Women kept in lock down at WCC

‘Hey, write a story about us — we’re in lockdown all the time,” yelled the woman.

‘Hey, write a story about us — we’re in lockdown all the time,” yelled the woman.

Her face flashed by the tiny, rectangular opening on the thick, metal door.

The women in that cellblock don’t have windows, Mark Daniels, the Whitehorse Correctional Centre’s acting program manager said during a tour on Wednesday.

Those women’s cells were off-limits to reporters and photographers.

There are two cells and each holds one or two women, said Daniels.

On Wednesday, he would not say how many women were locked up in there.

The jail has one women’s dorm, and if the women don’t get along some are moved to these smaller cellblocks, said Daniels.

“But if men don’t get along, there are at least four other dorms where they can go,” said inmate Kerry Nolan, who was jailed for assaulting her partner.

He was abusive, she said.

The 34-year-old mother has been jailed for 10 months.

For part of that time, Nolan lived in the windowless women’s cellblock.

“It’s not much worse than the dorm,” she said.

On Thursday afternoon, there were nine women in the two-room dorm.

“It’s extremely stuffy,” said Nolan.

The tiles were chipped, exposing dirty patches of floor. In the 14-by-14 sitting room there’s a beat-up metal desk, a TV, a phone and two vinyl benches. One seats three and the other holds two.

“We can’t even all sit and watch TV,” said Noland.

The bedroom is 21-by-18.

Nine single cots lined the walls. Three of them were added Thursday.

They block the emergency exit.

“The fire marshal has rules,” said Justice spokesperson Dan Cable.

“But these rules don’t apply to YTG buildings.”

 “See how crowded it is,” said one woman, wedged in a corner bed.

Some of the beds have less than a foot between them, said Nolan.

The nine women share one bathroom.

“And two of the women are pregnant,” said Nolan.

It’s got mildew, she added.

The women have tried scrubbing it out of the cracks with heavy-duty cleaners, but they can’t get rid of it.

“And the bottom of the dorm walls are crumbling and the cracks are all full of dirt and hair,” said Nolan.

The room has three windows. Only one partially opens.

“We have three vents that circulate air,” said Nolan.

“But the air quality isn’t that good.

“You should see the dust that accumulates in one day — it’s nasty.”

Given the tight quarters, Nolan is worried about fights.

“They threatened if we don’t all get along, they’re going to station a guard here 24 hours a day because they have nowhere else to put us.”

During its tour, the News also visited a male dorm.

The sitting room was about three times larger than the women’s.

There was a bookshelf, shelves with clean sheets and laundry, a large table and a couple of benches.

The News saw six men in that dorm.

The next dorm had pews in front of the TV and bunks in the sleeping area.

“It can hold as many as 26 men,” said Daniels.

On Wednesday, there were 22 men in that dorm.

The men are crowded too, said Nolan.

“But they aren’t kept in lockdown.”

The female inmates get an hour of fresh air a day, sometime between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.

They get 30 minutes of gym and 20 minutes in the dining room for meals.

“We don’t get open,” said Nolan, noting that’s when inmates are allowed to wander the jail’s hallways.

The men get open almost every day, she said.

“They get open, library, extra fresh air and gym.”

The women are not allowed to participate in Yukon College classes held in the resource room from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.  daily.

“The classes are only accessible to general population,” said the correctional centre’s campus instructor Kitty Sperling.

For two years, Sperling has received funding from the advanced education branch to hire a cell instructor to teach the women and inmates not in general population.

“The funds are limited and the contract usually ends in March,” she said.

“I’m not sure what is happening with the proposal I submitted (this year).”

Sperling tries to get to the women and the cellblocks when she can.

“I do the rounds after 3 p.m.,” she said.

“I help people if they’re stuck. But it’s not formalized and I’m quite busy with my students.

“There is only so much time during the day, and with so many needs it can be quite difficult.”

Women and celled inmates can study on their own, and can get tutored by Yukon Learn, said Sperling.

“Then I can test them,” she said.

Nolan was in school during the winter, when the cell instructor was on contract.

The five women were placed in one of the concrete interview rooms around a metal table.

The windowless room was roughly 10-by-18.

There was one computer jammed in a corner, said Nolan.

Sperling currently has eight students. The large, airy resource room where they work has several computers, a comprehensive library and round tables.

“If we want to use the resource room to use a computer we have to request special permission,” said Nolan.

Women don’t get much programming, she added.

“The only thing we do as a group is chapel and AA.”

Male inmates get anger management and substance abuse classes.

“And these group sessions are a big part of rehabilitation,” said Nolan.

“But there’s never been a violence program for women since I’ve been here,” she said.

Nolan was court-ordered to take these programs before she was eligible for parole.

“But they don’t offer the programming,” she said.

Nolan has set up her own appointments with Alcohol and Drug Services.

On Thursday, one of Nolan’s meetings was moved from one room to another, because the guys were having open.

Her meeting with Alcohol and Drug Services didn’t happen.

Nolan isn’t sure why, but assumes there just wasn’t a room available.

“It happens all the time,” she said.

Every Wednesday and Sunday the women are allowed to do laundry from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

But in the 10 months she’s been there, Nolan’s only seen it done in the scheduled slot four times.

“We put in the wash, then the guys get open, or are having a hockey tournament,” she said.

“Then they take a break and we go put it in the dryer.

“Then the guys are doing this or that.”

Nolan doesn’t necessarily want a women’s hockey tournament.

“But they could give us extra gym,” she said.

From Monday to Friday the women are allowed either an extra 15 minutes of fresh air or a half-hour in the resource room.

“This happens an average of three times a week,” said Nolan.

Women are usually given a two-for-one sentence at the jail, because of the poor conditions, she said.

Effectively, that halves their sentence — every day spent at the correctional centre counts for two.

During Nolan’s sentencing, Judge Foisy wrote: “To my knowledge, all programs available to men in the jail are not available to women. Accordingly, I grant her a two-for-one credit.”  

“But I don’t think any one of us would take a two-for-one over being able to walk around the jail for a couple of hours a day,” said Nolan.

Nolan, who is coming up for parole in November and is hoping to get temporary absences before this, was worried that talking about conditions at the jail would mitigate her chances.

“I was thinking, ‘Do you do this, do you talk about this, or do you just keep your mouth shut?’

“And I shouldn’t have to feel like that, but I do.

“Then I thought, Kerry, you’ve done 10 months, you only really have four more to go, so if word gets out and this helps you and other inmates, that’s more important than getting out early.”

See related story page.