How a CSC team is helping improve the conditions of incarcerated women across the globe

In 2017, a team of Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) staff launched the gender-responsive training program for incarcerated women in Liberia. Two years and several international trips later, the team is gearing up once more to share its best correctional practices for the care and management of women offenders.

Training focusing on effective gender-responsive interventions supports the penitentiary staff responsible for meeting the specific needs of women offenders in countries affected by conflict and peacekeeping operations. In fact, women are particularly vulnerable in the correctional environment in areas where conflict is present. Simply recognizing that experience, which typically differs greatly from male offenders, is the first step toward improving the conditions of women in custody.

Through this initiative, the CSC team provides foreign correctional service workers with three days of practical training. This is followed by five more days of training for participants who would like to become a facilitator and train their own colleagues.  

The very specific concepts covered throughout the training comply with the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (Bangkok Rules) and with all of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules).

The CSC team, including specialists in correctional interventions for women offenders, delivered the training in Kenya in December 2017 before flying to Namibia in July 2018, where they supported staff in opening a women’s detention centre. This was a real accomplishment for the CSC team and a tremendous step for the Namibian penitentiary staff.

In the context of the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH), Brigitte Bouchard, the Alberta/Northwest Territories District Director, and Marlene Wells, a National Trainer at Nova Institution for Women, delivered the training to various Haitian penitentiary administration workers in August 2018. After participating in the training held in Port-au-Prince, Caroline Turcotte, an Ogilvy Community Correctional Centre Manager, returned in March 2019 alongside Brigitte to train facilitators from the Haitian penitentiary administration.

“Those sessions were an opportunity to discuss the specific needs of the women incarcerated in that country, contribute to deconstructing gender stereotypes and together examine the best adapted approaches to improving women offenders’ conditions,” said Caroline. The training specifically focuses on the importance of interventions intended to give women back their autonomy and increase their self-esteem. “It’s a real challenge; the women who arrive in detention have often been traumatized, and many of them suffer from mental health problems”.

“Because women often have the responsibility of educating children and maintaining familial and social bonds, it’s crucial to consider their relationship needs in the interventions with respect to those women,” she added.

These specific needs must be considered in the design of penitentiary infrastructures and how staff interact on a daily basis with women in custody.

“The training helps participants address these issues and discuss the best approaches to giving the women some control over their lives and encouraging their reintegration into the community,” said Brigitte.

In March 2019, during their second stay in Haiti, Brigitte and Caroline began to notice the integration of the concepts they were teaching in the interaction between male and female staff members present at the session.  

“The women at the training more easily described their concerns and the challenges they encounter as women working in a traditionally male workplace, while the men appeared more open and respectful toward their female colleagues,” said Brigitte. Those results are encouraging and lead us to believe that people we train will know how to pass on the concepts to improve the detention and working conditions of Haitian women.

Congratulations to the CSC team for all their accomplishments and good luck as their training mission continues!

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