About Us

CAEFS is an association of self-governing, community-based Elizabeth Fry Societies that work with and for women and girls in the justice system, particularly those who are, or may be, criminalized. Together, Elizabeth Fry Societies develop and advocate the beliefs, principles and positions that guide CAEFS. The association exists to ensure substantive equality in the delivery and development of services and programs through public education, research, legislative and administrative reform, regionally, nationally and internationally.

Affiliates & Other Organizations

Origins, Principles and Goals


Elizabeth Fry (Gurney) was born into a family of Quakers in 1780 in England. Her mother’s father, the Scottish theologian Robert Barclay, played an important role in defining early Quaker beliefs.

It was fortunate for all concerned that Quakers believed in the equality of women (250 years before women won the vote), otherwise Elizabeth Fry’s unusual talents in the area of prison reform might never have been realized.

Her insight, persistence, organizational ability and her willingness to see a “divine light” in every person resulted in striking reforms taking place in the manner in which women and children were treated in London’s Newgate Prison.

She was a strong proponent of humane treatment for prisoners and regarded by many as a leading expert in prison reform.

Most of her life was spent in England, although she did visit Ireland and continental Europe. She also offered advice to the Americas, Russia and Australia. She died in 1845 at the age of 66 years.

The first Canadian Elizabeth Fry Society was established in Vancouver in 1939. The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) was originally conceived of in 1969 and was incorporated as a voluntary non-profit organization in 1978.

Today there are 24 member societies across Canada.


Member societies support the following principles:

  • While the strength of our federation is the freedom to meet the needs of our communities in unique and effective ways, as an Association, CAEFS develops policies and positions and acts on common interests affecting women.
  • Women’s rights are human rights and women are entitled to substantive equality; that is, the right of access to equal opportunities and programs in the justice system; as well as the right to justice without fear of prejudice or discrimination on the basis of such factors as sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, age, religion and freedom of conscience, social or economic condition.
  • Women who are criminalized should not be imprisoned; all efforts will be made to prevent women from being incarcerated and to facilitate the earliest community integration of those who are sentenced to a term of imprisonment.


  • To increase public awareness and promotion of decarceration for women.
  • To reduce the numbers of women who are criminalized and imprisoned in Canada.
  • To increase the availability of community-based, publicly funded, social service, health and educational resources available for marginalized, victimized, criminalized, and imprisoned women.
  • To increase collaborative work among Elizabeth Fry Societies and other women’s groups working to address poverty, racism, and other forms of oppression.