Better accommodations planned for female inmates

Pending financial approval, female inmates at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre could be getting new digs.

Pending financial approval, female inmates at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre could be getting new digs.

The facility would allow inmates to benefit from cooking and doing laundry, says Norma Davignon.

They would also get more space.

“The accommodation for women in the current facility is not suitable,” said the project manager for corrections’ action plan implementation office.

“It’s crowded and they don’t have access to as much activity or outdoor recreation as the men do.”

It’s an ongoing problem.

Last summer, the women’s unit at the jail was so crowded beds were blocking the fire exit — the fire marshal took action.

A month ago, it happened again.

“We heard during the corrections consultation, and also since then from women’s groups and female inmates, that their accommodation is not great,” said Davignon.

Construction of a new women’s unit at the jail will begin this fall, said Justice Minister Marian Horne on Wednesday.

Designed as a six-room residence, the unit will hold nine women.

“It won’t be built out of concrete,” said Davignon.

“The place will basically be like a large house. We’re hoping they’ll be able to cook some of their own meals, and have a programming area.”

When Ottawa builds new jails for women, it has units where they can cook and do laundry, she added.

“Generally women who are a low-to-medium security risk benefit more and have more of a chance for rehabilitation on release if they’re accommodated in more of a home environment.”

The new facility will be separate from the main jail, but will remain behind the existing fence.

“The facility will be more accessible to the community and programming because it’s separate,” said Davignon.

“We’re hoping the layout and how it’s set up will welcome (programming), and that it’ll be easier for staff to supervise those types of activities.”

“Right now, in the current facility, there’s sometimes space or programs, but staff can be an issue.”

The unit will require approximately six to 10 staff during a 24-hour period.

“So in our proposal, we need to ask for more staffing dollars,” she said.

Project funding has not been secured yet, said Davignon.

“We haven’t received all of our approvals to go ahead with this, but we’re hoping to have that by the end of July,” she said.

“And once we get financial approval to build the building, then we’ll begin working on the programming component.

 “The plan is for it to have its own separate staff, but we’re not sure what the model will look like yet.”

Female inmates are only allowed outside for one hour a day.

But this will change with the new unit.

“Inmates will have access to the yard regularly,” she said.

“During normal waking hours, they’ll have access to come and go.”

The main security for the building will be fencing, added Davignon.

“There will still be somewhat controlled access, but it won’t be like our institution now.”

The women’s unit in the jail is also being expanded, she said.

It will be enlarged by a third, laundry facilities are being installed and another washroom is getting put in.

“High-security women or high-risk women will stay in the main facility, so there will still be a women’s unit in there,” said Davignon.

Overflow will also be kept in the main building.

“Female inmates are increasing both in the Yukon and across Canada, so this was the priority right now, to better accommodate women,” she said.

Female inmates also need a halfway house.

Men can move to the Adult Resource Centre for transitional housing after serving part of their sentence, but there is no equivalent for Yukon women.

“We are not planning for a separate women’s halfway house,” said Davignon.

“It’s something we’ve looked at periodically in the last few years, but right now we had an opportunity to build a building like this, connected to the new correctional centre project.

“We could build this building and it could be a halfway house, or it could be what we’re building it for now.

“Currently this is the need we’ve identified and something we can run and carry out.”

Once the new jail’s built, the proposed women’s residence will be converted to an elder services and programming building, added Davignon.

It will no longer be needed as a women’s residence because the new correctional centre will have its own women’s unit, she said.

But keeping women in a residence that is more like a house might be beneficial for the territory.

“Women in corrections, across Canada, need, more than men, to be in a community-living-type environment,” said Davignon.

The new women’s residence could be finished as early as next summer, she said.