Female inmates at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro no longer have access to doula services, and the doulas don’t know why.
“We’re available, but since the new warden took over in June we haven’t been allowed to meet with anyone,” says Martha Paynter, a coordinator with the volunteer group Women’s Wellness Within (WWW) who were offering pregnancy and postpartum support services to several inmates at the corrections facility since last October.
According to Paynter, there have been four women at the prison who were pregnant or had babies since June who haven’t been offered any doula support.
“We’ve been feeling terrified for these women and their babies,” she says. “These women, almost always, the majority have severe mental health issues...the majority have histories of sexual and physical abuse...to go through birth and breastfeeding without support is very traumatizing.”
Women’s Wellness Within is a partnership between IWK midwives and volunteer doulas, the Elizabeth Fry Societies of Cape Breton and mainland Nova Scotia, the Chebucto Family Centre and the Halifax branch of the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund. The group has provided volunteer doula services for female inmates over the last year at Nova, and since 2014 at the Central Nova Correctional Facility in Burnside.
Those services include everything from pre-natal education (such as the basics of breastfeeding and how to hold a baby), to support during labour and postpartum follow-ups. According to a press release WWW sent out on Monday, the program was provided at no cost to Correctional Service Canada. The organization says that so far, no reason has been given as to why inmates are being denied access to volunteer health workers.
“No justification was given. Services were cut without notice,” reads the release. “Nova is denying these women the support of trained, cleared volunteers.”
Paynter says phone calls and emails to the new warden have gone unreturned. She isn’t sure why WWW is being stonewalled, but speculates it’s because the group has asked to formalize its relationship with the Nova Institution via written agreement. Having something down on paper—like WWW has with the prison in Burnside—is an important step in applying for grants to keep the doula program operational, says Paynter.
“Just to apply for funding we need to have a written agreement that this exists.”
Correctional Service Canada spokesperson Shelley Lawrence wasn’t able to get back to The Coast before publication with any details about the doula program at the Nova Institution, or Paynter’s concerns. A message left with the warden’s assistant was also unreturned. We’ll update the post if we hear back from them.
The Nova Institution for Women in Truro is one of five multi-level security corrections facilities for women across Canada.