Correctional programming for Indigenous offenders

Indigenous community researchEndnote i indicates that the major factors contributing to the successful reintegration of Indigenous offenders are:

  • their participation in and access to spiritual and cultural activities
  • culturally responsive programs, preferably delivered by Indigenous people
  • the support they receive from family and community

CD 702 Aboriginal Offenders ensures the needs specific to Indigenous offenders are met. It outlines how to provide effective interventions through a continuum-of-care model.

Continuum-of-Care model

Correctional Service Canada (CSC) uses a unique approach for Indigenous corrections called the Indigenous Continuum of Care. It is a care model that provides cultural responsive approaches to address the needs of Indigenous offenders. CSC introduced this model in 2003 in consultation with Indigenous stakeholders, including Elders.

The continuum ensures culturally relevant programs and interventions are available to Indigenous offenders. It acknowledges the importance of Indigenous communities for supporting Indigenous offenders during their healing journey and reintegration. These communities link offenders to their history, culture and spirituality.

The goal of the Indigenous Continuum of Care is to assist offenders to make a safer and successful transition back in the community.

Pathways initiatives

Pathways is an Elder-driven intensive healing initiative based on the Indigenous Medicine Wheel, also known as the Four Directions Medicine Wheel. Pathways goes above and beyond the CSC services already available to all Indigenous offenders. It is for inmates who show genuine motivation and commitment to making emotional, mental, physical and spiritual changes.

To participate in Pathways an inmate must be willing to follow traditional healing as a way of life, 24 hours a day. Pathways initiatives help prepare inmates for a transfer to lower security, conditional release and eventually help them maintain their healing journey in the community.

Pathways reinforces a traditional Indigenous way of life through:

  • intensive one-on-one counselling
  • increased access to ceremonies
  • a more traditional Indigenous healing path consistent with traditional values and beliefs

In some institutions Pathways is available as a day program while in others there is an entire Pathways unit. Pathways initiatives are not available at all institutions.

CSC provides different types of Pathways Initiatives for offenders:

  • Pre-Pathways Initiatives, maximum security (day program)
  • Pathways initiatives, medium security
  • Pathways transition houses, minimum security
  • a Pathways continuum for women offender institutions

The Medicine Wheel

The Medicine Wheel represents the cycle of life from conception to return to the spirit world. It reflects that cultural teachings and ceremonies are:

  • core aspects of Indigenous identity
  • critical to the healing process

It is a reminder that correctional interventions for Indigenous offenders must consider the past, present and future direction of:

  • Indigenous people as a whole, and
  • the Indigenous person as an individual

There are many interpretations of the Medicine Wheel which are culturally specific. The Medicine Wheel used in Indigenous programs and teachings at CSC, helps individuals achieve balance in emotional, mental, spiritual and physical realms to measure overall wellness day-to-day. The symbol of the circle holds an important place with regard to Indigenous spiritual values. Indigenous people pass culture down from generation to generation orally rather than in writing. The importance of the circle has always been manifested in art and ceremonies. Men and women nourish themselves and move in the world in a continual circular or spiral-like motion. This circle is often referred to as the medicine wheel. Human beings live, breathe and move by putting the circle into motion. Following these precepts, each person can one day learn to live in communion with their environment.

Indigenous programming

Under the Indigenous Continuum of Care, CSC has implemented a number of correctional programs tailored to meet the needs of Indigenous offenders. Programs for Indigenous offenders recognize the social realities and context of the lives of Indigenous offenders. The holistic approach of these programs:

  • meets the needs of Indigenous offenders’ culture, tradition and spirituality
  • help Indigenous offenders understand the impact of their behaviour in different situations and relationships
  • help Indigenous offenders prepare for and build a balanced and crime-free lifestyle after their release

Review correctional programs for:

When Indigenous-specific programs are developed and delivered, CSC involves:

  • Indigenous communities (Section 84 Release Plan and healing lodge consultations)
  • Elders
  • Indigenous advisory boards (Correctional Service Canada's National Aboriginal Advisory Committee (NAAC), The National Elders Working Group (NEWG))
  • national Indigenous stakeholder groups
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