Statement responding to the NL Corrections & Community Services: Deaths in Custody Review

St. John’s, NL – The St. John’s Status of Women Council supports the findings of the recent Newfoundland and Labrador Corrections and Community Services: Deaths in Custody Review report, including the 17 recommendations therein. We also express our deepest and sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of those who have died in Newfoundland and Labrador’s prisons. We continue to send our support to the women currently incarcerated across our province, and the staff within these institutions.

As a frontline women’s serving organization supporting women before, throughout, and after their experiences with the criminal justice system in our province, we are deeply concerned for the well-being, safety, and human rights of women who are incarcerated in our prisons. We know that most 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 and 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.

Women are being incarcerated at alarming rates. In Newfoundland and Labrador between 2008-2016, the number of incarcerated women has increased by 64 per cent. Indigenous women are the fastest growing prison population in Canada. We recognize the longstanding impacts that women from Labrador are facing when removed from their communities and families, while not being offered adequate culturally appropriate supports and traditional medicines throughout the criminal justice system.

Prisons require adequate health care. This means comprehensive and trauma-informed health care, including psychiatric treatment and mental health care – both proactive and crisis response care, acute care, and supportive reproductive health care. The Canadian Supreme Court has ruled solitary confinement as unconstitutional, recognizing that it has been used to discriminately target Indigenous people and people living with mental illness. Solitary confinement should not be used as mental health care or crisis response practice in our province’s prisons.

To begin to truly engage the fundamental changes need in our criminal justice system, we must learn from criminalized women and their families, listening to their needs, and advocating for better futures for all of them:

“As a former inmate in Clarenville and NOVA, I think this report in itself is well written and well put together, however it’s nothing that hasn’t already been said about prisons in NL. It’s nothing that Decades of Darkness didn’t already report in 2008. These recommendations are nothing new – it all comes back down to having the Government actually implement recommendations and changes.

Building new facilities and new sections onto existing buildings here looks fine and dandy as a media moment but ultimately, it’s not about the buildings, it’s about what is happening inside of them and the resources that do and do not exist for us in there. I was like the majority of women in Clarenville when I was an inmate there, and had already been sexually assaulted, survived domestic violence, and had experienced trauma throughout my life. We do not need more corrections we need trained counsellors who specialized in trauma, we need social workers who understand addictions and their root causes, we need mental health advocates, we need psychiatry and basic healthcare that is compassionate, comprehensive and follows best-practice instead of punitive-practice.”

– Formerly incarcerated woman from NL, speaking to SJSWC staff this week

Beyond addressing the dire conditions within our province’s prisons, we believe our government should be directly facing issues of unaffordable housing, poverty, and the lack of available mental health and addictions services. Vast and immediate changes must happen both inside and outside of prisons and must be conducted in partnership with frontline organizations and services supporting criminalized women before, during, and after incarceration. The creation of a women’s Justice Support Worker position, which we have proposed to the Department of Justice and Public Safety, is one important step towards providing greater supports for women in our criminal justice system.

Prisons must be a place where rehabilitation can begin, where options can be accessible, where even hope and healing can grow. The recent deaths of several vulnerable people in prisons in our province demonstrates that this was not their experience.


Media Contact
Robyn Pike
Development and Communications Coordinator
St. John’s Status of Women Council/Women’s Centre
Tel. 709.753.0220

About St. John’s Status of Women Council/Women’s Centre
The St. John’s Status of Women Council/Women’s Centre is a feminist organization that since 1972 is continually working to achieve equality and justice through political activism, community collaboration and the creation of a safe and inclusive space for all women in the St. John’s area. The St. John’s Status of Women Council operates the Women’s Centre, Marguerite’s Place Supportive Housing Program and the Safe Harbour Outreach Project.