Reflections on Conditions of Confinement of Federally Sentenced Women (FSW)

The Collaborating Centre for
Prison Health and Education (CCPHE)

March 14-15, 2014

Ivan Zinger J.D., Ph.D.
Executive Director and General Counsel
Office of the Correctional Investigator

Outline of Presentation

  1. Quick Overview of Corrections in Canada
  2. Notable quotes
  3. Conditions of Confinement for FSW
  4. Profile of FSW


Federal Corrections by the Numbers

  • Offenders serving a sentence of two years or more.
  • 14,270 men and 615 women.
  • 8,123 men and 502 women under community supervision.
  • Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has 18,250 employees and manages a $2.6 billion annual budget (2013-2014).
  • 5 regional facilities and one Aboriginal healing lodge for FSW.
  • Average annual cost of maintaining a federal inmate in custody:
    • $111,000 for men.
    • $214,600 for women.
  • CSC recently expanded an existing section 81 agreement to accommodate 16 FSW beds. Minimum-security units (outside the perimeter fence) are being built in 4 of the 5 regional facilities for FSW.

Notable Quotes

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1862)

“The test of a civilization is in the way it cares for its helpless members.”
Pearl S. Buck (1954)

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails.  A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
Nelson Mandela (1995)

Drawing on these famous quotes:

  1. What are the prevalent conditions of confinement in federal penitentiaries for FSW, and what do they tell us about Canadian society at large?
  2. Have conditions of confinement for FSW deteriorated or improved in recent years?
  3. Does who we incarcerate say something important about Canadian society?
  4. What does the profile of the FSW population tell us about social justice, equality and human rights in Canadian society?

Conditions of Confinement of FSW

Creating Choices – Over the years, many decisions  made were inconsistent with Creating Choices (1990), including adding perimeter fences, building secure maximum-security units with segregation cells, introducing law enforcement-like uniforms, and increasing the proportion of male CX staff.

Incarcerated Population – Number of FSW has increased by 25.3% in the last six years (compared to 9.3% for males). 

Double Bunking – Rate of double-bunking (placing two inmates in a cell designed for one person) is 10%.  The rate was 0.4% five years ago.

Segregation – Last year, there were 134 segregation admissions of FSW (+44.6% increase in the last 5 years). 

Mother-Child Program – Significant  restrictions (residency component) to the mother-child program in 2008 have resulted in a 60% reduction in the number of participants.  Only14 women participated in the full program since 2008.

Use of Force – Last year, there were 224 incidents involving use of force and FSW (+94% increase in the last 5 years). 

Assaults – Last year, there were 32 incidents of FSW assaults and fights (+31% increase in the last 5 years).

Complaints and Grievances – Last year, there were 1,047 complaints and grievances submitted by FSW.  The top three were: (1) staff interactions, (2) conditions of confinement, and (3) visits. 

Self-Injury – During FY2012/13, there were 323 incidents of women self-injuring involving 37 different FSW (+313% increase in the last 5 years).

Security Classification – Most FSW are classified as medium-security (44%), followed by minimum-security (35%) and maximum-security (11%). 

Inmate Pay – Currently, the maximum inmate pay rate is $6.90 per day, which has remained unchanged since 1981.  As a cost-saving measure, beginning April 2014, most FSW will be required to contribute more (up to 30% of their inmate pay stipend) to offset room and board costs. Only 20 women (3%) are working in prison industries (CORCAN).

Releases – In the last five years, women are serving a longer proportion of their sentences before being released on parole. This is a significant shift as historically the % of FSW serving their sentence in the community has always exceeded the % of FSW in custody.

FSW Profile

Access to Community MH Care – In a 2012 study, the overwhelming majority of the sample of FSW had experienced symptoms consistent with a lifetime diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder (94%). Moreover, 85% of the sample had experienced diagnostic symptoms of more than one disorder. Currently, 63% of FSW are on psychotropic medication.

Aboriginal Self-Governance – Almost 34% of all FSW are of Aboriginal ancestry, while Aboriginal People comprises less than 4% of the Canadian adult population (men and women). The number of FSW has increased by 63% in the last 10 years (compared to 15% for men). The Aboriginal FSW population has increased by 84% (Aboriginal men by 45%).

Diversity in Canadian Society– 8.3% of FSW are black, while black Canadians only represent 2.5% of the general population (men and women).

National Drug Strategy – In a 2012 study, the majority of a sample of FSW (80%) had experienced a lifetime dependence on at least one substance. As of May 2012, 59 FSW were on Opiate Substitution Therapy Program (i.e., methadone).

Education – Approximately 60% of FSW have not completed high school.

Harm Reduction –  The rate of Hepatitis C is very high among non-Aboriginal FSW (30%) and even higher for Aboriginal FSW (49%).  The rate for HIV/AIDS is very high among non-Aboriginal FSW (5.5%) and even higher for Aboriginal FSW (11.7%).

Sexual and Physical Abuse – 68% of FSW report being sexually abused and 86% have been physically abused.

Aging in Canadian Society – Over 16% of FSW are aged 50 or over (+78% increase in the last 6 years). Three common physical health problems that primarily affect older women include issues related to menopause, cancer (breast, uterus, and cervix), and osteoporosis. As for MH, 43% of older women reported depression, 23% PTSD and 17% anxiety disorders.

Women as Mothers – (Barrett, Allenby & Taylor. 2010. Twenty Years Later: Revisiting the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women. Research Report R-222.):

  • 75% of FSW have children under the age of 18.
  • 64% of FSW reported being single mothers at the time of arrest.
  • 51% of FSW report having experiences with Children’s Aid. Contact with Children’s Aid was often due to substance abuse issues, mental health concerns or issues surrounding abuse/neglect.
  • 42% of FSW report having weekly contact with their children, with the most common forms of contact including telephone calls (90%), letters (76%) and visits (36%).
  • Almost 1/3 of mothers (29%) have no contact with their children.