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The Transformation of Federal Corrections for Women

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Where Did We Come From?

Prison for Women - An Historical Context

The past decade has ushered in a new philosophy of women's corrections. Ten years ago, there was only one federal facility for women offenders in Canada - the Prison for Women in Kingston, Ontario. Since the opening of this facility in 1934, numerous task forces and royal commissions have called for its closure. This is not surprising, given that the institution was geographically isolated (many women were incarcerated far away from their families, friends, and communities); it lacked programming specific to women's needs; it had limited space, ventilation, and privacy; it could not fully meet the cultural and spiritual needs of Aboriginal offenders; and its environment only supported the language requirements of its English-speaking majority.

The Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women

Determined to address these issues, Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) Commissioner Ole Ingstrup initiated the creation of a new task force in 1989. Comprised of a broad range of correctional practitioners, government agencies and non-governmental organizations, the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women was asked to develop a comprehensive strategy for the management of women offenders. The task force report, entitled Creating Choices, was endorsed by the federal government in September 1990. The report was founded on the principles of empowerment, meaningful choices, respect and dignity, supportive environments, and shared responsibility. These principles served as the driving force behind a number of recommendations, including:

  • the closure of Prison for Women;
  • the construction of regional women's facilities1 and an Aboriginal healing lodge (all to be structured in accordance with community-style living environments);
  • the development of women-centred programs, including survivors of abuse and mother-child programming; and
  • the establishment of a community strategy to expand and strengthen residential and non-residential programs and services for women offenders who are conditionally released.

These recommendations brought about a new definition of effective corrections for women offenders, one that now encompasses a holistic approach to dealing with their specific needs. The task force based this definition on the results of its consultations and research findings. The research included surveys of CSC staff and women offenders, as well as comprehensive literature reviews.