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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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The 2002 Mental Health Strategy For Women Offenders

Jane Laishes
Mental Health, Health Services



The following provides a general overview of women offenders in CSC, including a brief description of the various accommodation resources available.

As of March 2002 there were 866 women under federal sentence, which is 4% of the federal incarcerated population. Since 1997, there has been an ongoing trend whereby there are more women offenders on conditional release in the community (57.5% or 498) than are incarcerated (42.5% or 368). These figures tend to be the opposite for men, who are from 58-64% incarcerated, with 36-42% in the community.

Whereas, the number of male inmates in federal institutions has undergone a 9% decline over the past five years, the women's population has increased by 12.3%. Half (51.6%) of the incarcerated women and 40% of the women in the community are in the 18 to 34 age group. Specific information on women's security classification offense categories, length of sentence, ethnicity, and the number of Community Residential Facility (CRF) beds available for women offenders in the community can be found in Appendix B.

CSC Facilities for Women Offenders

In 1934, the Prison for Women opened in Kingston, Ontario. Since its opening, a variety of Task Forces and Commissions examined the disadvantaged situation of federally incarcerated women, and there were numerous calls for the closure of the Prison for Women. With this in mind, the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women was established in 1989, as a joint initiative by the Federal Government and relevant private sector groups. After extensive consultations and research which incorporated the views and experiences of federally sentenced women, the April 1990 Report of the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women entitled, Creating Choices was released. Among its recommendations were the following:

  • Closure of the Prison for Women in Kingston;
  • Creation of four new regional facilities for women offenders;
  • Creation of a healing lodge for Aboriginal women offenders; and
  • Expansion of community-based services for women offenders.

In September 1990, the Federal Government announced acceptance of the Creating Choices recommendations and initiated implementation. By 2000, the regional facilities and the Healing Lodge had opened and the Prison for Women was officially closed. Appendix C contains additional information regarding the history of events pertaining to federal women's corrections in CSC.

The four regional facilities recommended by Creating Choices are located in Truro, Nova Scotia (Nova Institution for Women), Joliette, Quebec (Joliette Institution for Women), Kitchener, Ontario (Grand Valley Institution for Women), and Edmonton, Alberta (Edmonton Institution for Women). The design of the regional facilities reflects the recommendations of the Creating Choices report with up to 10 women living in stand-alone houses clustered behind a main building which contains staff offices, program space, recreation, a health care unit, and a visiting area*.

The Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge is the first institution of its kind. It was developed with and for the Aboriginal community and the majority of the staff, including the Kikawinaw (the director of the institution - "our mother" in the Cree language), are of Aboriginal descent. Interventions are Aboriginal-based with a strong emphasis placed on Aboriginal culture and spirituality, including the provision of full-time, on-site, Elder services.

Currently, federally sentenced women in the Pacific Region are placed at Burnaby Correctional Centre for Women (BCCW) which is a provincial facility that through an exchange of service agreement, accommodates 40 federally sentenced women. Given the upcoming closure of BCCW, slated for 2004, CSC's Sumas Centre in Abbotsford will be converted to a multi-level security facility to accommodate federally-sentenced women offenders. The design of the facility will be consistent with other regionally-based facilities for women offenders and will offer the same level of services and programs as those available in other regional women's facilities across the country.

Isabel McNeil House, which opened in 1991, is a 13-bed minimum security facility located in Kingston, Ontario. It is the only stand-alone minimum security facility.

Women of all security levels with particular mental health needs may receive treatment in a specialized, separate 12-bed women's unit at the Regional Psychiatric Centre - Prairies (RPC). This unit serves as a national mental health resource for Anglophone women. Francophone women may receive treatment at Institute Phillipe - Pinel in Quebec where CSC has contracted for inpatient treatment services.

In 1999, IIS was created to modify and expand the existing regional facilities to safely accommodate women offenders who were maximum security and had been co-located in men's institutions and/or who had mental health needs that required more intensive support than that available in the community living model of the women's facilities. As of December 2001, the first component of the IIS, the Structured Living Environment (SLE) houses were all open and operational. The SLE are specialized houses at each of the regional facilities designed for minimum and medium security women with mental health needs.

The final component of the IIS the opening of the purpose-built Secure Units in the regional facilities for women classified as maximum security and currently housed in distinct, co-located units in men's institutions. The Secure Units are scheduled to open in 2003. When this occurs, the co-located maximum security units will close with the exception of the Regional Psychiatric Centre.

* Additional information may be obtained in the Regional Women's Facilities Operational Plan, 2002.