Facts & Figures

FACTS & FIGURES

Women are a small proportion of adults under correctional supervision in Ontario.

  • 15% of adults under correctional supervision are women. 
    • This figure mirrors the proportion of women who are charged by police (15%) and convicted (13%) in court. 1
  • Most women on register are on probation (90%) or some form of conditional release (6%).  
  • In 2005, women accounted for 21% of persons accused of a Criminal Code offence. 
  • In 2003/2005, 23% of adults before the criminal courts were women.  
  • In 2003/2004, 51% of women were found guilty in their cases.2

Women are a minority group in Ontario correctional facilities.

In correctional facilities, women are a minority in a system that was designed for men. 

  • On any given day in Canada, only 7% of on-register inmates in provincial facilities are female.3
  • A 1997 – 1998 study conducted in Ontario revealed that  9% of the 33,971 sentenced admissions to provincial custody were women. 4
  • On any given day, only 4% of the institutional correctional population is female.
  • A study conducted in 2004 – 2005 revealed that women accounted for 6% of offenders in provincial / territorial sentenced custody and 6% remanded into custody. 
    • Women in the provincial/territorial correctional system are more likely to be under community supervision than under custodial supervision (93% community vs. 7% custody).
    • 16% of offenders on probation, parole or serving a conditional release were women.5

Women in provincial custody are under sentence, on remand, or awaiting transfer.

An early 1990s study found that:

  • Half of the women surveyed were serving a provincial sentence in the facility where they were located
  • About one third of the women surveyed were on remand
  • The remainder of women surveyed were awaiting transfer to another facility, mostly to the Vanier Centre for Women (which was due to close soon) or to federal custody.6

Women in federal custody are granted parole.

  • In 2019, women were granted parole at a higher rate than male offenders over a ten year period. 
    • Seeking day parole, 83.4% for women, and 69.3% for men
    • Seeking full parole, 39.8% for women, and 25.7% for men.7

Provincial sentences are short.

  • The median provincial sentence in Canada in 1997/98 was 44 days (45 in Ontario).
    • Because of remission and temporary absence programs, the median time actually served is 24 days.  
    • In 2003 – 2004, the median sentence length for females found guilty for crimes against the person and property crimes was 30 days (when sentenced to custody).8

Women are primarily incarcerated for property offences or offences against the administration of justice.

  • In the provincial system, one study found that about one third of women were in prison for property offences, primarily theft and fraud. 9
  • More recent data show that the two most common offences of conviction for provincially sentenced women are drug offences (13%) and theft (12%).10 
  • According to a Statistics Canada survey, incarcerated women are less likely to be incarcerated for an interpersonal offence (64% of federal and 28% in provincial custody) than male inmates, 74% and 34% respectively. 11
  • According to information on the MPSS web site, property offences accounted for the majority of offences by adult female offenders sentenced to incarceration (32%),
    • This was followed by administration of justices offences (e.g., breach of probation, unlawfully at large, fail to comply, fail to appear) at 22%, and offences against the person (16%).  
  • Data from three provincial correctional systems (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan) indicate that 31% of women were under supervision for violent offences and 34% were for property offences. 12

Most incarcerated women are socially and economically marginalized.

  • These women are typically young (average age is about 30), poor, and single mothers.
  • The average woman in prison has less than a grade nine education and was unemployed at arrest. 13
    • What little employment experience they have is usually in unskilled and minimum wage jobs.
  • Data from the three provincial correctional systems named above (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan), indicate that women in these systems are on average 32 years old; additionally, 55% are single and 30% are Aboriginal. 14

Women are less likely to recidivate and constitute a lower risk to the community than men.

  • Compared with their male counterparts, provincially sentenced women have lower levels of the risk factors known to be correlated with recidivism. 15
  • Little research in Canada follows women (or men) after release to determine their rate of recidivism, but we believe based on research in other countries that women constitute a lesser risk to re-offend than men.
  • Ontario data is being collected on this point but has not been released in a form that provides a sex breakdown.

Women in prison have higher needs compared with male offenders.

