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.

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

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.

DV @ WORK NL PROJECT UPDATE! GETTING THE SURVEY OUT THE DOOR

The good news is that a national survey on Domestic Violence (DV) and its impact on the workforce, was circulated in 2014 and, thanks to this initial work by the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and an amazing team at the University of Western Ontario (UWO) – there is ongoing work rolling right across the country. The bad news is that back in 2014, this survey’s uptake wasn’t strong in Atlantic Canada. There weren’t enough surveys completed for the results to be ‘statistically significant.’ So, the first task for the DV@WORK-NL team was to re-jig the original 2014 survey – and launch it again!

We are determined to increase participation in the survey in Newfoundland and Labrador! We want to ensure that, along with key cross-provincial comparisons that the data from the survey will offer, we will also be able to provide and analyse some new kinds of data – specifically relevant to Newfoundland and Labrador. So…

This summer involved considerable consultation with a whole host of partners. This involved painstaking edits to the original survey by NAWN, OAWA, NLFL, the Mokami Status of Women Council – along with feedback from our own board at the St. John’s Status of Women Council, and feedback by the Canadian Federation of Students at Memorial University and the Safe Harbour Outreach Project (SHOP) here in St. John’s – just to name a few. By the end of the summer our survey was carefully re-jigged with Newfoundland and Labrador in mind!

  • International students at MUN recommended some new questions that relate specifically to ‘precarious labour.’ They challenged us to gather data on students working inside the university itself and outside in precarious, part-time jobs. They also encouraged us to look carefully at how immigrants and refugees might be intercepting workplace supports.
  • Key activists from SHOP pointed out that working alone (or even isolated in a home office) might offer additional/unique challenges to women in need of resources.
  • Rich discussions in Corner Brook helped identify the way DV can impact LGBTQ2S survivors. Just as an example, without the right emergency supports, an abuser and their victim could find themselves in the same room in a shelter!

This much is clear: when it comes to examining the way DV impacts our workplaces – critical resources need to be both identified and developed. The support provided in our workplaces via coworkers and employers – can play an integral role in how things play out. Preliminary discussions and interviews have made us even more determined to angle in on key demographics that have, to date, been sidelined out of community discussions. Needless to say – our list of questions is growing daily.

SPREADING THE WORD VIA NETWORKS AND LISTSERVES AND COMMUNITY ORGANIZERS
After the editing was completed, the survey was quickly sent back into supportive hands at the Centre for Research and Education Woman and Children (CREWAC) at UWO. We were all so excited to see the online survey activated and so grateful for the ongoing support from CREWAC. Special thanks is owed to the CLC, who shared outreach ideas, press kits and resources and especially to Robyn Pike here at the St. John’s Status of Women Council, who brought the local campaign to life with some expertly crafted posters and press releases.

We are excited to report that on this front – there is still more to come; the survey outreach-team is not finished yet! The more surveys we manage to have filled out over the next few months – the more accurate our data will be here in Newfoundland and Labrador – and the better resources will be able to both identify and build. If you have already filled out the survey yourself – you can help the team enormously by sharing the link with family and friends and co-workers. The survey link will be active until January 2019 – but don’t wait until then! https://sjwomenscentre.ca/dvatworknl/

 

Safe Harbour Outreach Project: Women’s March 2018 Statement

SHOP provided a statement to be read at the St. John’s Women’s March on Saturday, January 20, 2018:

Safe Harbour Outreach Project is a program of the St. John’s Status of Women Council, where our two-woman team supports and advocates for sex working women and their rights, in and around St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. Our work is rooted in harm-reduction, human rights, social justice, and decriminalization.

We at SHOP are eager to participate in the St. John’s Women’s March 2018. The involvement of sex workers is incredibly meaningful; it was only last year that sex workers endured the erasure of their lives and rights at the Women’s March on Washington. We are proud that our city recognizes that sex workers belong here, because we know that sex workers have been historically left out of international women’s movements.

We know that sex workers are strong advocates, policy makers, and labour rights activists. Sex workers are mothers, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, and fierce business women. Sex workers have been pivotal in the work against human trafficking and sexual exploitation, and must be included in this work. Sex workers have been pioneers of women’s rights, civil rights, and LGBTQ2I rights.

Sex working women must be included in our feminisms. Incarcerated women, Indigenous women, women of colour, immigrant and refugee women. We must look for these voices in the Times Up movement, and in the Me Too movement – and if they aren’t included, we must ask why, and do better. In the name of sharing sex workers voices, and honouring the role sex workers play in the women’s movement, we champion their words:

Last month, trans sex worker Hailey Heartless in B.C. eloquently said, “when we speak about violence against sex workers, we need to tie it back to the core reasons why we’re at risk. Stigma, on top of slut shaming, and whorephobia, is piled on top of other oppressions we disproportionately face: sexism, transphobia, ableism, racism, colonialism and homophobia, to name a few… As an ally, it’s your responsibility to create spaces, not movements. Please speak with us, not for us. Stand beside us, not in front of us. Include us in your movements and let us tell you what we need. Nothing about us, without us.”

And a sex working woman in our city of St. John’s said, “We pay income taxes. We vote. We promote and project equality, empowerment, independence, and self-worth. Our work is consensual. Our work is real work.”

Sex workers have been part of the women’s movement throughout history, even when their work and presence hasn’t been recognized. But let it be known,

We hear you.
We see you.