How Canada’s justice system treats women and children
Posted On July 23, 2021
Posted July 06, 2019 07:20:52A report released Wednesday shows that women and girls in Canada’s prison system are disproportionately denied access to justice because they are women and have children.
The report, by the Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian Council of Learned Societies, notes that in 2010, women comprised 15.9 per cent of all offenders serving sentences in provincial prisons.
In the last five years, they have made up almost a quarter of all prisoners in Ontario’s prison population.
While that’s a huge improvement, the report says, the numbers for women and their children have remained largely unchanged.
“For the first time in decades, women and young girls are the largest group of offenders, and women account for nearly one-quarter of the women who are in custody and prisons,” said Catherine Brown, executive director of the Canadian Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Brown said the report highlights that women in custody are often denied access for years, which makes it difficult for them to make progress.
“In some cases, they are left to fend for themselves,” Brown said.
The women and other inmates who are incarcerated are often the most vulnerable to trauma and violence, Brown said, because they live in communities with few resources to help them navigate their cases.
The Canadian Bar association and the council’s report also say that the number of women in Canada who are sentenced to a maximum-security prison has been steadily declining for decades.
It’s been steadily falling since the mid-1990s, when women were the majority of those in prison.
The report notes that the prison population peaked at 735,000 in 2007.
In 2013, Canada’s total population was 1.2 million, down slightly from 1.3 million in 2012.
About 2.2 per cent are women, compared with 2.3 per cent in 2000.
The study notes that for every 100 women in prison, there are 1.7 men in prison at the same time.
“When we talk about women in our society, we tend to think of a certain number of children, but there are thousands of women who have children in our prisons and jails,” Brown told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
The organization’s report said that, at its peak, Canada had around 20,000 women in maximum- security prison, compared to more than 400,000 men.
It said that since the early 2000s, there has been a decline in the number women in provincial and territorial prison, with a smaller number of men in the prisons.
But the numbers have remained roughly the same in Ontario, with only a smaller decline than in other provinces.
“The situation for women in prisons is really, really dire, and it has continued to deteriorate, and has been worsening over the last three years,” Brown added.
The group said that the justice system in Canada has failed to keep pace with changes in the Canadian population.
The numbers of women and youth incarcerated in Ontario have been dropping steadily over the past decade, as well.
In 2010, there were about 11,000, or 1.4 per cent, women in Ontario jails and prisons, compared from nearly 17,000 at the start of the decade.
Ontario’s prison populations grew by almost one-third between 2011 and 2014, from a total of 735 of 733,000 people, the study said.
The province is still behind many of the other provinces, including Alberta, Quebec and the United States.
In Alberta, the number was 521 in 2010 and had declined by more than half by that time, from 804 to 603.
In Ontario, the drop in the prison populations was especially severe.
Between 2012 and 2014 the prison numbers decreased by almost a third.
Between 2011 and 2016, the prison-population numbers decreased even more.
The federal government’s plan to bring women and men behind bars has been praised by advocates for women’s rights.
The government has said it is committed to making sure that women are kept safe in prison by making it easier to move to the maximum security cells.
But advocates for all women said the system needs to change in order to improve the safety of all women in jail.
“Our jails are in the worst shape that they’ve ever been, and we are losing women’s lives at the rate that we’re losing them,” said Heather Rippel, executive vice-president of the Association for Women and Children in Correctional Service.
The report also said that women tend to be more vulnerable to abuse and neglect in the justice systems.
As a result, the association said, they may be more likely to be arrested and convicted and spend longer in prison before being released.
Among the recommendations in the report is to provide greater support for women with mental health issues and substance abuse issues.