  • On traditional measures of risk/need assessment, provincially sentenced women evidenced higher needs than their male counterparts). 16
  • Compared with male offenders, federally sentenced women evidenced significantly higher levels of difficulty with:
    • behavioral and emotional instability
    • poor family relations
    • lower academic and vocational skills17

Many women in prison have unique needs.

  • The needs of women can include:
    • educational upgrading
    • vocational training
    • employability skills
    • life skills
    • substance abuse treatment
    • housing
    • individual therapy
    • family therapy
    • financial planning
    • health care
  • Legal issues can include disputes over custody of their children and child-welfare proceedings in family court.
  • This problem is only compounded for women of color.
  • Systematic disadvantages compound and create unique barriers that prevent full participation in the labor force.
  • This extends to women who have left incarceration and who are attempting to reintegrate.
  • Women with children struggle to receive support and acquire services upon release to the community.

Most incarcerated women are parents.

  • In 1994, 71% of institutionalized women in a study had children
    • 80% of these women were parenting on their own for a significant period of time18
  • In 2016, a survey in conducted in an Ontario jail found that 82% of their institutionalized women had been pregnant at some point in their lives.
  • In 2021, an estimated 80% of institutionalized women in the United States had children. 19

Aboriginal women are over represented
And the number keeps growing. 

  • In 1995, Aboriginal Women were admitted to provincial custody at a rate five times that of white women. 20
  • The disparity was greater for women than for men:
    • In 1992 and 1993, 9.2% of provincial admissions of women were Aboriginal compared with only 5.6% of male admissions.
  • In 2008, 30% of women in provincial custody are Aboriginal. 21
  • In 2019, the Indigenous federal prisoner population has increased by 50%.
  • In contrast, for non-Indigenous individuals, the rate has remained consistent over the past decade.
  • For Indigenous women, that number has increased by 74% over the past decade.
  • In 2019, 42% of women in federal custody are Aboriginal.
  • Indigenous women represent the fastest growing prison population in Canada. 22

The over-representation of visible minorities is more evident among women than men.

  • In 1992 and 1993, one third of adult female admissions to Ontario prisons belonged to visible minority groups compared with one quarter of males. 23
    • Asians, East Indians and Arabs are under-represented in penal populations relative to their proportion in the Ontario population. 
  • Black women are admitted to provincial custody at a rate almost seven times that of white women.
    • As with Aboriginals, this rate is higher than is the case for Black men. 
  • At Vanier Centre for Women, admissions of Black women increased 630% over the six years between 1986/87 and 1992/93.
    • The comparable figure for Caucasian women was 59%.
  • The pattern continues. In 2020 and 2021, 17% of admissions to provincial prisons were designated as visible minorities, with 6 in 10 (or 61%) of those involving Black individuals
    • Black individuals only represent 4% of the adult population in these provinces. Therefore, admissions of black individuals are overrepresented.

The profile of women in prison may be changing, but more research is needed.

  • Concern is commonly expressed that the rates of crime among women, particularly violent crime, are rising. Shaw and Dubois reminds us of these important facts:
    • Women commit proportionately far less violent crime than men.
    • Violent offenses constitute a small proportion of all female offending; the violent offenses with which women are charged tend to be less serious than is those for men.
    • Most increases in women’s offending are accounted for by property offenses.
    • Any increases in violent offending are accounted for mostly by minor assaults.
    • Race and social class must also be considered along with gender in understanding women’s violence. 24
  • There is little to no research on the statistics of gender diverse individuals in the criminal justice system.

Works Cited

  1. B langer, B. (2001). Sentencing in Adult Criminal Courts, 1999/00. Juristat: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 21(10). ↩︎
  2. Kong, R., & AuCoin, K. (2008). Female offenders in Canada. Retrieved 08/28/2009. from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/85-002-x2008001-eng.pdf. ↩︎
  3. Robinson, D., F.J. Porporino, W.A. Millson, S. Trevethan & B. Killop (1998). A One-Day Snapshot of Inmates in Canada’s Adult Correctional Facilities. Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics: Juristat, 18(8). ↩︎
  4. Reed, M. & J. Roberts (1999). Adult Correctional Services in Canada, 1997-98. Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics: Juristat, 19(4). ↩︎
  5. Kong, R., & AuCoin, K. (2008). Female offenders in Canada. Retrieved 08/28/2009. from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/85-002-x2008001-eng.pdf. ↩︎
  6. Shaw, M. and S. Hargreaves (1994). Ontario Women in Conflict with the Law: A Survey of Women in Institutions and Under Community Supervision in Ontario. Toronto: Ministry of the Solicitor General and Correctional Services. We have a copy of the Executive Summary on our web site and as well a summary of what was found about women under community supervision. ↩︎
  7. Government of Canada. (2024, February 22). Statistics and research on women offenders. Canada.ca. https://www.canada.ca/en/correctional-service/programs/offenders/women/statistics-research-women-offenders.html ↩︎
  8. Reed, M. & J. Roberts (1999). Adult Correctional Services in Canada, 1997-98. Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics: Juristat, 19(4). ↩︎
  9. Shaw, M. and S. Hargreaves (1994). Ontario Women in Conflict with the Law: A Survey of Women in Institutions and Under Community Supervision in Ontario. Toronto: Ministry of the Solicitor General and Correctional Services. We have a copy of the Executive Summary on our web site and as well a summary of what was found about women under community supervision. ↩︎
  10. Finn, A., S. Trevethan, G. Carri re & M. Kowlaski (1999). Female Inmates, Aboriginal Inmates and Inmates Serving Life Sentences: A One Day Snapshot. Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics: Juristat, 19(5). ↩︎
  11. Robinson, D., F.J. Porporino, W.A. Millson, S. Trevethan & B. Killop (1998). A One-Day Snapshot of Inmates in Canada’s Adult Correctional Facilities. Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics: Juristat, 18(8). ↩︎
  12. Kong, R., & AuCoin, K. (2008). Female offenders in Canada. Retrieved 08/28/2009. from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/85-002-x2008001-eng.pdf. ↩︎
  13. Finn, A., S. Trevethan, G. Carri re & M. Kowlaski (1999). Female Inmates, Aboriginal Inmates and Inmates Serving Life Sentences: A One Day Snapshot. Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics: Juristat, 19(5). ↩︎
  14. Kong, R., & AuCoin, K. (2008). Female offenders in Canada. Retrieved 08/28/2009. from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/85-002-x2008001-eng.pdf. ↩︎
  15. Finn, A., S. Trevethan, G. Carri re & M. Kowlaski (1999). Female Inmates, Aboriginal Inmates and Inmates Serving Life Sentences: A One Day Snapshot. Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics: Juristat, 19(5). ↩︎
  16. Finn, A., S. Trevethan, G. Carri re & M. Kowlaski (1999). Female Inmates, Aboriginal Inmates and Inmates Serving Life Sentences: A One Day Snapshot. Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics: Juristat, 19(5). ↩︎
  17. Blanchette, K. & C. Dowden (1998). A Profile of Federally Sentenced Women in the Community: Addressing Needs for Successful Reintegration. ↩︎
  18. Shaw, M. (1994). Ontario Women in Conflict with the Law Subsidiary Report: Children and Parenting. Toronto: Ministry of the Solicitor General and Correctional Services. ↩︎
  19. Paynter, Martha, et al. Maternal incarceration in a provincial prison in Canada: A qualitative study. Journal of Advanced Nursing, vol. 78, no. 7, 31 Jan. 2022, pp. 2123 2138, https://doi.org/10.1111/jan.15154. ↩︎
  20. Gittens, M. & D. Cole (1995). Report of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario. ↩︎
  21. Kong, R., & AuCoin, K. (2008). Female offenders in Canada. Retrieved 08/28/2009. from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/85-002-x2008001-eng.pdf. ↩︎
  22. McGuire, M. M., & Murdoch, D. J. (2022). (In)-justice: An exploration of the dehumanization, victimization, criminalization, and over-incarceration of Indigenous women in Canada. Punishment & Society, 24(4), 529-550. https://doi.org/10.1177/14624745211001685 ↩︎
  23. Gittens, M. & D. Cole (1995). Report of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario. ↩︎
  24. Shaw, M. & S. Dubois (1995). Understanding Violence by Women: A Review of the Literature. Ottawa: Correctional Service of Canada. ↩︎
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