Time for Accountability: Effective Oversight of Women's Prisons

Faculty Author Type

Current Faculty [Debra Parkes]

Published In

Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice

Document Type


Publication Date



prisons; women prisoners; human rights; oversight and accountability


Numerous reports and commissions of inquiry have documented the need for oversight and accountability mechanisms to redress illegalities and rights violations in Canada’s women’s prisons. This paper examines the recent troubled history of women’s imprisonment in which the calls for meaningful accountability and oversight have arisen, outlines some necessary criteria for any effective oversight body within this context, and measures some of the key recommendations against those criteria. The authors conclude that the judicial oversight model and remedial sanction proposed by Justice Louise Arbour in 1996 in her Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Certain Events at the Prison for Women in Kingston is the proposal that best meets the criteria and therefore ought to be implemented. Underlying this conclusion is the authors’ view that prison reform is susceptible to what Pat Carlen has called “carceral clawback” and is, therefore, ultimately ineffective over the long term. They argue that the proven difficulty of making prisons humane and effectively overseen – of requiring that the Rule of Law take root inside prison walls – should give us pause and encourage us to take seriously the need for alternatives to, and even abolition of, prisons.