PANSOW calls for changes to justice system following the death of two women at the NL Correctional Centre for Women

The Provincial Action Network on the Status of Women (PANSOW) stands in solidarity with families of incarcerated women. We join them in calling on the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to initiate long overdue changes within our provincial justice system.

The 2008 report, Decades of Darkness: Moving Towards the Light – A review of the prison systems in Newfoundland and Labrador noted that many of those who are housed in our provincial prisons are there for crimes stemming from poverty, addictions, and mental health issues. Yet adequate and appropriate programming and services, especially gender-specific programming, to address these needs are not present within our correctional institutions. Prisons are not equipped to deal with these issues and the living conditions in these institutions often lead to deterioration of mental health. We are at a critical moment following the deaths of two women at the NL Correctional Centre for Women, change through community collaboration is paramount.

Samantha Piercey, who died in prison last month, died on remand. Charged, but not convicted of a crime. Unfortunately, our province has some of the highest rates of remand in the country. Whenever possible, individuals on remand should remain in the community with supports.

There is an immediate and critical need for supports, staffing and resources, gender-specific health care, an alleviation of overcrowding, and incidents of lock down. We are supportive of the independent review initiated by Minister Parsons however we ask for civilian oversight of this process and the involvement of incarcerated women and their families.

Media Contacts
Paula Sheppard Thibeau
Executive Director
Corner Brook Status of Women Council
Tel. 709.639.8522
cbwomenscentre@gmail.com

Jenny Wright
Executive Director
St. John’s Status of Women Council
PANSOW, Co-Chair
Tel: 709.753.0220
jenny@sjwomenscentre.ca

About PANSOW
The Provincial Action Network on the Status of Women (PANSOW) is a grassroots, feminist, and non-partisan network which gives a provincial voice on the issues facing the Status of Women in Newfoundland and Labrador. PANSOW consists of all eight Status of Women Councils in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Statement in response to NLCCW’s women’s letter

We are in awe of the strength of women in the Newfoundland and Labrador Correctional Centre for Women (NLCCW) in Clarenville, who have written a letter addressing their grief and distress following the recent death of two women they were incarcerated with. As advocates for women across our province, we know the importance of amplifying the voices of women when they speak about their own experiences of injustice, and we recognize the powerful act of speaking out in the wake of these tragedies.

As women in NLCCW have said:

“So with these things happening and inmates being neglected at the wrong times, how can any of us feel safe?”

The St. John’s Status of Women Council and all our programs (St. John’s Women’s Centre, Marguerite’s Place supportive housing program, and the Safe Harbour Outreach Project) echo and validate the concerns that women have identified. Like these women, we have come to see the impacts on women who need mental health services, holistic health care, housing, culturally appropriate Indigenous supports, counselling, and support for the violence they have experienced yet receive time behind bars. We believe our province has the ability to act now to address chronically overcrowded and under-resourced prisons and must act now to divert women in our criminal justice system to essential services and supports that they need and are identifying.

In recognizing the disconnect between the inmates’ feelings of safety, and the response from our institutions, we call for immediate action, transparency, and accountability from the departments and institutions who are responsible for incarcerated people in our province and any action to be done in consultation with front line community advocates for prisoners. Once again, we call on the provincial Department of Justice and Public Safety for an immediate assessment of the needs of people in our prisons with public oversight.

We continue to hold the families and friends of Skye Martin and Samantha Piercey in our thoughts.

Statement on the tragic death of an incarcerated woman in Clarenville

With the recent news of the death of a woman who was incarcerated in the Newfoundland and Labrador Correctional Centre for Women in Clarenville, our immediate thoughts went to her family and loved ones, and all the women who remain in the Clarenville prison. We mourn and remember her.

For the last five years, staff from the St. John’s Women’s Centre, Marguerite’s Place supportive housing program, and the Safe Harbour Outreach Project (SHOP) have been welcomed into this women’s prison – the only official women’s prison in our province – to provide more community support, programming, and advocacy for criminalized women before, during, and after their incarceration.

Through this work, we have come to know that the majority of incarcerated women are women living below the poverty line, women dealing with homelessness and unstable, unsafe housing, women who are Indigenous, women who have untreated mental health care needs and untreated addictions, and women who have experienced sexual and physical violence. We have come to see the impacts of our province sending some of our most marginalized women to chronically overcrowded and under-resourced prisons instead of doing the work to divert women in our criminal justice system to essential services and supports that they need.

These are women from our communities, from our towns, from our outports, from our provinces, from our lands, and we have a responsibility to remember them and make sure they are not left behind. We must amplify the voices and experiences of women behind bars.

During this tragic time, we are listening to women who are grieving, offering kindness and care, and telling everyone who will listen that women in prisons are valued and loved. We recognize incarcerated women for their dignity, their ability to care for one another behind prison walls, and their resilience.

We call on our communities to join us in learning from criminalized women, listening to their needs, and advocating for better futures for all of them. We also call on the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to organize an immediate assessment on the health care needs of women in prison, to be conducted in partnership with front line services and organizations supporting criminalized women before, during, and after incarceration.