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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Cross Gender Monitoring Project


The Honourable Louise Arbour, then a Justice with the Ontario Court of Appeal, was commissioned by the Solicitor General of Canada to investigate and report on incidents that occurred at the Prison for Women on April 22, 1994. The Prison for Women was the only federal penitentiary for women sentenced to two years or more in the country. The Commission of Inquiry was to investigate, among other actions, the deployment and conduct of an all-male institutional emergency response team (IERT) to the Prison for Women. Videos of cell extractions by this team made national news at the time, and led to considerable public debate as to these incidents.

In 1996, the Arbour Commission of Inquiry submitted its report to the Solicitor General of Canada in which the Commissioner made a series of recommendations, ranging from preventing the repetition of what occurred at the Prison for Women, to amending a wide range of practices including the grievance system, accountability, selection and training of staff, and the use of segregation, among others. For Commissioner Arbour, the deployment of an all male emergency response team was at the heart of the Inquiry and raised the broader issue of what role, if any, male correctional staff should have in women's prisons.1 She noted that there were already a wide variety of arrangements for male staff working in women's prisons, including working as correctional officers in some provincial facilities, and in the United States where male correctional officers constitute as high as 81% of all staff.2

Cross-gender staffing had been an issue of debate for quite some time. Until 1989, male staff were restricted from supervising women inmates in their living areas within the walls of Kingston Prison for Women. As a consequence of a successful complaint by a male correctional officer to this female-only staffing policy (King v. Canada Correctional Service, unreported, July 5, 1989 [Public Service Commission Appeal Board]), Correctional Service Canada (CSC) altered its policy and allowed male Primary Workers to apply for, and staff front-line positions in most institutions housing federal female inmates. CSC policies were further refined in the wake of a Supreme Court of Canada decision (Conway v. Canada [1993] 2 S.C.R. 872), in which a male inmate claimed invasion of privacy rights with regard to the CSC policy of allowing female Primary Workers in men's institutions. The Court upheld the employment of women as front-line workers in male prisons, but did not close the door to an argument under the equality provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms concerning male front-line workers in female institutions. Special selection processes and training programs were instituted by CSC in 1993, along with policy directives in an attempt to address the concerns relating to privacy and safety expressed by women inmates and community groups. Around the same time five (5) new regional facilities were built and staffed.

A number of concerned parties disagreed with the policy of allowing male correctional staff to supervise female inmates, particularly in their living quarters. The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS), the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), as well as some Federally Sentenced Women (FSW) have expressed grave concerns. The Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women 3 also recommended against hiring men as the primary workers in the new regional facilities. Concerns centred on the potential for sexual harassment and abuse of women prisoners by male correctional staff, as well as invasion of privacy of women engaged in intimate activities, such as bathing or using the toilet. It was also generally felt that in light of the very high number of women inmates who were sexually abused as girls and as adults, often by males in authority, an opportunity to heal in an all female environment in the living units was important, if not essential, before being required to deal with men in such an intimate situation.

Despite reservations about male Primary Workers in female institutions, CSC had adopted a different viewpoint, one which centred on the ability of sound policies, training and adaptations to the physical environment to decrease the potential for abuse and increase the safety and security of inmates. This position was grounded in the following: legal decisions that preclude a 'female-only' approach to staffing institutions which house female inmates; a review of training to ensure that staff are sensitive to women's issues; the view that institutions should reflect the make-up of the community, including the presence of male staff; and, that positive male role models can assist women who have, historically, suffered at the hands of male aggressors.

The Inquiry's report noted that CSC's decision to allow males to work as front line correctional officers included an intention to screen and select staff based on the following criteria: a demonstrated sensitivity to and awareness of women's issues; professionalism, and an ability to work in a woman-centred environment. 4 In discussing the concerns and merits involved with employing male front line workers, Madame Justice Arbour noted that privacy concerns could be addressed through the design of the new prisons, as well as protocols. Examples of the content of protocols included always pairing male front line workers with female front-line workers when patrolling living units, restricting males from patrolling living units at night altogether; and, requiring male officers to announce their presence before entering a living unit or a cell.5 She further noted that in her view,

"the key to the success of gender integration in the living units of correctional facilities for women lies in staff selection and training, explicit working protocols and adequate monitoring. Based on the material presented to me, I am satisfied with the selection and training process for the new facilities. I am concerned, however, that the same process not be dismantled after the hiring of the first group of staff for the new facilities."6

Madame Justice Arbour went on to state that she viewed it as equally essential that the sexual harassment policy of CSC be extended to apply to inmates.7

The Commissioner recommended the appointment of an independent Monitor to review and report on the implementation of cross gender staffing at CSC's women's facilities. It was further recommended that the Monitor issue public Annual Reports including descriptions of any corrective measures taken by CSC to redress the problem(s) identified. Finally, it was recommended that the

Deputy Commissioner for Women report to the Commissioner of Corrections after three (3) years on the desirability of continuing cross gender staffing.

In January 1998, Thérèse Lajeunesse & Associates began its work in the independent Cross-Gender Monitoring Project. The first phase consisted of a four month review of the systemic issues involved in cross gender staffing, through a cross section of site visits, and interviews with organizations and individuals interested in these issues. The First Annual Report (1998) made two recommendations; one regarding inadequacies in data collection on complaints and grievances by inmates, and a second recommending the immediate development and implementation of a sexual harassment policy for inmates.

Through our discussions, the Monitoring Team heard clearly that we should ensure our review went beyond male front-line workers to address the broader challenge of looking at systemic protections for Federally Sentenced Women (FSW) with respect to sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and sexual assault by any non-inmate. The Team also concluded that we would also monitor the same complaints emanating about incidents with same sex staff.

This is our second report of three annual reports. The Team's mandate ends March 31, 2000. We look forward to comments and further dialogue on this report and on the systemic issues our final report will be addressing. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the individuals and organizations who provided their views and experiences to us over the last year. Your input was invaluable.

1 Arbour, Louise. (1996) Commission of Inquiry Into Certain Events at the Prison for Women in Kingston. Ottawa: Public Works and Government Services Canada. p. 204.

2 Ibid. p.209.

3 The Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women. (1990) Creating Choices: Report of the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women. Ottawa: Correctional Service Canada.

4 Op cit. p. 214.

5 Ibid. p. 215.

6 Ibid. p. 216

7 Ibid. p. 217