Human and Fiscal Costs of Prison
59% of federally sentenced women have reported that they have engaged in self-injurious behaviour. Although CSC has changed its policies and prisoners should no longer be punished for self-injury or suicide attempts, women continue to express reluctance to self-report for fear of reprisal and punishment. Women experience this as a result of lack of support, receipt of institutional charges, and/or segregation or isolation.
A common response to women’s emotional reactions to incarceration is the use of segregation (a situation whereby the prisoner is isolated from the general population and generally locked in her cell 23 hours a day). Those who are suicidal or have mental or cognitive disabilities are often isolated, deprived of clothing and placed in stripped/barren cells.
The use of segregation in prisons has increased in the past few years. In 1999/2000 there were 238 documented admissions into segregation, and in 2001/2002 there were 418 documented admissions.
Other forms of punishment include institutional lock-down (prisoners are locked in their cells and all prisoner movement is ceased) as well as cancellation of the few visits the women may receive (statistics indicate that only 30% of women at the Kingston Prison for Women (P4W) had any visits from family and/or friends).
Between December 1988 and the spring of 1992, 7 women committed suicide at P4W. Six were First Nations women and the seventh was the first woman to be declared a dangerous offender and sentenced to an indeterminate sentence. In February 1996, another woman committed suicide at P4W after being advised that she would no longer have visits with her children. In November 1998, two women killed themselves at the Joliette Institution. In 2000, an Aboriginal women committed suicide in the segregated maximum security unit for women in the Saskatchewan Penitentiary (a men’s prison) despite being under “suicide watch”.
In 2000, Canada imprisoned its population at a rate of 118 per 100,000, compared to a European average of 84 per 100,000. While most Canadians believe that we imprison fewer people than most countries, internationally, Canada has one of the highest incarceration rates after the United States and Russia. Canada imprisons young people at four times the rate that we imprison adults and 10-15 times the rate of European countries.
In 1989 there were 203 women in federal institutions in Canada. As of March 2002, data show there was a total of 843 federally sentenced women in Canada: 358 (42.5%) were incarcerated and 485 (57.5%) were serving the remainder of their sentence in the community. It is projected that the numbers of federally sentenced women will increase to 1,074 in the year 2004.
The rate of incarceration in Provincial prisons has risen 102% since the 1980’s.
80% of incarcerated women are serving their first federal sentence and 37% are under the age of 30. Just over half, 51.6%, of women prisoners are between the ages of 18 and 34; even worse, 82.9% of the women in maximum security fall into this age category.
Although admissions of women continue to represent a small proportion of the total number of admissions, admissions of women as a percentage of the total annual warrant of committal admissions increased during the past five years and reached 5% in 2000 -2001.
In 1999-2000, expenditures on federal corrections in Canada totalled about 1.36 billion dollars, an increase from 1.15 billion in 1995-1996. This does not include provincial/territorial expenditures, which have a similar pattern of increase.
The cost of maintaining a male prisoner in 1999-2000, was about $185.44/day or $67, 686/year, whereas in 1999-2000, the cost of maintaining a woman prisoner was about $316.34/day or $115, 465/year.
Although 2/3 of federal prisoners are serving their sentences in the community, as of March 31, 2000, the Correctional Service of Canada staff totalled 14, 000 people; 82% of the staff were employed within institutions as correctional officers, program administrators, and health care workers, while only 8% were involved in community supervision.
The cost of alternatives to prison, such as probation, bail supervision and community supervision work orders, range from $5 to $25 per day.
The gap between the rich and the poor in Canada is widening and needs to be reduced to allow for the economic changes necessary for the well being of our communities, particularly Aboriginal communities.
All people in Canada need access to an adequate and guaranteed annual income.
Importance of Community Options
The Canadian criminal justice system is based on a retributive model of justice, where our focus is increasingly on identifying someone to blame and punish. Little effort is devoted to identifying, much less addressing, the needs and/or losses of the “victim”, the “offender” or the community. The Canadian public demonstrates support for individual responsibility, accountability and the use of alternative penalties that enforce active compensation, such as community service.
