Human & Fiscal Costs of Prison

The cost of imprisoning a woman in a federal prison is now estimated by corrections to average $175,000 per year and can be higher than $250,000 per year for women kept in the most isolated and segregated conditions of confinement, such as the segregated maximum security units in the prisons for women.

In Canada, the incarceration rate of Aboriginal prisoners and women in prison continues to increase. Aboriginal people are incarcerated at a rate of 1024 per 100,000 prisoners in Canada, almost nine times the incarceration rate of non-Aboriginal people which is 117 per 100, 000 people.

As a result of the growing number of people awaiting trial in custody, the number of people on remand has outnumbered those serving sentences. In Ontario and Manitoba, the proportion of people on remand was over 60% in 2005/06.

For 2003/2004, 103 prisoners died in custody of the criminal justice system. While the suicide rate amongst the prisoner population continues to be higher than what is found in the community, more prisoner deaths result from acute or chronic health issues.

The Costs of Incarceration

Correctional Service Canada (CSC) expenditures totaled $2.8 billion in 2004/2005, up 2% in constant dollars from 2003/2004. Prisons accounted for the largest proportion (71%) of the expenditures, followed by community supervision services (14%), headquarters and central services (14%), and National Parole Board and provincial parole boards (2%). This figure does not include policing or court costs which bring the total expenditures up to more than $10 billion for the year.

The use of segregation in prisons has increased in the past few years. In 1999/2000 there were 238 documented admissions into segregation, and in 2001/2002 there were 418 documented admissions, whereas in 2006/2007, the number rose to 453.

The cost of community-based options, such as probation, bail supervision and community supervision work orders, range from $5 to $25 per day.

The cost of incarcerating a prisoner in an Ontario provincial jail was $141.78 per day in 2003-04.

Women with mental health issues, especially those who self-harm often have great difficulty adjusting to prison and are consequently more likely to be kept in the most isolated and segregated living conditions.

More than two thirds (71%) of the women imprisoned in isolated and segregated conditions and labeled as maximum security prisoners have histories of at tempting suicide compared with 21% of men classified as maximum security prisoners.

In 2002-2003, when the number of women in federal custody was 376, Corrections logged 265 women admissions to administrative segregation, of which 83 were for a period of more than 10 days.

According to the Ontario Parole and Earned Release Board, parole grants decreased from 3,833 in 1993-1994 to 361 in 2002-2003. The decline of provincial parole in Ontario brings significant human, social, and economic costs considering the damaging effect of imprisonment on individuals, the lack of community support and supervision to assist community integration and minimize recidivism, and the expensive cost of keeping people in prisons.

Many women in prison are mothers, the majority of whom were sole-support parents before prison. When a mother is incarcerated, her children can also face emotional and psychological trauma from the separation. Too often they end up in child welfare systems that do not have adequate resources to fully address their needs, exacting further human, social and economic costs on the children and their communities.

Criminalized and Imprisoned Women: Current Trends

Crime rates in Canada reached a 25 year low in 20061, yet the numbers of women being imprisoned are increasing. In fact, the fastest growing prison population worldwide is women, particularly racialized, young, poor women and women with mental and cognitive disabilities. The escalating numbers of women in prison is plainly linked to the evisceration of health, education, and social services.

Women account for less than 5% of all individuals serving sentences of 2 years or more and the vast majority of women prisoners are first time prisoners. In 2001, 82% of federally sentenced women were serving their first federal sentence.

In 2005 48% of 810 federally sentenced women were in prison and 52% were out on bail or under community supervision. For Aboriginal women, however, the majority were imprisoned with only about 40% in community.

Two-thirds of federally sentenced women are mothers and they are more likely than men to have primary childcare responsibilities.

There are about 25 000 children whose mothers are in either federal prisons or provincial jails in Canada each year. Separation from their children and the inability to deal with problems concerning them are major anxieties for women in prison.

In 2002-2003, for a population of 376 women, there were 265 admissions to administrative segregation, of which 83 were for a period of more than 10 days. This typifies the intransigence of correctional authorities when it comes to adherence to the law. Segregation can only be exercised where there is no other reasonable alternative to isolating a prisoner (pursuant to section 31 of the Corrections and Statistics Canada).

The three Aboriginal women who are subject to the unlawful super-maximum designation known as the “management protocol” have endured prolonged segregation and other punitive and inhumane conditions of confinement which the United Nations has defined as torturous. In addition, as a result of their reactions to their conditions of confinement these three and others have become convicted of additional charges while in prison; in one case the woman entered the prison serving a 3.5 sentence and is now serving well in excess of 20 years.

Although many reports, from the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women, the Arbour Commission, the Auditor General, the Public Accounts Committee, the Correctional Investigator and the Canadian Human Rights Commission, have demonstrated that women prisoners pose a low security risk and are less likely to return to prison for new charges, Correctional Service Canada continues, for the most part, to use the same risk and needs assessment tools for both populations.

