Federal women inmates are primarily poor or homeless, undereducated and suffering from addictions or mental health problems.
Ottawa (11 May 2010) - The number of women starting federal prison sentences in Canada has grown by 55% in the past decade, a trend that experts are saying will worsen as the Harper government implements law-and-order measures.
There are about 500 women (nearly 4% of the total federal prison population) currently serving federal sentences of two years or more. This compares with more than 13,000 men.
In 2008-09, there were 313 women admitted to custody, a 55% increase from the 202 admitted in 2001-02. The increase for men over the same period was 15%.
Experts say incarcerated women share many common traits, being primarily poor or homeless, undereducated and suffering from addictions or mental health problems such as schizophrenia, depression and anxiety disorders.
Almost all - 82% according to the Elizabeth Fry Society - have a history of sexual or physical abuse. That figure rises to 91% for aboriginal women.
"Women who are incarcerated have a particular profile," Ivan Zinger, executive director and general counsel at the Office for the Correctional Investigator of Canada, told CanWest News. Zinger is the ombudsman for federal offenders.
"There's a much larger over-representation of aboriginal women and women with mental health issues than men, so they're being disproportionately affected by that lack of preventive measures, and social welfare, and appropriate health care services," he said.
The number of aboriginal women serving federal time has jumped 90% since 2001. Aboriginal women now account for 33% of women behind bars, although they make up only 3% of the female population. Aboriginal men are also overrepresented, up 17% in the same period.
Women are twice as likely to have a mental health problem diagnosis at the time of admission as men. Almost 30% have been admitted to a psychiatric hospital before being incarcerated compared to 14.5% for men.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE