National Post

Wednesday, February 03, 1999

N.W.T to build jail exclusively for girls
All guards female

Shawn Ohler
National Post

To cope with a rising number of female young offenders, the Northwest Territories government plans to build what is believed to be Canada's first all-girl jail.

The $5.5-million, 12-bed facility is due to open July 1, 2001, in Inuvik, a town of 3,300 near the Beaufort Sea in the territory's northwest corner.

"We have not been able to find another facility like this in Canada," said John Dillon, the N.W.T. government's director of correctional services.

"Because of that, we thought for a nanosecond that we were doing the wrong thing, but now we're convinced it is absolutely the right thing."

Mr. Dillon said female young offenders now make up between 15% and 20% of all youth criminals in the territory. Nearly half of those girls come from the area around Inuvik, including communities such as Tuktoyaktuk and Fort McPherson.

"That's one of the reasons Inuvik was chosen. We're trying to help these girls and heal these girls close to where they live," he said.

Mr. Dillon said rehabilitation successes in the territory's all-women adult jail at Fort Smith, near the Alberta border, prompted the government to build the unique facility in Inuvik. Not only will the new youth jail's inmates be all female, but the guards will be, too.

"It's not an original discovery, but you always have an overwhelming oppression when you mix the two sexes together," he said.

"Females see a male and they think, 'There's someone I have to be afraid of.' You take that out of the equation and healing becomes an easier thing."

Mr. Dillon said the only opposition to the jail has come from male guards, who feel they're being shut out of potential jobs.

"They were ready to go to battle, but we said, 'Look, if you go into a safe house, you don't find any men in there. It's a safe house. And that's what we're trying to build here.' "

Robert Cook, the N.W.T.'s co-ordinator of young offenders, said the Inuvik jail will have an adjoining apartment for visiting families, and possibly provisions for young inmates with babies.

"I think we're a leader here," Mr. Cook said.

"I think this is a program that other jurisdictions are going to be following."

The territory's girl offenders are currently housed in a co-ed jail in Hay River that no longer meets building codes for secure custody facilities.

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