The unraveling of social and health services and programs and, therefore, the basic support systems for Canadian women, combined with a reliance on the use of penalties and imprisonment are resulting in an increased risk of criminalization to Canadian women and children. Statistics Canada reports that crime rates have been dropping since 1996, however, the fear of crime and the criminalization of women and girls have increased.
Since the mid-1990’s, since income tax inequality has been on the rise, women represent 70% of the world’s poor population and only 1% of the world’s wealth.
The risk of living in poverty is 1.28 times greater for women than men. 18% of women live below the poverty line; 33% are Aboriginal women; 25% are women with a disability; and 28% are women of colour.
The average income of women in 1997 was $19,847 as compared to $32,104 for men. 9% of women (twice the figure than that of men) had no source of income at all. In 1999, the poverty rate for women was 17.5% and the rate for men was 13.2%.
In 1999, 21.1% of Canadian working women over the age of 25 were employed in part-time jobs, compared with only 4.2% of men in the same age group.
Canada has the 5th largest wage gap between men and women full-time workers out of the world’s 29 most developed countries. Since the 1990’s, 30% of women have been working part-time jobs. From 1993 to 1998, an average of 11% of women never had a full time job, compared to 6% of men.
Women with a university degree earn 16% less in wages than men.
Women and youth account for 83% of Canada’s minimum wage workers. 37% of lone mothers with paid employment must raise a family on less than $10 an hour. Children make up 37% of people dependent on social assistance for survival.
In 1999, a total of 1,305,000 children lived in poverty. Of these, 696,000 poor children lived in two-parent families and 522,000 poor children lived in families headed by single-mothers. The poverty rates for children with single-parent mothers were abysmally high. The proportion of poor children living with single-parent mothers has grown substantially in recent years. In 1980 the figure was 33%; in 1995 the figure was 40%; and in 1999 the figure rose again to 51.8%.
In 2001, The National Council of Welfare set the average poverty line for a family size of two at $19,759, yet the average income of a single parent, on welfare, with one child was $12,244. This demonstrates a gap of $7,515. Accordingly, single mothers with children under the age of 18 have a poverty rate of 57.1% and single mothers who are themselves under the age of 25 have a poverty rate of 93.3%. Although single mothers with children under the age of 18 make up 7.1% of all families, they account for 28.4% of families living in poverty.
Families headed by single parent mothers who maintain jobs, make on average 35% less than families headed by single parent fathers. Many women on the social and economical margins struggle to survive; their survival is increasingly criminalized in the context of the increased feminization and criminalization of poverty.
2/3 of federally sentenced women have children. Most were the primary, if not sole, caregivers for their children prior to their incarceration. It is not unusual for a mother in prison to be declared an ‘unfit’ parent, whose children are taken away by authorities and placed in state custody. This is the most central problem for women in prison after their release.
By keeping women poor, we are also keeping children poor, causing illness, limiting their potential and perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Canada needs to implement a minimum wage that reflects the actual cost of living and develop realistic welfare rates based on actual market rates. Current welfare rates across Canada are criminally low. Moreover, increasing numbers of people are being dumped permanently from welfare rolls.
Women in Prison
35% women in provincial/territorial prisons have a grade 9 education or below; 40% have been classified as illiterate. 80% of women in federal prisons were unemployed at the time of incarceration, as compared with less than 10% of women in the general population.
Women in prison experience great limitations in terms of access to post-secondary level education, as well as vocational programs aimed at the development of marketable job skills.
More than half of all offences for which federally sentenced women are convicted are non-violent, property and drug offences. One reason why women account for 5% of admissions to federal penitentiaries is because they are far less likely than men to commit or to be convicted of serious crimes of violence which result in sentences in excess of two years.
Women are charged with approximately 10-12% of the violent crimes committed in Canada. 62% of these charges represented what are often referred to as “low-level” or “common” assaults. Aboriginal people are most likely to be convicted of property crimes such as break and enter and theft. Often property offences are economically driven, motivated by poverty or the abuse of alcohol and other drugs.
