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N.S. halfway houses so bad that women choosing to return to jail
HALIFAX (CP) _ The environment is so bad in some Nova Scotia halfway houses that women are opting to serve their full sentence rather than seek early parole, advocacy groups are charging.
Representatives of Coverdale and Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies claim correctional Services of Canada is discriminating against female parolees by releasing them into male-dominated halfway houses often located in crime-infested neighbourhoods.
"The issue of inadequate community release options is an issue right across the country,'' Kim Pate, the Elizabeth Fry national executive director in Ottawa, said recently.
"It's particularly bad in the Atlantic region, where there are very few resources for women exiting prison."
Pate said paroled female inmates must now go into halfway houses that are geared toward men and fail to meet the needs of women.
She said many women who have histories of sexual or physical abuse by men are forced to move into facilities dominated by males.
"Often there is sexual harassment, and the fear of such contact can be destabilizing to some," Pate said.
There are three Nova Scotia halfway houses for men and women. Among them, they have about 15 beds for women.
One halfway house, Sir Sanford Fleming House in Halifax, is right in the middle of the drug trade, says Kathleen Jennex, executive director of Coverdale, a support group for women in conflict with the law.
There are four beds for women in the basement of the building that can only be reached by going down an alley into an isolated backyard.
"It's like an afterthought in terms of safety concerns for women," she said.
Laurie Ehler, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia, said some women are wanting to stay in prison rather than go to the halfway houses.
Others opt to return to prison once they've tried the halfway house option.
"The rate of women returning to prison is very high," Ehler said in alluding to a recent Canadian Human Rights Commission report critical of the lack of support for women leaving prison.
Meanwhile, Jennex said there are about 60 women incarcerated at the Nova Institute for Women in Truro, N.S. Most are from the Halifax area.
``It doesn't stand to reason that when you have that many women, there is not one female-only halfway house in the province,'' she said.
Correctional Services Canada would never enter into agreements with halfway houses where female parolees are at risk, said spokesman Ed Muise.
Muise did confirm Correction Services of Canada is negotiating a proposal from for a four-bed, women-only halfway house in Halifax area.
"It's something that has been recognized and is currently being reviewed," he said.
Pate said her group would like to see small, individualized services for women returning to the community.
For example, she said, there are private home placements with one or two beds and specialized services for those in need of mental health support.Source: www.herald.ca
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