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Canadian Women’s Prison Mistreats Inmates

The Edmonton Institution for Women, located in Edmonton, Canada, is under scrutiny for mistreating indigenous and mentally ill inmates. What was once described as a facility that addresses the unique needs of women offenders is now believed to be “spiraling into crisis,” according to Senator Kate Pate.

Before being appointed to the Canadian Senate, Pate served as the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, whose vision is to advance the dignity and worth of all women and girls who are or may be at risk of becoming criminalized. It was this society that first raised concerns about the institution.

Janet-Sue Hamilton, the former warden of the Edmonton Institution, made a presentation of her own concerns about the facility this October. After attending this meeting, Pate was convinced that something needed to be done about the facility’s conditions.

“I prided myself on the women’s facility being different and offering a safe environment for women where they could be nurtured by an environment that celebrated the offender’s differences and offered them choices that could get them on their journey to a safe reintegration to society,” wrote Hamilton in a brief that summarized her presentation. “[The environment] no longer represents the original vision of the facility.”

Correctional investigator Ivan Zinger, as well as three anonymous guards, also brought their opinions about the facility to light, with the biggest concern being the protocol for handling violent and unstable inmates

“The most problematic area for our office, currently, with respect to women’s correction, is the conditions of confinement of the secure units,” said Zinger. “Those are, in our views, exceptionally harsh and we know that, for example at EIFW, they are overcrowded in maximum security and they also house women who have complex needs.”

The government made internal policy changes in August that shifted the way that the Correctional Service Canada (Corrections Canada) treats inmates with mental illness. The guards who spoke out believe that in order to understand how to handle the inmates, one has to first experience working at the institution.

“We fail mental health inmates incredibly. We seriously fail them. We have nowhere for them to go,” said one of the anonymous officers.

Another officer said that the conditions are even worse than what prison advocates witness during their tours of the facility. The bottom line is that the institution does not have the resources to assist its inmates.

This year, there have been more than 200 documented incidents of self-harm across the five regional institutions for women in Canada. At the Edmonton Institution, there have been five attacks on staff since August, with the number of assaults this year at an all-time high. Edmonton also happens to be the most crowded facility.

Maximum security has been relied upon to deal with troubled inmates, and more than 42 percent of inmates held in maximum security are indigenous. The advocates of the Edmonton Elizabeth Fry Society have said that something needs to be done about all of this.

Jeff Campbell, the spokesperson for Corrections Canada, recently responded to the allegations made about the prison.

“We are taking a number of measures to ensure our facilities provide a correctional environment that is safe, secure and contributes to offender rehabilitation, and ultimately, public safety,” he said. “Corrections Canada is [currently] studying the mental health of incarcerated women to determine whether they need more support in prison.”

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