Nova Institution for Women reinstates volunteer doula program

The volunteer doula program at the Nova Institution for Women has been reinstated, according to the group, Women's Wellness Within.

Doula program says it has been unable to access clients since a new warden took over in May

The Nova Institution for Women has now opened the door to volunteer doulas after a six-month absence. (CBC)

The volunteer doula program at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro, N.S., has been reinstated, according to the group that runs it.  

"I'm so relieved," said Martha Paynter, coordinator of Women's Wellness Within. 

"The women were there and the women were asking for this program — and the women were not being allowed to see us." 

The group includes women from legal, medical and counselling backgrounds who co-ordinate care for pregnant inmates at both the Burnside provincial jail and the Nova Institution. 

Five trained and certified doula volunteers work closely with inmates in a non-clinical capacity to help deliver babies while women are serving time. They also provide breast-feeding support after the birth. 

The group began offering free service to women at Nova last autumn, and was able to help three women through their pregancies. 

But program co-ordinator Martha Paynter said the service was discontinued in June when the group asked to formalize their agreement with the prison in writing. That, Paynter said, coincided with the arrival of a new warden at the prison. 

"I realize that what happened is this fell to the bottom of the priority list," Paynter said.  

Corrections says program never cancelled

Paynter said she had no response from the prison until after a CBC News article was published. 

"I think the news coverage prompted people to write to different people in leadership roles, including the minister of public safety, so I think that made a difference," Paynter said.

Paynter said the group has now been contacted by the warden and given authority to resume providing their services to inmates immediately. 

The group also has set a meeting with the warden to formalize an agreement. 

In a email statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for Correctional Service of Canada said the program was never been cancelled or discontinued. 

Paynter disputes that, and said she understood that several women at the prison who were pregnant had gone without access to a doula. Women's Wellness Within, she said, had not worked with anyone since May. 

Correctional Service Canada said there is currently more than one women who is pregnant at the prison, and it provides pregnant inmates with services from the IWK Health Centre, Elizabeth Fry Society, and Maggie's Place, a resource for new mothers after they give birth. 

About the Author

Stephanie vanKampen

Videojournalist

Stephanie vanKampen is a videojournalist with the CBC News Arts & Entertainment Unit in Toronto. Send story ideas to stephanie.vankampen @cbc.ca