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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Through the consultation process, members of the Task Force discovered that the people who care are as disparate and unique as the federally sentenced women they care about. Politicians, members of women's groups, government officials, Elizabeth Fry Workers, Salvation Army workers, correctional staff, Elders, women who had been in prison, counsellors, members of Aboriginal organizations, academics, and many others expressed their concern about the situation experienced by federally sentenced women and shared their hopes for the future. In total over 300 individuals and organizations made submissions or presentations to the Task Force. They spoke for many others who care but were not reached by the Task Force. Their caring was obvious in the passion behind many of the submissions. Their caring was evident in the careful preparation so many put into their words.

Those who care spoke of learning, of understanding, of community responsibility, of woman-centred programming, of empowerment for the women. And they spoke of dramatic change. The vision for change shared by the people who care was remarkably consistent in its rejection of traditional incarceration and in its movement toward community-based alternatives supported by preventive programming and policies.

Their words, as well as the work and commitment of countless others who care, provide the energy and creativity to help move us toward such a vision for change. And now, the words of some of those who care will speak for themselves.


"The Roots of the Problem"

"We must recognize the significance of the fact that the majority of women who commit crimes are those in our society who have the fewest advantages." (Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan)

"There must be mandatory anti-racism and cross-cultural training for staff and administration. The racism is rampant out there." (Aboriginal Women's Council of Saskatchewan)

"The relationship between the conditions of women's lives and their subsequent involvement in the criminal justice system must form the basis of future policy. Social factors, such as poverty, unemployment, education, child and sexual abuse, are key in understanding women's involvement in crime and developing appropriate rehabilitation programs which are truly 'just'." (Manitoba Action Committee on the Status of Women)

"Compared to non-Native inmates, federally sentenced Native women are more likely to have addiction problems, less likely to have grade ten and less likely to have an employment history. They are also more likely to both have children and be raising these children on their own. The fact that, at the time of their arrest, 67% of Native offenders had been residing in urban communities while only 20% of them had been born in such communities, suggests that almost half of them could be lacking the skills needed to cope in an urban environment." (Native Counselling Services of Alberta)

"Women's conflict with the criminal justice system is a status of women issue... All programming and planning must take this into account." (Elizabeth Fry Society of Hamilton)

"The endless cycle of Native incarceration and recidivism will only be broken if the underlying causes of this situation are identified, addressed and dealt with in a realistic and holistic fashion. Otherwise, the endemic poverty, under-education and ensuing frustration will continue to generate anti-societal responses." (Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research)

"It is essential that the social situation of women in general be taken into consideration in the elaboration of programs for women in custody: female offenders' problems of dependence often have the same roots as the problems of dependence experienced by women in general." (Joanne Valley. Directrice générale. Association des services de rehabilitation sociale du Québec)

"A Women Centred Approach"

"It is my sincere belief the women in prison have unique needs which have not been fully addressed by our correctional management policies and practices. It is important that our response to this situation be strategic, action-oriented and comprehensive." (Ole Ingstrup. Commissioner. Correctional Service of Canada, in a letter dated March 28, 1989 to Steering Committee members of the Task Force)

"Why don't we ask women serving sentences to help us design the programs that they want to have...that they identify as important? We need to empower women." (John Brewin. M.P., Victoria Riding)

"We need to think in terms of 'a safe place for women'. Women offenders are not different from any other woman in this room." (Audrey Wildman. Board Member Saskatchewan Action Committee. Status of Women)

"The separation of mother and child is a human tragedy. This punishes the child as well as the mother." (Louise Simard, NDP, MLA, Status of Women Critic, Regina)

"Most alcohol and addiction programs were developed for men...We perceive the need for expansion of those programs which take into account the experiences in women's lives which lead to their abuse of drugs and alcohol." (Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan)

"In seeking a means of improving conditions for women in penitentiaries, we have opted for equity, rather than for equality, with the men. We should not simply superimpose male models of corrections on female penitentiaries. Such an approach has been proven inadequate in the larger society - it is even more inadequate when applied to women's prisons." (Tina Hattem researcher)

"Instead of looking at what security level is required for the carceral portion of the sentence, we need to look at who, fundamentally, the women are, what are their needs, and then design an institution around that knowledge." (James Phelps, Deputy Commissioner, Correctional Programs and Operations, Co-Chair, Steering Committee, Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women)


."The System Does Not Work."

