A new 23-bed women's correctional unit celebrated its official opening in Fort Smith on Friday, although inmates won't move in until mid-October when staff training has been completed.
The new $23.6-million facility, which the territory says can be expanded in future as required, features spiritual and cultural buildings. Inmates will be able to participate in culturally appropriate programs, the NWT government said.
Inmates will be able to access family support designed to help them rejoin their communities after release. Incarcerated women with babies will have access to what was termed a "co-location space," the territory said.
"These safe and secure areas will allow necessary holistic work through education, training, counselling, and culturally appropriate spiritual support," stated the territorial government in a news release.
A spiritual room in the new women’s correctional unit in Fort Smith. Photo: GNWT
The government explained that by keeping female inmates in the NWT, they will not only be closer to family supports but will also not be connected to southern inmates "where gangs, drugs, and organized crime are prevalent."
"This modernization of Fort Smith Correctional Complex female unit ensures women have better access to northern developed, and northern specific programming. The opportunity to stay closer to their family supports is invaluable in their healing process,” said Louis Sebert, Minister of Justice, in the news release.
The new facility is located next-door to the male correctional unit. Wood pellet boilers, administration areas, and health and food services were upgraded during construction so they can be shared by both facilities.
Right now, the women are housed in a neighbouring building built in the 1960s that was later renovated into a correctional facility in the early 1990s.
The new correctional facility was originally scheduled to open in the spring of 2018. The territorial government said delays related to certain requirements for corrections security and "other common northern construction issues" had occurred.