Few aboriginals in healing lodges
- Few aboriginals in healing lodges
'Low-risk' only policy exclusionary
BY BETTY ANN ADAM, THE STARPHOENIXMARCH 9, 2013 8:19 AM
A finding this week that most Aboriginal penitentiary inmates, including women, are shut out of healing lodges that were created to address their "severe and chronic" over-representation in the prison system comes as no surprise to women's prisoners advocate Kim Pate.
The executive director the Elizabeth Fry Society said so few Aboriginal women qualified for the minimum security Buffalo Sage healing lodge when it opened in Edmonton 18 months ago that there were none among its first inmates.
"The first few women who were admitted were not Indigenous women," Pate said.
Aboriginal women have since been transferred to the 16-bed Buffalo Sage unit, she said.
Aboriginal women make up about 32 per cent of the female prisoners in the federal corrections system, representing an 85.7 per cent jump in 10 years, Corrections Investigator Howard Sapers wrote in a report released this week on Aboriginals and the federal prison system.
Sapers found that a law intended to improve the over-representation of Aboriginals in prison, in part through the creation of Aboriginal run community facilities has been largely ineffective because of a Corrections Services Canada (CSC) policy that restricts who can use them.
Only minimum security offenders, or in rare cases "low risk" medium security offenders are allowed, according to the policy, which effectively "excludes almost 90 per cent of incarcerated Aboriginal offenders from even being considered for transfer to a Healing Lodge," he found.
Sapers noted the Corrections and Conditional Release Act section was "purposefully broad to provide options for care and custody to the broadest number of Aboriginal inmates ... in order to eventually reduce over-representation."
"The evolution of this policy, which was neither Parliament's intent nor CSC's original vision, is seen as a way for the Service to minimize risk and exposure," Sapers wrote.
The Correctional Service responded to the report in a statement saying enhancing its capacity to provide "effective interventions" and building and maintaining strong relationships with diverse partners are "key priorities and will remain a significant focus."
"CSC is dedicated to continuing to address the needs of Aboriginal offenders in the federal correctional system and to ensuring that they can work toward rehabilitation in an inclusive and culturally sensitive environment," it stated.
As of March 2012 there were 68 spaces in Aboriginal-run healing lodges and 194 in federally operated ones.
In 2009-2010 the four Aboriginal healing lodges received $4.8 million to operate, while the four healing lodges run by CSC received $21.5 million, Sapers reported.
Pate said the high rates of Aboriginal people winding up in jail are the results of discriminatory public policy going back for generations.
"It is sadly no surprise that the numbers of Indigenous prisoners has skyrocketed," she said.
"In addition to the impact of residential school and the '60s child welfare adoption scoops, cuts to social assistance, health and educational supports have essentially fast-tracked Indigenous people into juvenile and adult detention," she said.
As a result, the most vulnerable, marginalized and oppressed are abandoned to the streets, death or prison, she said.
"The situation is all the more dire for Aboriginal women and girls because they experience discrimination on the basis of sex, as well as race."
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