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Looking Back 10 Years After the Arbour Inquiry: Ideology, Policy, Practice, and the Federal Female Prisoner
The decade of the 1990s can be marked as one of major dissension, conflict, and change within federal corrections for women in Canada. In this article, the authors reflect back on this period of time by examining the correctional ideologies, policies, and practices that were operating in the Canadian federal prison for women. Finding these policies and practices to be inherently gendered and punitive in nature, it is argued that punishment was at the time and continues to be the cornerstone of the regulation of women prisoners, and that it takes a specific, gendered form that relies on the deployment of traditional patriarchal conceptions of femininity. Drawing on interviews with correctional personnel and analyses of correctional policies and the Arbour Inquiry transcripts, this article reconstructs Correctional Service of Canada’s (CSC) responses to incarcerated women’s “unfeminine” behavior, specifically women’s self-harming behavior and their violence against others, as overly disciplinary. It is proposed that CSC’s ideological foundation, as well as the practices and policies that were operating both at the time of and following the incident at the Kingston Prison for Women that resulted in the Arbour Inquiry, remain deeply entrenched in an oppressive hierarchical structure of gender inequality. This structure fails to question how traditional conceptions of femininity shape policies and practices. It has also aided in the construction of a new genre of “misbehaved” women in corrections, which in turn has been used to justify the harsh regulatory treatment of federally sentenced women. Without challenging its traditional gender ideologies, CSC is unable to offer any alternatives to its punitive practices, which continue to operate.