Because the custody ratings scale is designed according to white, male, middle class standards, it results in skewed discriminatory assessments of federally sentenced women, resulting in too many being deemed high security risks. Among the hardships imposed by this is the fact that maximum security prisoners are isolated in segregated living units and, unlike their minimum and medium security counterparts, are not eligible to participate in work-release programs, community release programs or other supportive programming designed to enhance their chances of reintegration.

Notwithstanding their relatively low risk to the community in comparison with men, federally sentenced women as a group are, and have historically been, subject to more disadvantaged treatment and more restrictive conditions of confinement than men.

The 2006 annual report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator states that there has been a decline in the number of women participating in unescorted temporary absences. This signifies the culture of restriction that is becoming increasingly pervasive throughout the prisons.

More than half of all charges for which federally sentenced women are convicted are non-violent, property and drug offences.

Property offences account for around 32% of all court cases and 47% of all charges against women. One reason why women account for 5% of admissions to federal penitentiaries is because they are far less likely than men to commit or to be convicted of serious crimes of violence which result in sentences in excess of two years.

The recidivism rate for federally sentenced women is approximately 21%,13 as compared to 59% for men. Only 1-2% of federally sentenced women are returned to prison as the result of the commission of new crimes; and less than 0.5% are for a violent offence. The overwhelming majority represent women who have their parole revoked as a result of administrative breaches of conditions of their community release. The recidivism rate of women released from the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge is even lower.

Aboriginal federally sentenced women and other racialized women are singled out for segregation more often than are other prisoners. Data from Correctional Service Canada show that although Aboriginal women comprised 32% of all federally incarcerated women in February 2003, they accounted for 35.5% of all involuntary admissions to administrative segregation.

Women who are classified as maximum security tend to be so designated because they are labeled as having difficulty adapting to the prison (i.e. institutional adjustment) rather than because they pose a risk to public safety.

Eighty percent of all federally sentenced women report having been physically and/or sexually abused. This percentage rises to 90% for Aboriginal women.

Federally incarcerated women and men tend to have lower educational attainment than the Canadian adult population as a whole. While more than 80 percent of women in Canada have progressed beyond Grade 9, for women prisoners the figure is closer to 50 percent.

Imprisoned women have much lower employment rates than incarcerated men: in 1996, 80% of the women serving time in a federal facility were unemployed at the time of admission, compared to 54% of men.

Reflective of the types of crimes that women commit, those found guilty in court are more likely than men to be sentenced to prison. For example, Canadian statistics reveal that 25% of men versus 37% of women are jailed for theft.

The context in which federally sentenced women are charged with causing death is important in understanding the risk they pose to society. In many cases, their actions were defensive or otherwise reactive to violence directed at them, their children, or another third party.

Relative to men, women pose a far lower risk to the safety of the community upon release and lower rates of recidivism.

In 2001-2002, more than 40% of priority complaints and grievances (those considered to have a significant impact on a prisoner’s rights and freedoms) were NOT processed within established time frames.

The use of violence by prisoners against themselves or against others is often interpreted as an expression of violent pathology of the individual prisoner and results in punishment. However, that approach omits the role of the prison regime in generating violence.

Accountability and Oversight

Almost 50% of Aboriginal federally sentenced women are precluded from accessing the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge because they are classified as maximum security prisoners. Many are now confined in the new maximum security units in the regional women’s prisons, while a small number remain confined in the segregated maximum security unit in the men’s Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon. No maximum security women have ever been able to access the Healing Lodge.

The more the human rights and Charter protected rights of women prisoners are violated, the more likely it is that the conditions of confinement to which women prisoners are subjected will create situations that interfere with the safety of women prisoners, as well as with the staff within the women’s prisons.

Women prisoners in particular tend to be invisible to society, because of their relatively small numbers.

Approximately 20 reports, investigations, and commissions of inquiry have chronicled the urgent need for oversight and accountability mechanisms to address the violations of the rights of women prisoners in Canada.

In 1996, Louise Arbour in her report into the illegal stripping, shackling, transfer and segregation of women prisoners at the Prison for Women in Kingston, found that culture of Correctional Service Canada was one of disrespect for the rule of law. Accordingly, she made recommendations for judicial oversight and external accountability mechanisms.

Eight years later, the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) found an ongoing need for oversight and accountability mechanisms to address the discriminatory treatment of women prisoners in Canada. They also focused on the need to address the discriminatory security classification and discussed the need to ensure that correctional practices be remedied so as to not violate the human rights of women prisoners. The CHRC found that the discriminatory impact is exacerbated by the ineffectiveness of current grievance mechanisms and the lack of external oversight of CSC.

In 2005, the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) called on Canada to remedy the discriminatory treatment of women prisoners. Moreover, as part of their review of Canada’s performance in relation to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Commission called upon Canada to implement the recommendations of the CHRC, especially those related to external redress and the need for adjudication processes for prisoners. They also instructed Canada to report within one year on their progress on this front. No such report has been submitted.

On April 27, 2006, CSC released its responses to the 4 of the most recent reports critiquing their treatment of federally sentenced women. Despite many sweeping assertions of significant progress, the reality of continued human and Charter rights violations reveal a less than stellar record.

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