The commission of acts of predatory violence by women is very rare. Most acts of violence committed by women tend to be reactive or defensive in nature and are generally more reliant upon highly situational contexts versus the characteristics of the individual.
Mandatory minimum sentences are often disproportionately harsh compared to the crimes committed by women; the context and systemic issues relevant to cases where women use lethal force are rarely fully explored at trial or sentencing.
In 2001, 19.2% of the imprisoned federally sentenced women were serving life sentences for murder, 15 of these women were serving life sentences for first-degree murder and 53 for second-degree murder. Most women incarcerated for violent offences committed their crimes against a spouse or partner and often report having been physically or sexually abused by the person they assaulted.
The recidivism rate for federally sentenced women is approximately 22%, as compared to 59% for men. Only 1-2% of federally sentenced women are returned to prison as the result of the commission of new crimes. The overwhelming majority represent women who have their parole revoked as a result of administrative breaches of conditions of their community release. The recidivism rate of women released from the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge is even lower.
82% of all women and 90% of Aboriginal women serving federal prison sentences had histories of physical and/or sexual abuse.
Most of the women who are imprisoned are considered by correctional authorities to pose a low public safety risk, but have many needs as a result of their multiple levels of oppression. Despite this reality, women prisoners are kept in overly secure maximum security units and segregated in men’s prisons.
In 2003, 36% of women classified as maximum-security were so classified upon entry into the prison; 64% of women were so classified as a result of subsequent re-classification later re-classified as maximum security. This reality underscores concerns regarding the appropriateness of correctional risk assessment and classification schemes for women, especially Aboriginal women and women with mental and cognitive disabilities.
There are virtually no minimum-security prison beds for women. It cannot possibly be argued that women classified as minimum-security prisoners have higher security needs than their male counter parts.
Due to the lack of services and halfway houses for women in general, women often serve longer periods of their sentence in prison than do men.
Imprisonment, especially for long periods, has not succeeded in deterring or rehabilitating prisoners. There is a far greater likelihood that opportunities for responsible accounting for offences committed may occur in community-based, client-centred settings.
Increasingly, our laws and policies are in conflict with the lived realities of the marginalized in our communities, especially when they are women and girls. Social, racial, economic and gendered marginalization are the greatest predictors of who may be criminalized. Social development, especially the development of well-resourced education, health and social services are the most effective means of reducing the current trend of increased criminalization of women and girls.
45% of Aboriginal women make up the overall prison population, and are estimated to represent 90-99% of the population in some provincial jails, even though Aboriginal women only make up 1-2% of the Canadian population.
In 1998-1999, of all adult women admitted into provincial prisons in Alberta, 56% were of Aboriginal ancestry.
Aboriginal women and girls are vastly over represented in state institutions and continue to suffer the shameful and devastating impact of colonization; from residential school, to child welfare seizure, to juvenile and adult detention and current trends now indicate that “treatment” will be the next colonial control of choice.
Aboriginal women are also disproportionately over classified as maximum security prisoners. 40-50% of federally sentenced women who are classified as maximum security prisoners are Aboriginal.
The over representation of Aboriginal people within the Canadian criminal justice system is indisputably the most egregious example of the racist legacy of colonization.
Aboriginal people are subjected to a system that is euro-centric, foreign and which results in a vast over representation of Aboriginal peoples in Canada’s prison system.
The colonization of Aboriginal people continues today, not only as a consequence of the Indian Act, land thefts, residential schools, but also as a result of child welfare, social services, health, education and economic policies. The Canadian Government administers policies aiming to control virtually every aspect of Aboriginal life.
Many Aboriginal children grow up institutionalized and racialized as a result of the continuing legacy of social, economic and political oppression.
Research shows that Aboriginal youth are criminalized and jailed at earlier ages and for longer periods of time than non-Aboriginal young people. Within the criminal justice system, Aboriginal youth experience a lack of access and availability of legal counsel and community based resources and services.
