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Invisible women: correctional facilities for women across Canada and proximity to maternity services

Martha Jane Paynter (School of Nursing, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada.)
M. Leslie Bagg (School of Social Work, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Canada.)
Clare Heggie (School of Health and Human Performance, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada.)

International Journal of Prisoner Health

ISSN: 1744-9200

Article publication date: 4 December 2020

Issue publication date: 28 May 2021




This paper aims to describe the process to create an inventory of the facilities in Canada designated to incarcerate women and girls, health service responsibility by facility, facility proximity to hospitals with maternity services and residential programmes for mothers and children to stay together. This paper creates the inventory to support health researchers, prison rights advocates and policymakers to identify, analyse and respond to sex and gender differences in health and access to health services in prisons.


In spring 2019, this study conducted an environmental scan to create an inventory of every facility in Canada designated for the incarceration of girls and women, including remand/pretrial custody, immigration detention, youth facilities and for provincial and federal sentences.


There are 72 facilities in the inventory. In most, women are co-located with men. Responsibility for health varies by jurisdiction. Few sites have mother-child programmes. Distance to maternity services varies from 1 to 132 km.

Research limitations/implications

This paper did not include police lock-up, courthouse cells or involuntary psychiatric units in the inventory. Information is unavailable regarding trans and non-binary persons, a priority for future work. Access to maternity hospital services is but one critical question regarding reproductive care. Maintenance of the database is challenging.


Incarcerated women are an invisible population. The inventory is the first of its kind and is a useful tool to support sex and gender and health research across jurisdictions.



Declaration of conflicts of interest: The first author is the volunteer unpaid Chair of a non-profit organization providing reproductive health support to criminalized women, trans and nonbinary people in Nova Scotia mentioned in the article.Martha Jane Paynter is supported by doctoral funding from the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and Canadian Institutes of Health Research.


Paynter, M.J., Bagg, M.L. and Heggie, C. (2021), "Invisible women: correctional facilities for women across Canada and proximity to maternity services", International Journal of Prisoner Health, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 69-86.



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