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Regional Advocacy

Members of the Ontario Regional Advocacy Team

Jacqueline, Brianna, and Courtney – three of CAEFS’ Lead Advocates

  • Our Approach

    Our advocacy focuses on federally incarcerated women and gender-diverse people and recognizes that, in order to create substantive equality, unique attention and approaches are needed to respond to incarcerated equity-deserving groups. Our approach, which is rooted in intersectional feminist and anti-oppression analyses, is unique in the Canadian carceral context.

  • How We Work

    CAEFS’ regional advocates are organized into five regional advocacy teams: Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, Prairies, and Pacific. Each regional advocacy team is comprised of a lead advocate (a CAEFS employee), community-based volunteer advocates, and peer advocates incarcerated in the prisons designated for women.  

    Regional advocacy teams make regular advocacy visits to the federal prison designated for women and/or psychiatric centre in their region. Each team aims to visit the prison in their region once a month, on average. In between visits, people incarcerated in prisons designated for women can connect with their team through regional toll-free advocacy phone lines

  • What We Do

    We work to ensure that people in prison have a robust understanding of the law, rights, and redress systems. This promotes healthy dialogue and productive conflict resolution between frontline staff and incarcerated people. 

     When advocacy teams go into the prisons, they meet with individuals, heads of peer-led committees, and living-unit representatives. Through these meetings they work alongside incarcerated people to develop mutual understandings of issues related to conditions of confinement and other key concerns facing the prison populations. Advocacy teams are especially attuned to human rights violations and strive to foster legal and rights-based literacy among imprisoned populations.  

     Regional advocates work closely with their incarcerated counterparts: peer advocates. The CAEFS peer advocate program trains and supports individuals in prison to fulfill many of the same functions as regional advocates. Part of this training is based on CAEFS’ widely circulated Human Rights in Action handbook, a rights-based resource designed to give federally incarcerated women and gender-diverse people the tools and resources to defend and advocate for their rights while they are in prison. After advocates meet with individuals and identify issues, they meet with the warden and other prison administrators to address issues.

  • Systemic Advocacy Letters

    Following each advocacy visit and subsequent meeting with prison management, regional advocacy teams write systemic advocacy letters. These letters, and the concerns raised therein, created an evidentiary record of the conditions of confinement inside federal prisons designated for women and provide real-time access to the scope of issues in prisons designated for women to key policy-makers and stakeholders. The letters also inform CAEFS’ direction and systemic actions.  

     The letters are sent to the warden, the Office of the Correctional Investigator, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Citizen’s Advisory Committee, and key Senators. Systemic advocacy letters are shared with other stakeholders by request. Please email [email protected] to request access.  

  • History

    The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) was established in 1978. Since its inception, CAEFS has worked to advocate for and with federally incarcerated women and gender-diverse people, including at the Prison Designated for Women (P4W) in Kingston and so CAEFS is uniquely situated to understand and report on what is happening inside federal prisons designated for women across Canada.  

     The past president of CAEFS’ board of directors co-chaired the Creating Choices Task Force and the Executive Director of CAEFS co-chaired the steering committee. Despite the encouraging recommendations of Creating Choices, its promises were quickly eroded. By June 1993, frustrated that the Task Force’s hard work had been in vain, CAEFS passed a resolution with regard to its position on prison abolition. The resolution recognized that prisons have consistently failed and are unable to effectively assist in rehabilitation. Additionally, the resolution stated that the only function of prisons appears to be punitive and pointed to the high rate of recidivism as evidence that the goal of general deterrence does not work. Finally, it stated that CAEFS supported the abolition of prisons and the development of alternative and humane solutions. Around this time, CAEFS became actively involved in advocacy at the Prison for Women in Kingston—in order to ensure that while people continued to be imprisoned, that their rights were being upheld.  

     As prisons were regionalized, our advocacy approach shifted and CAEFS regional advocacy program was established in order to meet the growing demand for support and rights-based interventions for federally incarcerated people in prisons designated for women across the country. At the beginning, there was one advocate per region. However, over time, and in order to respond to the need for more support, the regional teams were developed. 

     Our work takes seriously what was recognized as the “central conundrum” by members of the Creating Choices task force: “Members believe that society must move towards the long-term goal of creating and using community-based, restorative justice options, and an alternative Aboriginal justice system. Yet, the Task Force also concluded that substantial and significant changes must be made immediately in the environment of federally sentenced women.”23 As such, CAEFS’ advocacy is dual-purpose: improve, to the extent possible, the experiences of incarcerated women and gender-diverse people while working towards the abolition of prisons.