Aboriginal youth are disproportionately jailed in youth h2s and transferred to adult jails. For 8 of the 9 most common offences, youth serve longer prison sentences than do adults in Canada.
Manitoba transfers young people into the adult system at the highest rate of all the provinces and territories in Canada.
Over half of the youth in state custody are Aboriginal children. The court’s determination of the “best interest of the child” interferes with the cultural interests of Aboriginal youth.
The present justice system is experienced by Aboriginal women as foreign, discriminatory, oppressive and unrepresentative of their needs. It is a dehumanizing process, based on punishment and blame that strips Aboriginal women of their cultural identity and status.
Section 125(3) of the Correction and Conditional Release Act requires the National Parole Board to base its decision to grant parole on a number of factors, such as the social history of the prisoner. Factors such as poverty, educational level, work record, cultural background and race, feed discriminatory stereotypes and assumptions about the propensities of marginalized and racialized persons to commit “criminal” acts.
60.4% of Aboriginal prisoners admitted drug abuse in their childhood; 57.9% admitted to early alcohol abuse in their childhood; 35.3% suffered severe poverty as children; 41.1% suffered from childhood abuse and neglect.
94% of Aboriginal prisoners indicate that they have a problem with alcohol. Of these, 88% indicate that they need help to stop or control their drinking and 63% indicate that they need a form of support in order to stop using.
85% of Aboriginal women who come into conflict with the law indicate that they used substances on the day of the offence for which they are now incarcerated. Women, who site drug abuse as self-medication, often discuss personal relationships as the cause of their pain. Abusive families and battering relationships are often strong themes in their lives.
In 1998, for people aged 15 and older, 21.1% of Aboriginal women and 26.5% of Aboriginal men were unemployed compared to non-Aboriginal rates of 9.7 percent for women and 9.9 percent for men. Average total income for Aboriginal people was $13,305 for women and $18,221 for men. For non-Aboriginal people it was $19,348 for women and $31,404 for men.
Aboriginal families headed by women have an average annual income of less than $16,000 compared to an average of $22,000 among other Canadian families headed by lone mothers. The amounts are higher but the gap is wider for lone fathers in which Aboriginal men average $21,000 in income compared to other Canadian families headed by lone fathers who average $35,000.
There are very few long-term and adequately paid employment opportunities in Aboriginal communities, particularly for Aboriginal women who have been denied any meaningful role in the social and economic development of their communities.
The discrimination against Aboriginal women in Government programs and services not only violates their Charter rights, but it also perpetuates the systematic abuse of all Aboriginal women throughout society.
The cost associated with the economic marginalization of Aboriginal people was estimated at 7.5 billion dollars in 1996. 5.8 billion dollars of this money was estimated as the cost of lost production because Aboriginal people do not have the opportunity to participate fully in their potential economy. 1.7 billion dollars of this cost accounts for the few adequate social programs available to Aboriginal people.
Long Term Results of Abuse and Trauma
30% of children who experience abuse have physical, emotional and cognitive health issues, and 32% display behavioural problems. The effects can range from depression, anxiety to developmental delays. Abused children are also at a much greater risk of significant emotional and adjustment problems including aggression and violence.
From the age of 16, 51% of Canadian women report having experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence. Federally sentenced women also have high rates of childhood sexual abuse, commonly incestuous, violent, extended over a long period of time, and with multiple perpetrators. They also have high rates of re-victimization at the hands of violent men. 72% of provincially sentenced women, 82% of federally sentenced women and 90% of federally sentenced Aboriginal women have histories of physical and/or sexual abuse.
Violent men are three times as likely as non-violent men to have witnessed violence against their mothers in childhood, and women who were raised in similar circumstances are twice as likely to be victims of spousal violence.
Women made up one third of the victims in the 555 cases of homicide in 1998. Data indicate that women were almost five times more likely to be killed by a spouse than by a stranger. 80% of spousal homicide victims are women.
