Changing Population of Women in Federal Custody: 2015 to 2020

Research Highlights: The women custody population is now more diverse, slightly older, serving longer sentences and housed in lower security.


No RIB 21-11

June 2021

Research in Brief- PDF

Changing Population of Women in Federal Custody: 2015 to 2020

Why we did this study

At time of admission to federal custody both demographic and sentence information is recorded for every offender and thereby the entire population. These variables serve as an integral part of the individualized correctional planning and case management framework and are used for understanding changes in population profiles.

What we did

Data was gathered on the 2014-15 and 2019-20 year end federal women custody population (681 and 685, respectively) in relation to five major characteristics – diversity, age, sentence lengths, major offence and security level. Given there are roughly equivalent custody counts over the last five years, we can see the impact of muted growth in recent times.

What we found

Statistics show that women in federal custody have become more diverse over the past five years. More specifically, there has been a 5% proportional decline in Caucasian women in federal custody and a 5% increase in Indigenous women. With respect to age composition, there has been a proportional decline in those under 35 years and an equivalent increase in those older between 35 and 65 years of age. The number and percentage 65 and over has remained constant.

Overall, the composition of the women serving less than four years has dropped by 5% and reflected in a 3% increase serving a determinate sentence of 4 years or more. There has been a slight increase in the number of women in custody serving indeterminate (life) sentences. While an increasing proportion of women in federal custody are serving sentences for homicide-related offences, the proportion serving sentences for major assault and robbery offences has declined. Furthermore, the proportion of women serving sentences for drug and property-related crimes has remained relatively stable.

In relation to offender security level, a smaller proportion of women in federal custody are classified as maximum security, more are classified as medium security, and roughly, the same are classified as minimum security.

Population Profile of Federal Women in Custody
Characteristic 2014-2015 2019-2020
Diversity % (n) % (n)
Caucasian 51.1 (348) 45.2 (310)
Indigenous 35.3 (240) 40.7 (279)
Black 5.1 (35) 4.7 (32)
Other 8.5 (58) 9.4 (64)
< 35 53.3 (363) 49.6 (340)
35 to 64 44.9 (306) 48.5 (332)
65+ 1.7 (12) 1.9 (13)
Sentence Length
< 4 years 55.1 (375) 50.7 (347)
4 years+ 26.9 (183) 29.9 (205)
Indeterminate 18.1 (123) 19.4 (133)
Major Offence
Homicide 25.6 (174) 26.9 (184)
Major Assault 11.6 (79) 8.6 (59)
Robbery 13.2 (90) 12.0 (82)
Drug 23.0 (157) 24.4 (167)
Other 26.6 (181) 28.2 (193)
Security Level
Maximum 10.6 (72) 7.3 (50)
Medium 49.3 (336) 52.3 (358)
Minimum 27.9 (190) 28.1 (193)
Undetermined 12.2 (83) 12.3 (84)

What it means

The general finding that the women custody population has become more diverse, slightly older, longer sentenced, less violent and be housed in lower security requires some careful reflection. Given the growing proportion of Indigenous women offenders in federal custody, further work is required to ensure the delivery of appropriate, culture-informed and amplified programming at the earliest point possible to improve safe reintegration.

For more information

Please e-mail the Research Branch or contact us by phone at (613) 995-3975.

You can also visit the Research Publications section for a full list of reports and one-page summaries.

Prepared by: Larry Motiuk and Andre Arnet-Zargarian

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