System for imprisoned women broken: critics

Imprisoned Aboriginal women are falling through the cracks of failing rehabilitation programs in federal penitentiaries, critics say.

By Annette Francis
APTN National News
OTTAWA
-Imprisoned Aboriginal women are falling through the cracks of failing rehabilitation programs in federal penitentiaries, critics say.

Some have serious concerns about the shortages of programs for female inmates. They say the current conditions in the federal prison system hinder rehabilitation efforts for Aboriginal women.

Canada’s prison watchdog says the need for therapy out-paces what is available.

“There’s been a growth in the use of segregation and again we’ve seen this with women,” said Howard Sapers. “In fact, segregation is getting so over used in women’s correctional facilities at the federal level that we’re actually seeing some double-bunking in segregation and we’re segregating spaces also being used for much larger periods of time.”

Sapers said the majority of those women are Aboriginal. He said they also receive the most restrictive form of supervision.

“We know that the life history follows people into prison and the life history of many women offenders are life histories full of trauma,” he said. “They’ve been victims themselves often of one form of abuse or another…they’ve been street involved, they’ve been involved in the sex-trade, they’re addicted and this follows them into prison.”

The number of incarcerated women has risen from 200 in 2001 to more 500 today. Three-quarters of all women behind bars have been sexually or physically abused and 90 per cent of imprisoned Aboriginal women have faced abused.

Conservative Senator Bob Runciman is calling for a mental health facility for female inmates.

“I think there’s a real need there and the pressures are going to grow and we think we have an answer here and we just have to put it in front of the government,” said Runciman. “I think we can make the case.”

Runciman will present his plan to the government in March and if is accepted, a 40-bed facility could be open in a year.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada says the issue should be a priority.

“A lot of our women are the ones that do get into trouble, are living on the streets, they’re homeless,” said Claudette Dumont-Smith.

Online Producer / Ottawa

Before moving to become the APTN News social media producer, Mark was the executive producer for the news in eastern Canada. Before starting with APTN in 2009, Mark worked at CBC Radio and Television in Newfoundland and Labrador and Ottawa.

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