Under Fire

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

While the Prison for Women offered improved conditions to its first inhabitants, it came under fire very early in its history for its deficiencies. In 1938, only four years after it opened, the Archambault Report recommended that the prison be closed as a women's facility and used for some other purpose.

This report noted that the prison was far too large for the only 40 women that it accommodated at that time, that it had no school, lacked sufficient space for outdoor exercise and did not provide adequate programs or meaningful work. The report concluded that the women should be moved closer to their families and communities.

Since the Archambault Report, no less than 15 government reports have criticized the federal correctional system, and by extension the Prison for Women, for its failure to provide adequate services for women offenders. One solution - building a new prison - never materialized, plans being made and abandoned in 1956, 1965 and 1968.

In 1969, the Report of the Canadian Committee on Corrections, the Ouimet Report, proposed the decentralization of the federal women offender population into provincial facilities by way of Exchange of Service Agreements between the federal and provincial governments. The Committee saw this as a way to provide a unified service. The first of these agreements was implemented in 1973, allowing some women from Quebec to reside in Maison Tanguay, a provincial facility in Quebec. Agreements were also developed with several other provinces to accommodate federal women offenders.


To varying degrees, most reports found that the majority of women were over-classified in terms of security and their accommodations were inferior to those of male offenders.

In 1970, the Royal Commission on the Status for Women recommended that the Federal Prisons and Reformatories Act be revised to eliminate all provisions that discriminate on the basis of sex and religion. Its report included recommendations for services and programs for Aboriginal and Francophone women. In addition, it called for the closing of the Prison for Women.

In 1974, the National Advisory Committee on the Female Offender, the NACFO-Clarke Report, was established by the Solicitor General of Canada to set out a plan to address the security and program needs of women inmates. The Clarke Report raised the issue of women having unique "special needs."

Further reports from other sources were to follow: in 1977, the Sub-Committee on the Penitentiary System in Canada (MacGuigan); in 1978, the National Planning Committee on the Female Offender (Needham), the Joint Committee to Study Alternatives for the Housing of the Federal Female Offender (Chinnery) and the Progress Report on the Federal Female Offender Program; in 1979, the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status for Women; in 1981, the Canadian Human Rights Commission; and, in 1988, the Canadian Bar Association, the Standing Committee on Justice and the Solicitor General in their Review of Sentencing, Conditional Release and Related Aspects of Corrections (Daubney).

To varying degrees, common threads ran through the many reports. Correctional programming offered to women was described as largely inferior in quality, quantity and variety to that offered to male offenders; the majority of women were over-classified in terms of security; accommodations were inferior; and women prisoners were denied their right to equal treatment, particularly with respect to being closer to their families and communities.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission Report of 1981 was particularly influential in that it ruled that the Correctional Service of Canada discriminated against women prisoners because it did not provide equal services and facilities. It was the first of several formal reprimands that were to mark the 1980s. Within the prison, several suicides, hunger strikes, self-mutilations and major incidents reinforced the belief held by many that the system was not working well.

The 1981 report also led to the construction of better facilities at the prison and to the establishment of additional programs to deal with many of the problems identified.