The Ask Women Anything series provides a platform for exceptional women in our community to share their stories and their views on everything from popular culture to politics and everything in between. On April 22, 2015, we were delighted to have former Correctional Service of Canada Deputy Commissioner for Women, Jennifer Oades as our featured guest. Jennifer’s career in corrections spanned 25 years, and informs her extensive knowledge and experience on the topic of female incarceration in Canada and around the world. The relaxed and cozy atmosphere of Planet Coffee provided the perfect ambience for the intimate and engaging conversation the audience had with Jennifer.
Jennifer started her career in the private sector before moving to Ottawa to take up a government position. At the time, she had young children at home and worked part-time at Corrections Canada but eventually secured a permanent position through a Management Training Program. At the height of her career, she was asked to become the Deputy Commissioner for Women. “It was challenging”, she says, “I was responsible for the leadership of program and policies for women”. She added that it was often difficult to get commitment for creating women–centered approaches within a correctional environment. Despite these challenges, she is proud of a number of achievements during her career, including 4 new minimum-security units that were built outside of the security fence. Jennifer also developed the initiative to allow mothers in prison communicate with their children via video technology.
Jennifer has been vocal about the lack of options for mentally ill female offenders in the correctional system. In the case of Ashley Smith, a young teenage girl suffering from mental illness and committed suicide under the watch of several guards, Jennifer says that there were many lessons learned, but noted that women with mental health concerns should not be sentenced to prison and that other alternatives need to be found. She advocates for a different policy suite for women offenders and the need for more psychologists specializing in corrections and mental health. She notes that as Canadians, we should be mindful of how much money is spent on correctional services when there are other more effective investments which would result in longer term public safety.
When asked about the input women bring to Corrections Services, Jennifer cautions against assuming that having more women in executive level positions will automatically change things. “It doesn’t matter how many women are at the executive table” she says, “If you do not have a voice, it means nothing”. Female perspectives are important in the decision making process. She added that having the appropriate services and support for women offenders is of utmost importance in their successful integration back into society. As Jennifer so succinctly put it, “We send people to prison as punishment not for punishment.”Follow us!