Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to announce that female inmates have moved into the new women’s unit at the Fort Smith Correctional Complex. I had the pleasure of touring the new unit last week and was blown away by the care and attention that has gone into designing a facility that is tailored to meeting the needs of female inmates in our care and specifically in the Northwest Territories.
The new unit, which has beds for 23 women, is the first correctional facility designed from the outset to meet the needs of women in the Northwest Territories. It offers dedicated areas where women can receive education, training, counselling, and have better access to northern-developed and northern specific programming.
More importantly Mr. Speaker, by keeping female inmates in the North, they will have the opportunity to stay closer to their family supports which we know is invaluable to their overall rehabilitation.
Functional program space was central to the design philosophy to provide inmates with access to social and educational programs that give them an opportunity to turn their lives around. For example, inmates continue to help prepare daily meals but they can now do it in the new teaching kitchen where they can work with elders to prepare traditional food together.
Female inmates also have access to new spiritual and cultural spaces in the new unit. The new ceremonial room is available for cultural activities like traditional crafts and to hold sharing circles. It is the only correctional facility in the NWT with a functional air-venting system to allow for on-site smudging. Elders have expressed their appreciation to having dedicated spaces inside and outside the facility where their valuable services can be more respectfully shared and received within a natural landscape that was considered during the building of the facility.
The new women’s unit also has a resident nurse who is now on site and makes it possible for female inmates to come into the facility with infant children. This allows a mother to bond with her child and have appropriate facilities to care for her infant while serving her sentence.
Mr. Speaker, while I was touring the facility, I had the opportunity to meet and talk directly with staff. As someone with extensive background with our legal system in the NWT, I was pleased to hear the positive response from inmates and staff to the bright new communal spaces, program rooms and more natural grounds.
Before the new unit officially received inmates, Department of Justice staff held a public opening in late August which included tours inside the new facility. I know that my colleague, the Member from Thebacha, attended those ceremonies along with over 100 other people who took advantage of this opportunity to see the inside of the correctional facility in their home community.
Mr. Speaker, this correctional complex has a long history in Fort Smith and has had the benefit of great community support over the years, and I would like to thank the residents of Fort Smith for their continued support. This new unit, built by local C.A.B. Construction, will help women with their rehabilitation for years to come.
I would also like to acknowledge the very hard work of the Corrections Service, who provide an essential public service in our communities. We know that many people who come to our Corrections facilities are often themselves hurting, traumatized or vulnerable. Each day, our dedicated Corrections staff works to help inmates in their care become stronger with the life skills needed to continue on their path of recovery and are a critical part of helping those who are ready to make positive changes in their lives.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.