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.