Friday, 7 December 2012

Prisons for Women

Corrections Canada has issued a report on the inspection of two of Canada’s female penitentiaries by a British prison’s official, citing Canada’s strengths and shortcomings within its female prison institutions.

The report was issued in light of a visit to Canada by Anne Owers, inspectorate of prisons for England and Wales. The Correctional Service of Canada undertook an initiative to have a female commissioner, independent from the government, to inspect the Nova Institution for Women in Nova Scotia, and the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Ontario. The report cites that these institutions have demonstrated respectable strides within the four guidelines of a “healthy prison”: safety, respect, purposeful activity and reintegration. The prisons demonstrated “an innovative and responsive approach to the imprisonment of women” which “seek to minimize damage and maximize responsibility and positive change,” according to the report.
Each of the institutions demonstrated a beneficial atmosphere for the re-habilitation of its inmates. 79 per cent of inmates from the Grand Valley Institution for Women revealed that they were treated well upon admission to the institution, and also reported better than average access to religious observance, proper health care, food, and sanitation when compared to female institutions in the U.K. The Nova Institution for Women fared slightly less well, with only 56 per cent revealing they were received well upon admission, but 100 per cent of inmates made positive statements in reference to sanitary conditions. However, both institutions featured positive feedback when inmates were questioned as to whether or not they would offend in the future; an average of 70 per cent of inmates stated they felt confident they would not offend after their prison rehabilitation.

Currently, there are 810 women in Canada serving federal sentences, the majority of them for poverty-related crimes such as drug use, addictions and prostitution. Canada does not presently have its own independent female commissioner to examine the nation’s prisons, something that the Ottawa Council of Women has been petitioning the federal government for. “We think Canada needs to have somebody independent looking at what happens to incarcerated women,” said Denise Mattok, the council’s president. She stated that because women in prisons face very different struggles and issues than do male prisoners, female inmates need to be observed from an objective standpoint, separate from men. “There tend to be so few women in prisons, that they are scattered across the country and often very far from home,” she said. “When women come out of prison, it is a very difficult situation.”

Nevertheless, for the time being Canada is relying on the assistance of outside perspectives such as Owers to review the nation’s prison conditions. “The inspection…was a unique opportunity for CSC to benefit from an independent review of its operations and programs,” Corrections Canada’s Anne Kelly stated in the report. “The inspectorate's findings will assist us in further improving interventions and services for women offenders,” she said.

By Amelia Clements

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