Enhancing the Role of Aboriginal Communities in Federal Corrections

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By: Gina Wilson, Director General, Aboriginal Issues, CSC

The Supreme Court has recently joined the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Auditor General in a call to stop filling Canadian prisons with Aboriginal peoples. They have called it a national disgrace.

The Commissioner of Corrections in Canada, Ole Ingstrup, has consistently repeated that there are far too many First Nation, Inuit and Metis offenders in the Canadian correctional system. While forming only 3% of the general Canadian population, Aboriginal offenders make up 17% of the federal penitentiary inmates. The situation is even worse in some provincial institutions. While Aboriginal people are over-represented in federal corrections nationally, the numbers reach critical levels in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, where Aboriginal people make up more than 60% of the inmate population in some penitentiaries. In Saskatchewan, for example, Aboriginal people are incarcerated at a rate of 35 times higher than the mainstream population. What is even more alarming, is that estimates forecast that this population is growing.

The Correctional Service of Canada is working with other departments and agencies to stem the tide of Aboriginal incarceration. Ultimately, it is this department that has the task of trying to find ways to safely and successfully reintegrate the growing numbers of Aboriginal offenders once they have entered the federal system.

For some time now, CSC has developed working relationships with the Elders, who provide spirituality, counseling and the connection back to an Aboriginal identity for Aboriginal offenders. Native Liaison Officers have been providing a bridge for better understandings of the cultures. Federal institutions have started introducing Aboriginal-focussed healing programs and curriculum and have initiated the development of Healing Lodges in various parts of the country. P Skstw in the Samson Cree First Nation and the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge in Nikaneet First Nation are successful examples of this approach. The Solicitor General, Lawrence MacAuley, has recently stated that he is determined to tackle the challenges of the over-representation of Aboriginal peoples in corrections and that a key element of the strategy will be to create new healing lodges designed with and for Aboriginal peoples and operated by Aboriginal communities.

The focus for corrections now is looking towards the community and achieving a better balance of offenders in federal institutions and in society. This way, offenders who want to continue their healing journey can find the tools and resources to work with on the outside. The Correctional Service of Canada has greatly benefited from the work of the Elders and Aboriginal people within the walls, who are continuing to make positive changes in corrections. The CSC also recognizes that the strength found within Aboriginal communities is the source and key element for the successful reintegration of Aboriginal offenders.

The trend towards Aboriginal peoples developing community corrections models, and working with CSC, is just beginning to gain momentum. Aboriginal communities have now started to come forth with initiatives to take over the care and custody of their peoples and offer services that are more consistent with community-based, culturally-specific methods of healing and balance. Aboriginal communities are indicating that they can do a better job at healing Aboriginal offenders that the prison system will. What is most encouraging is that such programs are working. This is no surprise for Aboriginal communities who have been involved in taking over other institutions such as education, health, policing, etc.

Aboriginal peoples are finding correctional methods in communities that are very different from mainstream corrections. These new approaches incorporate concepts such as healing, reconciliation, spirituality, respect, accountability, balance and restoration. Such alternatives to incarceration and culturally-specific parole supervision activities are very important steps for Federal Corrections as much can be learned in Canada.

For more information on "Enhancing the Role of Aboriginal Communities in Corrections", please contact Gina Wilson, Director General, Aboriginal Issues or Dale Le Clair, Manager, Aboriginal Community Relations at (613) 943-2363.

For an information package, please request one by phone at (613) 995-2555 or fax (613) 943-0493.