non-Aboriginal women can do is to become sensitive to the issues so that they do not create unwitting obstacles to effective responses and to the facilitation of Aboriginal program development and delivery.

Should Aboriginal Women Have Their Own Facilities?

The Task Force on Aboriginal Peoples in Corrections117 considered the issue of separate Aboriginal prisons, and concluded that the Ministry of the Solicitor General should decide whether an all Aboriginal institution is consistent with its policies. Part of the concern with this idea of a separate prison, proposed most recently in the 1984 Carson Committee Report118 lies in the danger of creating an Aboriginal ghetto with a variety of inappropriate security levels, at great distances from the home communities of Aboriginal prisoners. While the concept was not totally rejected by the Aboriginal Task Force, the conversion of existing facilities was seen as inappropriate.

The Task Force was sensitive to the above position, but moved further towards the view that a parallel, rather than an "add-on" approach is required when responding to the needs of Aboriginal women in prison. Concepts such as individual planning and holistic mental health services, for example, have meaning to Aboriginal people but they must be applied in their own terms. Two other elements worked in favour of pursuing a separate Aboriginal facility - the knowledge that a new accommodation plan for federal women would permit choice for women, and most importantly, the fact that the Aboriginal representatives on the Task Force put forward the idea.

This led the Task Force, on advice from the Aboriginal members to propose the establishment of a healing lodge somewhere in the Prairie Provinces, which would serve as a choice for incarcerated Aboriginal women. It was clear from the outset however, that this conclusion was only the conclusion of this Task Force. In order to be accepted, this idea must not only be embraced by the Correctional Service of Canada but must be developed by and connected to Aboriginal communities.

From Life to Living

There are currently 54 federally sentenced women who are serving sentences of twenty years or more. Detailed information on this group has not been collected, but it is probable that, like other such groups, they share only the common denominator of sentence length while differing in age, education, and other needs.

Although the Task Force did not have the benefit of a separate study on this group, research on long- term sentenced persons, including the summary in Lee Axon's report, suggested a number of critical areas to address.

How Can Staff Respond Effectively to the Needs of Lifers?

The Task Force heard from long-term federally sentenced women, both during the consultations and via the research. Many of these women expressed a preference not to be with others serving short sentences. Others indicated that often they have much in common with persons serving short sentences and expressed a reluctance to be segregated by sentence length alone. The Task Force linked this issue to the issue of the boredom which inevitably results from the monotony of living in the same environment for years, and concluded that its plan must offer some flexibility for movement between regional facilities to allow some choice in living arrangements for women serving long sentences.

Persons serving long sentences pass through a cycle of often overlapping stages: denial, mourning, rebellion, adjustment and socialization. The duration of each stage varies from woman to woman. Each stage presents a distinct set of needs. The Task Force concluded that it is essential for staff to be sensitized to these stages, and to provide appropriate resources and support for each stage.

It is not difficult to recognize that the debilitating effects of incarceration would be exaggerated for long- term sentenced women. The discussion on this issue re-affirmed the Task Force's premise that any plan it developed must reduce the potential for institutionalization and enhance the potential for responsible, normal lives for all federally sentenced women.

Providing opportunities for self-determination, the expression of individuality, and responsibility for day to day living are elements which are of only increased, not sole, significance to long term sentenced women. The Task Force also concluded that there must be opportunities for "careers in prison" particularly for long term sentenced women, and that these careers must represent meaningful employment which reflects as much as possible the reality of the outside world.

From Separation to Connection

How Can the Bonds Between Mothers and Children be Nurtured?

Two out of three federally sentenced women are mothers, who said they had primary responsibility for their children. Many of these women spoke of the intense pain and anxiety caused by the separation from their children and of their sense of powerlessness when their children are placed in foster homes. Federally sentenced women who chose to remain in their home provinces under Exchange of Service Agreements, told researchers they did so primarily to maintain regular contact with their children.

Currently, visiting policies differ from prison to prison. The cost of transportation, the willingness of foster parents to facilitate visits, the cost of telephone calls, are all factors that, despite written policy, greatly affect women's ability to maintain contact. With respect to infants, only two provinces enable women to keep their infants during the critical bonding stage.

The Task Force discussed the issue of mothers and children at length. Following its review of the available literature, the Task Force concluded this complex issue could not be amply dealt with in the time available and that there is no one simple answer or formula The Task Force recognized that the issue involves others besides the mother, the child and the Correctional Service of Canada. The extended family and child welfare agencies also have a role to play.

The Task Force further agreed that the environment at most of the current facilities for women in Canada is not appropriate for children.

Although the Task Force concluded that this issue deserves further study, it was decided that:

  • new facilities must provide a home-like environment and sufficient flexibility to enable a child or children to live with their mother;
  • decisions should be made on an individual basis;
  • the Correctional Service of Canada should be the facilitator in the decision-making process, assisting and supporting the sentenced mother in her negotiations with the applicable child welfare agency.

The Task Force further decided that where a live-in arrangement is not possible, the Correctional Service of Canada must provide the necessary resources to enable regular and close contact between mothers and children.


In discussing each issue and dilemma, the Task Force members were confronted with the need to clarify their own principles in order to determine the "best" approach. These principles were then subjected to more intensive discussions which are reflected in the next chapter.