I'm Andrea Markowski and I'll provide my opening remarks first and then Darcy will follow me.
Good morning to you, Mr. Chair, and all the committee members. I want to thank you for asking me to appear and giving me an opportunity to share my experiences with you.
I've been the warden here at Edmonton Institution for Women since April 2009. You'll probably hear me refer to Edmonton Institution for Women as EIFW. That's the acronym that we often use. EIFW is one of six regional multi-level facilities for federally sentenced women in Canada. One of those facilities is a healing lodge, called Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge, near Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. In that facility they only house minimum- and medium-security women, but the other five facilities are fully multi-level: minimum, medium, and maximum.
By way of background, I want to let you know that EIFW has a capacity for 125 women. We have 100 minimum- and medium-security beds for our general population; we have 10 beds in the structured living unit, a mental health placement unit; and we have 15 maximum security beds, totalling a 125-bed capacity.
It's noteworthy that we've been operating at or above capacity for the last few years. We're using double-bunking in our secure unit, which is the maximum-security level, as a means of managing this population pressure. At times, we have had to use our private family visiting units as regular housing for women within the general population. But infrastructure enhancements are under way, and we will be adding 40 minimum beds and four additional beds to the structured living unit for a total of 44 additional beds over the next few years.
Our approach at facilities for federally sentenced women in Canada is based on the principles established by the task force report called Creating Choices, namely meaningful and responsible choices, shared responsibility, respect and dignity, empowerment, and a supportive environment. These principles guide the operation and design of our facilities, and also the way in which we deliver services to women. In that sense, we work collaboratively with the women who live here—and you'll often hear me refer to them in that way—to build a community where everyone can feel included, respected, and able to flourish.
With respect to federally sentenced women, the women-offender population is the fastest-growing incarcerated population in Canada, surpassed only by the aboriginal women-offender population.
Most women admitted to federal custody have serious substance abuse concerns that require intervention; many suffer from mental health difficulties; most have experienced trauma in the form of physical and sexual violence during disrupted and chaotic childhoods and victimization in adulthood; and about half, and in fact up to about 65%, are serving a sentence for violence offences. Most of these women are suffering from severe substance abuse difficulties. Some will continue to seek drugs during their sentence, particularly at the beginning when they're just starting out on their journey.
Drug abuse can take many forms inside institutions. It can include illicit and prescription drugs, as well as the consumption of substances that contain alcohol, such as homemade brew. We take a coordinated approach to these challenges—prevention, intervention, and interdiction. Darcy is going to speak to you at greater length about some of our activities.
Drug and alcohol abuse in prison is somewhat different in a women's facility. A woman's ability to hide items in her body cavity for long periods of time can impede our interdiction efforts. It certainly makes dry cell interventions—which I can explain to you later, if you're not sure what that is—a less effective intervention for us. Those are specific challenges we face.
However, the women do tend to have fewer connections outside of prison, so in that sense, we have fewer throw-overs; and smuggling of drugs into the facility and within the facility is less evident than in prisons for men. But the reality is that women sometimes do arrive at our site from remand centres with drugs or other unauthorized items like tobacco, or they attempt to bring them in when they've been on an escorted absence or when they've had visits in the facility.
Efforts by the Correctional Service of Canada, such as our investments and enhancements at principal entrances, perimeter security, the effective use of dynamic and static security, and the bolstering of our intelligence capacity have really proven to be effective deterrents. This notion is supported at my institution and at women's facilities in general across the country by very low rates of drug seizures and a low rate of positive urinalysis testing.
In order to address the root issue of substance abuse, women in federal custody are offered comprehensive mental health and substance abuse assessments on intake. These assessments are followed by the development of a detailed and comprehensive correctional plan.
Gender-sensitive interventions are offered as early as during the intake process. In fact, on average women begin programming within 50 days of arriving at our facility—and that is still within the intake process phase. Women are highly motivated to engage in treatment while they're incarcerated, so we have very high rates of enrolment and completion of programs.
While some women are loosely affiliated with gangs prior to their incarceration—usually through a male partner—they rarely carry on these activities while they in custody. Therefore, gang management in women's facilities is not a major concern for us at this time.
Mr. Chair, I trust this covers some of the areas of your interest.
After Darcy Thompson has had the opportunity to provide his opening remarks, I would be more than happy to respond to any questions from the committee.
Thank you very much.