Yukon inmate forced to leave territory for programming

Kerry Nolan couldn’t get the programming she needed at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, so she transferred to a BC jail.

Kerry Nolan couldn’t get the programming she needed at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, so she transferred to a BC jail.

It wasn’t easy.

“I fought to get out,” said Nolan.

“I’d been incarcerated for a year and hadn’t gotten any programming.

“But I was always told programming is in the process.”

On August 7th, Nolan was denied parole.

“For the next month and a half, I was on the phone constantly,” she said.

“I was told by the jail, I was not supposed to phone the deputy minister’s office, because I was going above them, basically.

“But they weren’t working fast enough for me and I wanted out of there.”

Nolan was told inmates weren’t sent out.

“They said, ‘Why would we do that?’

“Because you don’t have the programming here,” she said.

Nolan even phoned the facility down south.

“They said they don’t usually get inmates phoning,” said Nolan.

“I realized that, but I couldn’t even talk with my case manager here — he’s so busy.”

The southern facility agreed to send Nolan outlines of the programs she wanted — emotions management for women and relationship skills for women.

Nolan’s transfer went through on September 22nd.

“It took that long for me to keep pushing,” she said.

“It was me being very assertive to get what I wanted — I was really determined.

“I’d been incarcerated for 12 months without getting anything.”

Nolan spent two months at the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women, a medium security facility in Maple Ridge, BC.

She completed three four-week programs, complete with thick binders and worksheets.

At the Whitehorse jail, they keep saying there isn’t enough manpower to put on programming, said Nolan.

But at Alouette, the guards run the programs.

The corrections officers take a weeklong training course and then become instructors, said Nolan.

The guards also write up inmates’ monthly reports.

At the Whitehorse jail, it’s case managers who write these reports.

“But the case managers are so busy,” said Nolan.

“And they’re not on the floor, so they are writing reports based on negative reports — they’re usually one-sided.”

The Alouette facility was amazing, she said.

And elder came daily to teach traditional native skills in the Eagle Hut — an outbuilding with a woodstove.

“We made drums, skinned hides and would all sit and drum and sing — we’d feel free for awhile.”

The sessions were open to all women, not just First Nations, said Nolan.

Days at Alouette were spent doing assigned jobs, and evenings were spent in programming.

“We always had something to do,” said Nolan.

“We weren’t stuck in our room all the time.”

At the Whitehorse jail female inmates are in lockdown 23 hours a day, she said.

There are only three jobs available to women: cleaning the dorm, the gym and the hallway.

Each job only takes half an hour and Nolan never saw any women get an opportunity to clean the hallway.

The women get one hour of fresh air a day.

“But the guys get the freedom to walk around,” she said.

Being cooped up in a small dorm all the time causes tempers to flare.

Fights are an everyday occurrence, said Nolan.

But at Alouette, with 144 women, there were only two conflicts in the two months Nolan spent there.

Because the Whitehorse jail is co-ed, it can never be like Alouette, said Nolan.

But the proposed new jail could have a women’s wing, she said.

“Then we wouldn’t have to be in lockdown all the time.”

Nolan returned to the Whitehorse jail to serve the last three days of her sentence.

She was worried there might be some tension in the dorm, after past conflicts.

But Nolan ended up happy she’d spent the                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      last few days with her old cellmates.

“They asked me to go to the aboriginal women’s summit and represent them,” she said.

At the summit, Nolan ended up in a group with Justice Minister Marian Horne.

Nolan mentioned the overcrowding, the women in lockdown and the lack of programming at the jail.

“Horne jumped down my throat,” she said.

“It seems to me the minister considers one-on-one counselling to be a program — to me that’s not a program.

“A program is when you can come out with something like this to show for it,” she said, pulling out three certificates from Alouette.

“Counselling is something completely different.”

Women at the jail only get an hour of college classes a day, while male inmates get to spend all day in classes.

People at the summit were flabbergasted, said Nolan.

“Because everyone knows how important education is.”

Nolan also talked to the group about the need for a women’s halfway house in Whitehorse.

Right now there is nothing to help women reintegrate into the community, she said.

Not true, said Horne.

“Horne said there were two halfway houses in Whitehorse,” said Nolan.

There are currently no halfway houses for women, said Justice spokesperson Chris Beacom on Friday.

Things haven’t improved for women at the jail, said Nolan, pulling out inmate committee meeting minutes from October 17th.

The first heading was dorm repairs.

At the top of the list was the need for a ventilation fan in the bathroom.

“The bathroom can sometimes be very foul smelling — very unpleasant and disgusting, especially when eating. Odour wafts into the common living unit and is the first thing smelt when entering the dorm,” read the minutes.

The bathroom sink is falling off the wall.

The toilet seat is chipped and needs to be replaced and a new showerhead is needed. “The current head is corroded and does not spray right, or has too little pressure.”

The dorm also needs to be painted.

That’s the only thing they’re acting on, said Nolan. They want it to look good when people tour through.

“Inmates at the jail are breathing the same gross air that’s been there for the last six years,” she added.

The women’s dorm is cleaned one day and there’s dust bunnies the next, she said.

“There’s bad air circulation.”

There is also a shortage of nursing staff.

“Medical and dental emergencies need to be addressed more quickly,” said the inmate meeting notes.

“Some new admits don’t get to see a nurse/doctor for sometimes more than a few days. They are stuck in the dorm to suffer with sickness that could be contagious to others.”

After getting out, Nolan joined the newly established Elizabeth Fry Society.

“The biggest thing on my agenda is to get a halfway house for women — so they can start the healing process and their probations and start getting their lives back together again,” she said.

Once a halfway house is established, Nolan plans to focus on programming at the jail.

“If people want to make changes they should be given the opportunity to do so,” she said.

Nolan has already discussed the programming she got at Alouette with the Elizabeth Fry board.

“So we can start pushing for more programming,” she said.

Elizabeth Fry also gives female inmates a voice outside the jail, said Nolan.

“There needs to be a place for women to phone someone to help them make changes.”

While she was incarcerated, Nolan phoned the Yukon Huma Rights Commission and the ombudsman a number of times.

“And I got in trouble a lot for phoning these people,” she said.

“But it’s my right.”

Male and female inmates need advocates, said Nolan.

“They need a voice that’s going to be heard in the public.

“I hate to say it, but when you’re an inmate you don’t get heard as much. It’s just the way it is.

“So you need someone with a voice outside that can represent you.”