Nova Institution for Women
Prior to the establishment of Nova Institution for Women in 1995, federally sentenced women offenders in the Atlantic region were housed primarily at the Prison for Women in Kingston, Ontario. However, overcrowding and infrastructure limitations at the Prison for Women created an urgent need for a new facility specifically for women in Eastern Canada.
After evaluating several potential locations, Nova Institution was constructed on the grounds of the former Westmorland Institution in Truro, Nova Scotia. Unlike the Prison for Women, Nova was designed as a modern, purpose-built facility tailored to address the gender-specific needs of federally incarcerated women.
Since opening over 25 years ago, Nova has undergone several expansions to increase its capacity. What began as a facility for just 150 women has grown into one housing over 200 residents today. Programming has also expanded over the years to provide more education, skills training, counseling, and support services focused on the rehabilitation needs of women offenders. Recent infrastructure upgrades have also helped improve quality of life for inmates.
Daily Life at Nova
The center of daily life at Nova is the facility’s multi-unit housing ranges. Women are assigned to live in specific ranges depending on security level and programming requirements. Within these ranges are both individual cells for sleeping accommodations and common areas for activities, meals, and social interaction.
A key component of rehabilitation at Nova is the variety of program options available to women. These include academic classes to achieve high school diplomas, skills training in areas like business administration, counseling for substance abuse and trauma, and support groups for parenting, anger management, and more. Recreational activities like sports, creative arts, and leisure interests are also offered.
Inmates are expected to follow strict general rules as well as protocols unique to their security level. However, good behavior and participation in recommended programs allows women to earn certain privileges during their incarceration. These can include more personal effects in cells, expanded visitation rights, and even escorted temporary absences from the facility in some cases.
Controversies and Issues
While many improvements have been made over the years, Nova continues to face longstanding challenges and systemic issues common in women’s correctional facilities across Canada.
Persistent overcrowding remains an urgent concern, with capacity limitations forcing convoluted housing arrangements and waitlists for essential programs. Ongoing staff shortages also impact basic operations and supervision. Additionally, managing inmates with significant mental health issues can strain available resources and staff capabilities within the institution.
In recent years, Nova has also faced allegations of mistreatment, abuse, and human rights violations from advocacy groups and inmates. Ensuring the basic safety, dignity and rights of all women in the facility’s care continues to be an area requiring vigilance and accountability.
The Future of Nova
To effectively manage capacity demands in the years ahead, plans are in development for new ranges, program spaces and staff offices. There are also proposals to construct transitional housing units for women nearing their parole dates.
Programming is shifting to focus more on providing women the tools they need to successfully reintegrate into society after serving their sentences. Skills development, counseling, and community release preparation aim to reduce recidivism rates and set women up for brighter futures.
With a spirit of rehabilitation, innovation and commitment to gender responsive corrections, Nova Institution hopes to lead the way in the evolution of Canadian women’s prisons for the 21st century.
The administration, staff and inmates together shape the functioning and future direction of this facility, constructing not just a place of confinement but an incubator for positive change in women’s lives.
From its origins providing expanded capacity to meet the needs of federally incarcerated women, Nova Institution has grown over 25 years into a multifaceted facility supporting the rehabilitation, skills development and eventual safe release of its residents. Despite ongoing struggles with systemic issues, Nova continues working to implement emerging best practices for women’s corrections. With further innovation, accountability and commitment to its founding vision, Nova Institution can create positive impacts both within and beyond its walls for justice-involved women in Canada.
What is the capacity of Nova Institution?
Nova currently houses over 200 women, after several expansions from its original capacity of 150 when first opened in 1995.
What programs are offered to help rehabilitate women?
Key programs focus on education, skills training, counseling, and targeted support groups to address substance abuse, trauma, parenting needs and more based on each woman’s correctional plan.
How can women earn privileges during incarceration?
Through good behavior, participation in programming, and meetings with parole officers, women can earn privileges like more personal effects, expanded visitation, and escorted temporary absences.
Does Nova offer mental health services?
Yes, although persistent staffing shortages coupled with many women having significant needs has stressed these resources over the years.
What plans exist to improve Nova in the future?
Priorities include new infrastructure to manage capacity, expanded transitional housing for parolees, more program spaces, and an increased focus on rehabilitation and community reintegration.