Where to house Quebec's women inmates? Government promises action after damning report

The Quebec government is working to phase out a co-ed detention centre in Laval amid concerns about the health and safety of women held there since Tanguay jail closed.

Female detainees-strip searched without privacy in Laval co-ed detention centre, says correctional ombudsman

In a new report, Quebec's Correctional Ombudsman found problems with the transfer of women to a co-ed Laval detention centre earlier this year. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

The Quebec government is working to phase out a co-ed detention centre in Laval amid concerns about the health and safety of female inmates. 

Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux is aiming to put an end to the mixed population at the Leclerc detention centre in Laval by June 2017, spokeswoman Marie-Ève Pelletier said in an email.

"We continue our efforts to find a lasting solution to the female prison population," Pelletier told CBC News.

A new detention centre for women, who are a growing segment of the inmate population, is among the options.

Last February, about 250 female prisoners were transferred from Tanguay jail in Ahuntsic to the Leclerc detention centre in Laval.

The move came after the province had determined the aging Tanguay institution was no longer suitable for operations.

But the detention centre in Laval has also been subject to criticism.

After the 50-year-old Tanguay women's jail was found to be in disrepair, its inmates were transferred to a Leclerc. (Mathieu Dion/Radio-Canada)

The 2016 annual report from Quebec's correctional services ombudsman, released late last month, details a number of problems following the transfer of women to the shared facility.

Among the issues: 

  • Female detainees were strip-searched in premises that afforded them no privacy. The situation was addressed at the ombudsman's request. 
  • Due to administrative bungling, detainees were deprived of medication and then had to go through unplanned and sudden withdrawal from their prescribed drugs.   
  • The correctional facility put female detainees with incompatible prison profiles in the same section. For security reasons, these detainees could not be in the common living areas at the same time. The result was that the time they could spend outside their cell was greatly reduced.
  • Furthermore, women with mental health disorders lived side by side with other detainees who had been put under protection in order to ensure their safety.
  • Women with mental health disorders also had to have all of their meals in their cells. While management admitted that it would be better if there were a section set aside for detainees with mental health disorders, it could not act on that because of lack of space and staff.

Women's groups have also expressed concern about the conditions at Leclerc, alleging that some female inmates have been subjected to remarks and abuse of a violent and sexual nature from the men.

According to women's groups, another concern is that men, some of whom are convicted of violent crimes, regularly cross paths with the women in the prison.

The majority of female inmates at Leclerc are serving lighter sentences than their male counterparts.

In June, the government announced it would work with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Quebec, an organization devoted to incarcerated women, to improve the living conditions of the women.

With the help of the organization, Pelletier said the province is exploring different "scenarios" to better house female prisoners.