Women: a minority in the penal system.
Women remain a minority group in the penal and correctional system, despite the fact that their number has been increasing since the 1970s. Their status as a minority group is not without consequences. They have inherited correctional policies and practices that are based on male realities. It took several decades for governments to recognize the specific needs of women offenders and the need to develop a correctional management model and infrastructure adapted to their needs. These issues are still relevant today, and the SEFQ strives to develop services tailored to the specific needs of women.
In Canada, women are a minority in the prison setting: 10% provincially1 and 6% federally2. In Quebec, Aboriginal women represent 1.8% of the general population3, yet they account for 9.4% of the female population under provincial sentence (58% are Inuit)4. This over-representation of Aboriginal women in prison is a matter of concern.
In federal penitentiaries, Aboriginal women currently represent 50% of the female prison population, while they make up only 4% of the Canadian population5.
Poverty and incarceration: an inevitable correlation
Poverty is a complex, multifactorial societal problem. It is a fertile breeding ground for the emergence of numerous psychosocial problems. Poverty is constantly increasing among women, and today we even talk about the feminization of poverty. Systemic and personal factors lead criminalized women into a situation of poverty6. Although poverty is not the only factor, it is the main cause of female criminality. Indeed, it plays an important role in the criminalization and incarceration of many women.
Some information in numbers :
- Although there is no available data on the costs of community custody for women, for men it is much cheaper to maintain an offender in the community than to keep him incarcerated: $24,825 per year compared to $101,666 (average costs for men). (Source: Public Accounts of Canada, Correctional Service of Canada / Statistical Overview: Corrections and Conditional Release - 2009, Public Safety Canada).
- The average annual cost of incarceration per woman increased from $150,867 in 2003-2004 to $182,506 in 2007-2008. (Statistical Overview: Corrections and Conditional Release - 2009, Public Safety Canada). This cost can increase to $250,000 for women incarcerated in the most rigidly segregated conditions, such as maximum-security segregation units in women's institutions. (CAEFS, Human and Financial Costs of Imprisonment).
- Almost three-quarters (69.9%) of women who are sentenced to incarceration after being found guilty receive a sentence of one month or less. (Source: Adult Criminal Court Survey, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada / Statistical Overview: Corrections and Conditional Release - 2009, Public Safety Canada).
- 80% of female offenders have a history of substance abuse. (Howard Sapers, Correctional Investigator, Correctional Service of Canada, interview on CBC Radio's The Current: "Prisoners and Mental Health", April 1, 2011).
- 50% of female offenders suffer from some form of mental health issue. (Source: Howard Sapers, Correctional Investigator, Correctional Service of Canada, interview on CBC Radio's The Current: "Prisoners and Mental Health", April 1, 2011).