In support of prisoners and prison justice activism in Canada
Resources on Federally Sentenced Women and Security Classification

These two articles and longer research piece are written by Allison Campbell. These pieces only touch on some of the many, significant issues relating to incarceration practices for federally sentenced women in Canada, and women classified as maximum security in particular.

Federally Sentenced Women and Security Classification
Allison Campbell
July, 2006


For women serving time in Canada’s federal prisons over the last decade, many reforms have taken place, which have altered the way their incarceration has looked from outside the prison walls. Perhaps the most significant changes have been for women classified as maximum security, who ten years ago went from being held in one, centralized prison in Ontario – Kingston’s notorious Prison for Women (P4W) – to segregated units in men’s maximum security prisons across the country.

After almost ten years of these ‘temporary,’ co-located units, where women were isolated and their movements severely restricted, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has recently moved maximum-security women into “Secure Units,” recently built at each of the regional, federal women’s prisons in the country (except the one designed specifically for Aboriginal women, in Saskatchewan).

While moving to the regional prisons seems like a good step, the Secure Units continue to isolate women from the rest of the prison population, and their movements are still highly restricted.

This development points to how reform strategies for women’s prisons over the last decade have done little to change what is actually going on behind the prison walls, no matter how ‘different’ the prisons appear to be from the outside.

The issue of security classification – designating a prisoner’s security level and then determining their treatment based on that designation – raises important questions about how the CSC fundamentally approaches the incarceration of women, and its commitment to any significant shift in the ways in which federally incarcerated women are treated in this country.

Download Full Article (9 pages)

Double Incarceration: Maximum Security in Canada's Federal Women's Prisons
Allison Campbell
July, 2006


In 1990, the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women (TFFSW) issued a report that brought about significant reforms to how women were to be incarcerated in Canada. Creating Choices was the first report in the history of the Correctional Service of Canada (csc) to inform itself of the voices and experiences of federally sentenced women and their advocates. It argued for a new approach to corrections, which would centre women's individual needs, as opposed to conventional incarceration practice.

Throughout the nineties, as recommended by Creating Choices , the CSC made the expensive and significant move of building six smaller, community-style prisons across the country, including a Healing Lodge specifically designed for Aboriginal women. It overhauled prison-based programs to make them more gender- and culturally appropriate, and it finally closed Kingston's Prison for Women (P4W), although not until 2000.

Initially, women of all security levels were to be housed together in the new “women-centered” prisons. However, shortly after the first of the new prisons opened in 1995-96, in response to some unfortunately violent disturbances that occurred there, the csc changed that plan. Instead, maximum-security women were “temporarily” sent to ‘co-located' units in men's prisons, and security at the new women's prisons was increased significantly. The “temporary” co-located units would be in operation for the next 10 years.

In 2005, after many years of criticism from women prisoners and their advocates, the csc finally closed the co-located units, and moved the approximately 40 women who were classified as maximum security into the regional, “women-centered” prisons. While this was an important step, it did not come without a price. Rather than accommodating the women within the prisons themselves, the CSC built a “Secure Unit” at each of the regional prisons in order, they argued, to incorporate maximum-security women into the Creating Choices vision. However, these units only continue to segregate max women from the rest of the population, and serve as a persistent threat to women with lower security classifications within the prison itself.

Download Full Article (6 pages)

Punishment Through Exclusion: Maximum Security In The Creating Choices Era
Allison Campbell
August, 2004


In 1990, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) adopted Creating Choices, the Task Force report which called for a ‘women-centered’ approach to corrections for all federally sentenced women. While incarceration practices changed, women classified as maximum security – a disproportionate number of whom are Aboriginal – were soon excluded from the reforms. Drawing on the work of Dorothy Smith, I undertake an institutional ethnography of corrections for federally sentenced women to address disjunctures between the CSC’s use of Creating Choices and its actual practices.

Through an historical account of federal incarceration practices for women in Canada, I show how the practice of separating women classified as maximum security from the general population is historically rooted in relations of ruling which privilege gendered notions of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ prisoners. Current segregating practices such as co-location new Secure Units, I argue, continue the historically precedented model of ‘punishment by exclusion.’ Despite this clear departure from the Creating Choices vision, the CSC maintains it addresses the needs of women with higher security classification.

To investigate this disjuncture, I examine how CSC policy-makers discuss Creating Choices and the treatment of women classified as maximum security. I argue that exclusionary practices make sense in the correctional consciousness through both a binary portrayal of Creating Choices as philosophical and corrections as practical, as well as, through an assertion of the CSC as the ‘knowers’ of maximum security women.

Finally, drawing from interviews with federally sentenced women’s advocates, I demonstrate how the institution of corrections itself remains invisible in the CSC’s accounts. This invisibility, I argue, is due to an “institutional lens” through which the CSC operationalizes incarceration practice. By removing context, the institutional lens keeps hidden from view the fact that incarceration practices continue to maintain relations of ruling that over-incarcerate and segregate a disproportionate number of Aboriginal women.

Download Full Research (178 pages)
Related Articles on
More information on Women and Classification: (See section - Issues and Position Papers: Classification/Maximum Security)