The evolution of the new federal women's prisons in Canada
This thesis explores a unique experiment in penal reform; the final, successful attempt to close the sole federal Prison for Women in Canada and its replacement by five regional prisons. A government Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women, with representatives from the voluntary sector, produced a woman-centred document on penal reform. Wanting to create a plan reflecting the specific needs of Canadian women, they found that the country's colonial history had an unanticipated impact upon their work, and that its Aboriginal (First Nations) members exerted a profound influence on the final report. Focusing upon the first three prisons to open, this thesis traces the work of the Task Force itself, then shows how the voluntary sector was largely excluded from the project once the Correctional Service of Canada began to implement the plan. The exception was the new Aboriginal Healing Lodge, which relied heavily on Aboriginal input throughout the planning process. What this study reveals is the manner in which the language of penal reform is both incorporated and reinterpreted by correctional authorities. It shows how reformers from both the public and private sector may help to legitimise ventures, while the discipline of the prison simultaneously re-asserts itself in order to neutralise reform. The thesis assesses the way in which public and political opinion affected the entire project and analyses two major outcomes of the venture. Firstly, an enterprise intended to provide imprisoned women with greater autonomy has led to many more now living with disproportionate levels of security. Secondly, the possible consequences for Aboriginals of allowing their culture and spirituality to become part of the language of corrections. What the study demonstrates is that new forms of penal governance closely reflect those which have preceded them, irrespective of how the language and intentions might have changed.