"There is little serious argument today with the view that custodial sentences are an ineffective response to criminal behaviour." (John Howard Society of Manitoba)

"If you build more prisons, you will find more women to fill them." (Lorenne Clark, Criminal Lawyer. Nova Scotia)

"Building prisons to replace P4W (Prison for Women) is defeating the purpose of trying to supply preventative programming." (Aboriginal Women's Council of Saskatchewan)

"Long-term programs dealing with anger control, sexual abuse and self-esteem are required. These needs should be dealt with first before dealing with addiction problems. Deal with the cause first." (Native Liaison Worker, Alberta)

"You (the Task Force)* have proceeded from an assumption which assumes (erroneously) that incarceration in an institution is an appropriate response to women who commit offenses against the Criminal Code." (Ron Schriml, Professor, University of Regina)

"Creative Solutions"

"We need to get creative when we think of women and release. Maybe we need a different release mechanism for women, certainly we need to look at a wider variety of community alternatives." (Cathy Gainer, Director, Strategic Planning, National Parole Board)

"I would like to see a more co-operative approach to problem solving and more collaboration with private agencies in the system. There is a need to look at the special needs of women and at creative options." (Barbara Brooks, Manager, Contracted Services, Alberta Corrections)

"I believe that the small number of federally sentenced women, and the knowledge that they are not perceived nor are they in reality a threat to society, are two facts that give us a wonderful opportunity to do something different to try a new model." (Bonnie Diamond, Executive Director, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, and co-chair, Steering Committee, Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women)

"Furthermore, with very few exceptions, the level of security required for the female offender is low relative to their male counterparts, and the risk presented to the community, as a result of walkaway or escape is lower. I believe this level of societal tolerance would permit very significant flexibility for C.S.C. if we have the imagination to seize the opportunity." (Jeff Christian, District Director, Alberta/Northwest Territories District; excerpt from Correctional Service of Canada Prairie Region Submission to the Task Force)

"With Aboriginal people, we need to connect to the road they are going down. We need to work with their communities when they tell us they are ready. We need to listen to ways in which Aboriginal women in prison can be brought closer to home and to their Native ways." (James Phelps, Deputy Commissioner, Correctional Programs and Operations, co-chair, Steering Committee, Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women)

"When we consider that 85% of federally sentenced women have been sexually or physically abused, we must understand the importance of dealing with the inner pain before we can hope to rehabilitate the person. A holistic approach to healing is the only way to complete recovery." (Major Hillary Jackson: excerpt from the Salvation Army Correctional Services Department Consultation Response to the Working Group of the Task Force)

"Learning from One Another"

"Education is what unlocks doors. As knowledge increases, so do attitudes and behaviour; change, and from knowledge comes compassion. We need to dialogue. The journey is tough but it is important to take the first step. The Task Force has taken the first step." (Noel Knockwood, Elder)

"The Native way is life teaching. It's telling young people to follow our culture and be somebody. As Elders, we try to share what we know... what we learned from our ancestors - we invite wardens to listen to our teachings - we are not trying to teach anything bad." (Joan Lavalee, Elder, Aboriginal Women's Caucus)

"Governments who provide correctional services need to develop strategic partnerships with community groups we are all stakeholders and share common concerns." (Chris LaFontaine, Executive Director, Gabriel Dumont Institute)

"It is our belief that non-Native society has much to learn from Native traditions and wisdom. It is our hope that the demonstration of tribal justice systems, would gradually move toward a restorative, community-based justice model in our country. In that way, all citizens affected by the injustices of current practices, be they Native or non-Native, male or female, would benefit from a more humane and sensible way of administering justice." (John Howard Society, Manitoba)


"A Community-Based Approach.

"In New Brunswick we want to take women out of the correctional centre, and accommodate them in a community residential setting. Women do not present a high risk to the community, and they should be given the opportunity to be closer to and more a part of that community." (Ian Culligan, Director of Corrections, New Brunswick)

"I think we should establish Community Prison Boards which would function similarly to school/hospital or park boards, and which would be composed of concerned citizens and inmate representatives. The Board would not be under the control of corrections like current Citizen's Advisory Committees." (Claire Culhane, Prisoner's Rights Group)

"Community agencies provide an important service both in the institutions and in the community. Given that the overriding characteristic of incarcerated women is dependency, it is important to involve community-based program deliverers in the institutional setting." (Willie Gibbs, Deputy Commissioner, Atlantic Region, Correctional Service of Canada)

"The need for a 'medicine lodge' is very real and an immediate problem. Many of the inmates I have encountered in prison have lost their sense of who they are and for this reason spiritual guidance is necessary." (Elder, Aboriginal Women's Caucus)

"M2/W2 would like to see a radical re-focusing of the criminal justice system. In terms of female prisoners, we believe that a family or community perspective on programming needs is essential. This would acknowledge the rehabilitative resource families can be." (Darrel Heidebrecht, Man to Man/ Woman to Woman (M2/W2), Edmonton)

