Women in Prison in Canada
August 1, 2020 8:46 AM   Subscribe

I binged both Orange is the New Black and Wentworth in quarantine and was struck by the country differences in the prisons. It got me curious about what it’s like for women in prison in my own Canada. Looking for essays, books, anecdotes etc. to get a feel for the experience of incarcerated women here.
posted by vanitas to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There's a gorgeous 2018 play, based on I believe a lot of research in the Ontario prison system. Guarded Girls (sorry, Amazon link though I bet you could get it elsewhere)
posted by stray at 10:37 AM on August 1, 2020

Until the mid-1990s, women who were sentenced to federal penetentiary, regardless of where in Canada they lived, were sent to one place -- the (rightfully) notorious (and now-closed) Kingston Prison for Women (a.k.a. P4W).

TVO: Honouring the ‘fallen sisters‘ of Kingston’s shuttered Prison for Women

Correctional Services Canada: Regional Facilities for Women Offenders (1995)

From that CSC report:

The establishment of regional facilities for federally-sentenced women in 1995 is certainly one of the most progressive and significant developments in Canadian correctional history. This event marks the end of all federally-sentenced women having to serve their penitentiary time away from their family, friends, communities and cultures. The opening of the Healing Lodge and regional facilities for women also marks significant progress in the recognition of the programming needs, life experiences and cultural realities of federally-sentenced women.

Until 1995, all federally-sentenced women, regardless of their security classification, had to serve their time at the only federal penitentiary for women in Canada, the Prison for Women (P4W). Since its opening in 1934, P4W has been surrounded by controversy and criticism. It has been the subject of 14 inquires and commissions, many of which have recommended its closure. In 1938, only four years after its opening, the Archambault Commission was shocked at the appalling conditions of the institution and concluded that P4W should be closed and the offenders returned to their home province. This position was reiterated in 1956 and again in 1977 when P4W was described as "unfit for bears, much less for women", by the MacGuigan Report. Moreover, the lack of adequate and appropriate programming at P4W was also described as "outright discrimination" by the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 1981.

That CSC report also has a Selected References section. Being from 1995, it'll be a bit dated, and being from the CSC will contain a certain institutional bias, but it contains a section on "Regional Facilities for Women Offenders."

And because Canada is good at commissioning task forces, public inquiries, and so on from which some good recommendations and calls to action can flow, only to collect dust because the political and public will to act on them is remarkably absent, there's also Twenty Years Later: Revisiting the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:56 AM on August 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Historically, Four Unruly Women, Taking the Rap and Fallen Angels (all Kingston Pen), and Incorrigable (Women’s Refuge act).. More contemporary: Women in Canada criminal justice system (some dry, but a few heart-breaking stories), Create: Words and Art from the WC, Community re-entry, bonus short paper about men in prison where she directly addresses that CSC would not allow her access to any women. The Journal of Prisioners on Prison is US based but has a lot of Canadian content (eg, from 1994) and their next issue is by Canadian prisioners.
posted by saucysault at 11:17 AM on August 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Also, there are tonnes of links with the Women’s prision advocacy group Women’s Prison Network. Several indigenous men have written of their experiences inside in mainstream books (I HIGHLY recommend From the Ashes), but there does not seem to be as many indigenous women being published (Stolen Life is an older one)
posted by saucysault at 11:27 AM on August 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Though we've made some strides recently, conditions at Grandview Training School for Girls were pretty appalling.
posted by kate4914 at 7:24 PM on August 1, 2020

Margaret Atwood's novel Alias Grace, as well as the series of it, takes place in a Canadian prison.
posted by mermaidcafe at 10:55 PM on August 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

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