The Cross Gender Monitoring Report (2000) on Canadian women’s prisons found that male staff members would often fail to announce their presence on the unit, have periodically seen the women naked, and the women also reported incidences where sexual comments and/or advancements were made.
Women’s prisons in Canada historically do not provide programs for sexual abuse/incest survivors. Support and therapeutic services and programs currently offered for women survivors tend to be system-based, as opposed to community-based, and culturally appropriate.
The Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge is the first federal prison designed to meet the specific and unique cultural needs of federally-sentenced Aboriginal women prisoners.
Fewer resources for research/program development and very little academic focus on incarcerated women make it virtually impossible to justify programs. Fewer than 2% of prison-related articles address issues pertaining to women prisoners and most neglect the issue of gender altogether.
It is sexist, racist and generally discriminatory and unethical to apply therapeutic programs, psychological assessments and classification assessment tools and procedures developed for incarcerated men on incarcerated women, especially Aboriginal women prisoners.
The high rates of mental health issues, incidents of self-injury, depression and suicide in the population of imprisoned women, ethically and legally warrants sufficient and proper assessment of their treatment needs in a manner that does not result in high classification ratings for those with the greatest needs.
Violence against Young Women
Violence is used against young women as a form of policing by partners, fathers and brothers. Young women are, among other things, denied access to money and forced to engage in sexual activity.
84% of the victims of sexual assault are girls. 33% of assaults occur at the hands of family members, with 97% of the perpetrators being adult men who use weapons in 22% of the cases.
54% of girls under the age 16 have experienced some form of unwanted sexual attention; 24% have experienced rape or coercive sex and 17% have experienced incest.
Although 63% of sexual assaults reported to police involve girls under the age of 18 years, incidences of child sexual abuse in some Aboriginal communities is as high as 75 to 80% for girls under 8 years old.
Among federally sentenced women, 23% were Aboriginal, 90% of whose backgrounds included physical abuse and 61% sexual abuse. Also, many were adopted or placed in non-Aboriginal foster homes where they experienced intense racism from an early age.
53% of women who are disabled from birth have been raped, abused, or assaulted.
Canadian girls are victims in 84% of reported cases of sexual abuse, in 60% of reported cases of physical abuse, and in 52% of reported cases of neglect.
Young women learn at a very young age that it is important to be nice, nurturing and caring especially to their fathers, brothers and boyfriends. Any deviation in terms of personality, aspirations, body type, clothes or even dreams is deemed unacceptable.
38% of 13 year-old girls and 48% of 15 year old girls believe they are overweight.
Magazines, self-help columns, television and music show young women that it is important to be attractive to their partners. If their appearance becomes less than perfect, it is understood that their boyfriends will leave them.
Family relations that embrace traditional family and gender belief systems can, and do, operate to place girls on trajectories of low income because they often emphasize the importance of marriage and family at the expense of economic self-sufficiency.
The suicide rate for adolescent Aboriginal girls is 8 times the national average for non-Aboriginal adolescent girls.
The mortality rate for prostituted girls and women is 40 times the national average.
Young Women and the Youth Criminal Justice Act
The new Youth Criminal Justice Act has the potential to significantly limit the numbers of youth who are criminalized. If it is not fully implemented, however, it could also further widen the already wide, need and sticky net of social control and result in more youth receiving custody dispositions and serving their sentences in adult prisons.
The records of youth receiving adult sentences will be treated the same as those of adults (i.e. individuals will be allowed to have access to them, and the publication of their names will be permitted, both of which will increase barriers for them later in life in terms of education and employment).
80% of charges laid in youth court in 1995-1996 were against young men. Although young women and men reported relatively similar participation in shoplifting, using drugs, and leaving home without permission, young women self-report far less serious or violent misbehaviour than young men.
The increased crime rate for young women in absolute numbers is mainly due to the fact that there are more young women in the Canadian population.
