Inmates to appeal move

Queen’s Students for Literacy advocate to keep McNeill House open

The female prisoners of Isabel McNeill House which is located at 525 King St. West, will be appealing a court decision next Friday in hopes of staying at the only women-only minimum security prison that remains in Canada. In a decision on March 1, Judge Thomas J. Lally ruled that the four women in McNeill House don’t have to leave until their appeal comes before the courts.

The appeal date is set for April 2.

“I think this is very much an issue of gender discrimination,” said Melissa Bell, a volunteer with Queen’s Students for Literacy, a campus club that tutors inmates at McNeill House in reading.

“There will not exist a minimum-security federal prison for women, and there are several for men.”

If McNeill House closes, the Queen’s Students for Literacy will no longer be able to work with its inmates because the women will be transferred to Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener.

“The program would only be directed towards men because those would be the remaining facilities [for men],” said Jennifer Arango, ArtSci ’07 and student tutor co-ordinator for the Isabel McNeill House and an executive member of Queen’s Students for Literacy.

Diane Oleskiw, the inmates’ lawyer, said the case is based on a violation of the women’s right to equality.

“Corrections Canada is … taking away the one little nugget women had and further disadvantaging women by not giving them the same advantages men are given.”

According to the women’s notice of application, the grounds under which the women are asking for an injunction from being involuntarily moved include the fact that, at Grand Valley Institution, “there is virtually no difference in the conditions of confinement, level of security and surveillance, or freedom of movement within the prison as between minimum security and medium security inmates.”

It further states that, “At [McNeill House], where all the women are minimum security, the Applicants live in a residential home with no restrictive fence, have access to work, escorted temporary absences and community contact that is not available at [Grand Valley Institution].” Diane Russon, a regional communications manager for Corrections Canada, said they want to close the prison for financial reasons.

“It costs about a million dollars a year to run the facility.”

Russon said there aren’t any women on the waiting list to get into Isabel McNeill House.

“It actually houses 10 offenders and the average, over the last four years, has been about six.”

Russon said one of the reasons the facility might not be at capacity is because of the closure of the nearby Prison for Women in 2000.

Russon said Grand Valley Institution includes all levels of security.

“The environment might be a little bit different. The rights and privileges they would have would be the same.”

Russon couldn’t comment on those rights because she said they’re still being decided by the courts.

Arango said the women shouldn’t move out of the minimum security facility into the multi-level.

“You can’t mix the minimum-security sentences with maximum-security sentences,” she said. “That’s ridiculous.”

Arango said at Isabel McNeill House the women are able to cook and they don’t sleep in cells.

“The correctional facilities in Canada are supposed to provide not only punishment for these offenders but also rehabilitation,” Arango said. “It’s supposed to be a balance.”

With files from Lisa Jemison

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