"Existing facilities, such as transition houses could possibly be used to place women on day parole in areas where there are insufficient half-way houses." (Correctional Service of Canada Pacific Region Submission to the Task Force)

"Choices and Opportunities for Women"

"Mopping floors doesn't build self esteem. Women need incentives to do good work and to take pride in that work. We need vocational opportunities for women which simulate the real world and don't perpetuate stereotypic roles for women." (Staff member at Prison for Women)

"Key positions in women's institutions should be filled by women - this provides role models, a feminist perspective and empowerment." (Christie Jefferson, Executive Director, Legal Education Action Fund)

"Resources should be provided for Native Healers and Spiritual Leaders to attend to the needs of Native women. These people should be given the same status as licensed doctors and clergy." (Elizabeth Fry Society of Hamilton)

"We believe that mothers and infants who will be living together following incarceration should not be separated during incarceration. We are aware of the bonding that occurs between mothers and their infants in the first hours and days of an infant's life and recommend the two remain together when the mother wishes." (Elizabeth Fry Society of Edmonton)

"Rehabilitation programs must be provided alongside relationship programs, otherwise the women will relapse." (Maggie Hodgson, Executive Director, Nechi Institute)

"It is hard to plan for release when you are 1000 miles away from home." (Rose-Marie Blair-Smith, Council of Yukon Indians)

"Let women in prison learn to manage their own lives by managing their own lives." (Bonnie Diamond, Executive Director, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and co-chair of the Task Force Steering Committee)

"Humane Environments"'

"Undue hardship and significant emotional upheaval is suffered as a result of women being incarcerated great distances from their homes. Federally sentenced women must have the opportunity to serve their sentences as close to their families/release communities as is possible." (Andrew Graham, Deputy Commissioner, Ontario Region, Correctional Service of Canada)

"While the sentence a woman receives upon conviction of a crime constitutes society's punishment for her actions, we can begin to see the incarceration itself as a positive, caring process of assisting the women to return to society as quickly as possible, equipped to remain out of conflict with the law in the future." (Darlene Lawson, Executive Director, Elizabeth Fry Society of Toronto)

"Institutions must examine the difference between privileges and rights. Fresh air is not a privilege or a reward but it is a right." (Aboriginal Women's Caucus of Saskatchewan)

"We have always taken the position that only women should staff our women's facility in Stephenville. But women need specific training as well, training to ensure that they bring the right interpersonal skills and attitudes to the job." (Marvin McNutt, Director of Adult Corrections, Newfoundland)

"This is the place where I am too. We need meaningful roles and training to help us avoid boredom and burnout." (A Correctional Officer in a Women's Institution)

"`White tape' restricts and standardizes us. What happened to the concept of freedom and a fair society?" (Noel Knockwood, Elder)

"Our idea for a new design concept is aimed at addressing the major goals in the Mission. Physically, this translates into a prison design which attempts to create a residential environment, one that gives offenders an opportunity to experience the sense of community and self-responsibility normally expected in society. Our organization has the accommodation needs of federally sentenced women under consideration (through the Task Force) and the new concept would appear to be very suitable to their situation." (H.K. Chaudhry, Senior Director, Construction Policy and Services, Correctional Service of Canada)

"It is important to remember that it is difficult dealing with incest and sexual abuse in the community - and even more difficult for the imprisoned. Women should be housed in a setting where they can find support, where they can feel comfortable to talk about abuse and self-esteem." (Jane Kardstat, Executive Director, Sexual Abuse Centre, Edmonton, Alberta)

"Responsible Action"

"The justice system is a part of the community and they must remember their responsibility". (Students, Human Justice Program, Gabriel Dumont Institute)

"From our experience, there has never been a program that has so drastically changed the lives of our clients as has the native spirituality program. Almost for the first time in their lives, they have had to take a good look at themselves: they have had to take account for their actions; and they have had to take responsibility for their own lives." (Cliff White, Executive Director, Allied Indian and Métis Society of B.C.)

"It should be emphatically clear that these needs cannot and should not be exclusively the domain of volunteer and service organizations. A commitment of government resources is essential". (Gabriel Dumont Institute, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan)

"We must all share responsibility for crime. Governments must make amends by providing resources and opportunities. Communities must amend by seeing the hurt and daring to make it better. But it is the federally sentenced woman herself who must really make amends. She must confront her painful past, she must take responsibility for her actions, and she must make choices that rebuild her life. Hers is by far the most onerous task." (Bonnie Diamond, Executive Director, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and co-chair, Steering Committee, Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women)