In support of prisoners and prison justice activism in Canada

As part of the B.C. Government's budget cuts, the Burnaby Correctional Center for Women will be closed in March of 2004. BCCW is a provincial prison that incarcerates women serving sentences of less than two years, women on remand (awaiting trial), and, through an exchange of services agreement with the federal government also incarcerates some women serving federal time (more than 2 years). The provincial government's plan was to move all provincially sentenced and remanded women to Alouette River, and the federally sentenced women to a new federal prison being built in Abbotsford. However, the provincial government recently announced that it will cost too much money to house all the provincial women at Alouette River, so they plan to keep women considered maximum security or high needs in various men's jails and lockups throughout the province.

If we look at the prison population we see an increasing number of women being incarcerated. A high percentage of prisoners are First Nations. Most women are in prison for crimes of poverty and are not a danger to the community. Very few women are in prison for violent crime. 80% of women serving time were arrested for shoplifting or drug and alcohol offences. Many women in prison are mothers and most of them are single mothers, who often lose their children to the system once imprisoned.

The prison system views women as "high needs" in terms of needing treatment and healing from physical/sexual abuse, employment training, and education. Those needs are then translated into risk so the higher a woman's needs are, the higher her security rating becomes. The majority of women who are classified as maximum security are First Nations women and women with mental health issues.

There are many problems with sending women into men's institutions, including lack of programs, resources, recreation and religious freedom. Also, the majority of women in prison have suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of men. Being held in a men's prison would be extremely traumatic for these women.

Normally, prisoners have the opportunity to reduce their security rating or gain early release by participating in programs offered by the prison, such as addiction treatment, counselling, anger management, and education and employment training. The provincial government has no plans to introduce any of these programs for the women being moved to the men's institutions. This lack of programs is contrary to the B.C. Corrections Branch mandate. The women stand to face conditions of deprivation and overcrowding (at the Surrey pre-trial centre, women will be triple-bunked and locked down on one floor of the prison). It is unclear what arrangements, if any, will be made for the women to receive visits from friends and family, as well as access to religious services, particularly contact with Native Elders and sweatlodge ceremonies. These jails and lockups were not built with women's needs in mind. They were built to hold men awaiting trial. The women will essentially serve their time in segregation, with no hope of education, treatment, transfer to a lesser security facility, or the opportunity for early release. The placement of women in men's prisons is completely unacceptable.

July 13, 2003
Joint Effort