Correctional Service Service correctionnel Canada Canada the 2002 mental health strategy for women offenders jane Laishes Mental Health, Health Services

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1934 Opening of Prison for Women in Kingston, Ontario

Since the opening of the Prison for Women, there have been a variety of Task Forces and Commissions that have examined the disadvantaged situation for federally incarcerated women, and there were numerous calls for the closure of the Prison for Women.
1989 A joint initiative by the Federal Government and relevant private sector groups was undertaken in 1989, through the establishment of the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women.

  1. 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 published. The report recommended 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 Task Force recommendations and initiated implementation.

1995-1997 The new regional facilities for women offenders began operations. Nova Institution (1995) in Truro, Nova Scotia; Joliette Institution (1997) in Joliette, Quebec; Grand Valley Institution (1997) in Kitchener, Ontario; Edmonton Institution for Women (1995) in Edmonton, Alberta; and the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge (1995) in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. Women offenders in British Columbia are incarcerated through an exchange of service agreement at the provincial Burnaby Correctional Centre for Women.

In 1996, following several escapes and other incidents, it became evident that a small portion of the women offenders required a greater degree of structure and control than the regional facilities could provide within their existing structure. There were also several inmates who required more intensive treatment for mental health disorders than was available.

This situation prompted CSC to incarcerate these maximum-security women and those with intensive mental health needs in small units in men's institutions and at the Prison for Women in Kingston. However, at the same time CSC made a commitment to develop a national strategy for high risk-high need women.

  1. The Intensive Intervention Strategy was introduced calling for the modification and expansion of the existing enhanced units of the regional facilities to accommodate those women offenders classified as maximum security and the construction of Structure Living Environment houses at each of the regional facilities to accommodate women, classified as medium- and minimum-security, with mental health needs requiring more intensive support to successfully manage them at these security levels.

The new strategy provides safe and secure accommodation for these women while emphasizing intensive staff intervention, programming, and treatment.

  1. The Prison for Women in Kingston closed.

  1. The Structured Living Environments opened each of the four regional facilities.

2003 The Secure Units at each of the four regional facilities are scheduled to open.




Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression. Incarcerated women are three times more likely.


Women are more likely to be assessed with symptoms of schizophrenia.

Mental Health Treatment in the Community

A 1995 study at Prison for Women (PFW) found that federally incarcerated women were 3 times as likely to have received mental health treatment in the community compared to men.

References: Coryell et al, 1992; Gove, 1979; Ross et al, 1988; Colten, 1981; Blume, 1994; and Loucks, 1995.




Women in community

Women Inmates


1.1% lifetime prevalence

7% lifetime prevalence

Physical abuse in adult intimate relationships



References: Alexander & Luper, 1987; Badgley, R. F., 1984; Finkelhor, D., 1979; Herman, J., 1981; Kristiansen et al., 1995; Russell, D., 1984 and 1986.


The Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) Principles identify:

  1. that correctional policies, programs and practices respect gender, ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences and be responsive to the special needs of women and aboriginal peoples, as well as to the needs of other groups of offenders with special requirements.

The CCRA Section 77 states that the Service shall:

  1. provide programs designed particularly to address the needs of female


Section 86 of the CCRA states that:

  1. The Service shall provide every inmate with

  1. essential health care (which includes mental health care) and

  2. reasonable access to non-essential mental health care that will contribute to the inmate's rehabilitation and successful reintegration into the community (see Appendix G for the portion of CD 800, Health Services for the definition of essential Health Services).

  1. The provision of health care under subsection (1) shall conform to

professionally accepted standards.

The CCRA Section 87 further states that:

  1. The Service shall take into consideration an offender's state of health and health care needs

  1. In all decisions affecting the offender, including decisions relating to placement, transfer, administrative segregation and disciplinary matters; and

  2. In the preparation of the offender for release and the supervision of the offender.

The policy or Commissioner’s Directive 850 -Mental Health Services, (Appendix H) states that:

Mental health services and programs for inmates shall provide a continuum of essential care for those suffering from mental, emotional, or behavioural disorders consistent with professional and community standards including:

  1. individual assessment/diagnostic; and

  2. treatment for those suffering from acute, sub-acute or chronic mental disorders shall be provided in an appropriate facility.

Other relevant policies include Commissioner's Directive 840 - Psychological Services (Appendix I) and Commissioner's Directive 843 - Prevention, Management, and Response to Suicide and Self-Injury (Appendix K).

Any mental health strategy must also respond to the needs of Aboriginal offenders as per the CCRA section 80 and CD 702 - Aboriginal Programming (Appendix J) which require that the needs of all Aboriginal offenders are identified and that programs and services be developed and maintained to meet those needs. Further, all components of the Mental Health Strategy for Women Offenders must be developed and assessed according to their cultural relevance for Aboriginal women offenders.
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