The Modern Era

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End of an Era, the closing of the Prison for Women in Kingston

By 1960, the Prison for Women was starting to come into its own. The first Superintendent of the Prison for Women, Miss Isabel J. McNeill, was appointed that year and the first training course for staff was conducted. During the year, construction on the recreation building and school were completed.

To accommodate increasing population pressures, a wing area was built and opened in 1962. Over time, this wing became a preferred living area for selected women meeting mostly medium and minimum-security classifications. Greater autonomy was the focus in the unit, which allowed for less restrictive supervision, more privacy, and greater freedom of movement. Trustworthy inmates were given the key to their rooms, which had solid doors instead of bars.

In 1963-64, vocational training courses offered included business practice and home economics. The following year the hairdressing school was opened. Classification and counselling services continued to expand. Two milestones were reached that year: the Prison for Women's first Family Day was held and, for the first time, some inmates were allowed to go home at Christmas, Easter and on other special occasions. The detrimental effect of having only one centrally located prison for women in Canada continued to be noted: of a total population of 81 that year, fully one-third did not receive any visits from family members.

In 1966, Mr. Donald Clarke was appointed as Warden of the Prison for Women and he remained in that position until 1970. Mr. C.A.M Edwards followed from 1970 to 1972 until Mr. Doug Chinnery was appointed to the position and remained in charge until 1980.

The number of inmates increased significantly during the 1970s, reaching an all-time high of 210 in 1978-79.

In 1983, while Mr. George Caron was Warden, in an effort to equalize and improve treatment opportunities, some women were transferred to a special and separate wing at the Regional Treatment Centre within the walls of Kingston Penitentiary.

The first training course for staff was conducted in 1960.
The first training course for staff was conducted in 1960.

Pressure to incarcerate women offenders in their home provinces began to increase. By 1984, the federal government entered into transfer agreements with every territory and province except Ontario and Prince Edward Island. By 1985, most women from Quebec were held in Maison Tanguay, a Quebec provincial facility, but the majority of women from the other provinces were still incarcerated at the Prison for Women.

The years 1987-88 saw the following major treatment initiatives:

  • a 12-week substance abuse session (including a special session for Native women) provided by the Elizabeth Fry Society;
  • a Women in Society program focusing on self development;
  • a program based on confrontation therapy provided by Brentwood Addiction Counselors
  • counselling provided by a sexual assault therapist;
  • Native Sisterhood meetings held three times each week; and
  • women occupied six seats in university classes conducted at Collins Bay Institution.

In 1990, a new residential facility opened its doors near the Prison for Women, under the leadership of the Prison's Warden, Ms. Mary Cassidy. Isabel McNeill House continues to provide a supportive, minimum-security environment to help women offenders successfully reintegrate in the community upon their release. The House can accommodate up to 13 women in transition, providing them with job skills, personal development programs and constructive leisure activities, among other services.

In November 1994, Ms. Thérèse LeBlanc became the Warden of the Prison for Women. She ultimately became the last Warden of this institution, seeing it through its closure in July 2000.