Violent crime rates for young girls receive significant media play and attention. Their actions are seen as deviations from the gendered norms of society. Girls are more likely to be sent to prison for minor offences, due to economic vulnerability and inequality.
The replacement of the Juvenile Delinquents Act with the Young Offenders Act had unexpected consequences. Old status offences were replaced by new ‘status-like’, ‘failure to comply’ offences. Over 1/4 of the charges heard in youth court against young women were under section 26: “failure to comply with a disposition”. Research demonstrates that more Canadian youth were found guilty of these non-compliance offences and sentenced to custody than those found guilty of violent offences.
Although the overall number of charges laid against youth by police has increased, the absolute numbers for serious charges such as murder, arson, breaking and enter, fraud, robbery, major theft, and trafficking drugs have remained low or have decreased.
Between 1992 and 1997, there was a slight decrease in the number of young women charged by police, yet young women received more serious dispositions. There was an increase in the use of probation, open custody and secure custody, while the relative use of fines, community service orders and absolute discharges decreased.
Contrary to public perception of the juvenile justice system as lenient, the seriousness of youth dispositions has increased. Depending on the manner in which the provinces choose to implement the Acts, the Youth Criminal Justice Act could also unfortunately result in creating punishments that continue to be far greater for young people than for adults. Canada already jails young people at 4 times the rate at which we incarcerate adults; and, 10-15 times the incarceration rate of European countries.
Discrimination in the sentencing of young women is very common. They are more likely to be detained for ‘their own protection’ on the basis of non-criminal, administrative offences, such as breach of bail, probation conditions and failure to appear in court.
Young women represent a greater proportion of youths sentenced to custodial care than do young men. Young women are often jailed in youth centres with young men and many incidents of sexual harassment and assault go unreported, since the reporting of such instances results in young women being held in even more isolated conditions with more limited access to institutional services, let alone community resources.
Canadians prefer that more money be invested in support services for youth and that the public attitude surveys persistently reveal that sentences in the community, as opposed to jail should be the norm.
Criminological research conducted in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada has consistently concluded that early contact with the juvenile or criminal justice system significantly increases the likelihood of subsequent re-involvement in the system.
Justice and the Poor
Cases involving low-income people who are charged, convicted, and jailed are almost never taken to appeal courts.
More women have incomes that are below the poverty line than do men. Issues, such as jailing for the non-payment of fines, disproportionately impacts poor mothers, whose primary offences are most often fraud, theft or prostitution in order to provide for their families.
Due to low paying wages, single mothers are often forced out of employment, in order to raise their children. For example, in Vancouver, a single parent would have to work 58 hours a week at minimum wage just to reach the poverty line.
Incarceration often results in loss of employment, housing, support from family and friends, as well as the loss of children to the state.
It is well established that personal health is better for those living in higher socio-economic environments. Human costs of poverty include low birth-weight, increased illness, lower labour force participation, family disintegration, homicide and/or suicide.
Single parent mothers, children, Aboriginal peoples, people with disabilities, and visible minorities are vulnerable to deep persistent poverty. People living on social assistance can be further impoverished by such a complex web of rules, regulations, and demeaning treatment that their own needs, and abilities are undermined, leading to depression and feelings of hopelessness.
Due to economic cutbacks and disqualifications from welfare, women are increasingly forced to return to abusive relationships, the streets and/or to place their children in state custody that victimizes them.
The long-term human and fiscal costs associated with addressing homelessness, increased use of prisons, violence, using foster care and other child protection services are many times higher than the cost of adequate social assistance funds.
Welfare incomes in all provinces are grossly inadequate and have been described as “criminally low”, yet federal and provincial governments are not held accountable to the consequent risks posed to the public safety or well-being. Instead of improving the living standards of people on welfare, the provinces have imposed freezes, cuts and bans to welfare. The poorest of the poor are falling farther behind and the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ widens in a country often regarded as the best place to live in the world.
At no point between 1986 and 2001 did any province or territory provide welfare benefits that allowed welfare recipients to reach the poverty line.