You have before you the overview of the presentation, but I won't go through all of that. Instead, I will briefly present the office's mandate.
You have before you our mission statement. Essentially, our office acts as the ombudsman for federally sentenced offenders. We conduct investigations on individual and systemic concerns of offenders in Canada.
Here are some numbers for context. We have a budget of $4.3 million, and we have 36 full-time employees. In the financial year that just ended, the staff members tasked with investigations spent 361 days visiting Canadian institutions.
We have handled almost 7,000 complaints from offenders, which represents slightly more than 2,000 interviews with either offenders or Correctional Service of Canada staff. We also studied the use of force. In fact, we reviewed 1,436 of those cases in the last financial year.
We have reviewed 119 deaths in custody and serious bodily injuries. We have received over 22,000 calls to our toll-free number, which represents slightly more than 1,600 runtime hours.
As you can see, we are very busy.
I'll now let Mr. Zinger continue.
Let me provide you a brief overview. I'll go through the slides fairly quickly.
There are approximately 700 women incarcerated in federal corrections facilities and another 700 who are serving their remaining federal sentences in the community. That's a fifty-fifty split, which is better than male split of about sixty-forty. I will highlight, however, that with respect to indigenous women, the split is actually 60% incarcerated and 40% serving the remaining of their sentence in the community. The overrepresentation of indigenous women now reaches 38.7%.
The average cost of maintaining a woman incarcerated in Canada at the federal level is $220,000, according to the Correctional Service of Canada, and about $190,000 according to the Office of the Auditor General.
In terms of their profile, compared to men federally sentenced women are more likely to have a mental health diagnosis, to have drug-related offences, and to serve shorter sentences. They are also more likely to be supporting dependants on the outside. Actually, most women in federal custody are mothers of children under the age of 18.
In terms of their mental health profiles, 80% of incarcerated women meet the criteria for mental health disorders. These include the most prevalent ones: alcohol/substance abuse disorder, anxiety disorder, and anti-social personality disorder. A third have post-traumatic stress disorder, mood disorders, eating disorders, and psychotic disorders. I'll also mention that nearly half of them are on some sort of psychotropic medication. Finally, 18% have intellectual challenges.
With respect to reintegration challenges facing women, financial and housing challenges are the top two, followed by other issues such as having difficulty accessing a family physician, not having proper identification, or not having a history of employment.
I'll come back later to the financial and housing issue.
In terms of work, there are two types of work in Corrections. There is institutional work and prison industry work. In terms of institutional work, most of it is a menial type of job, the most common being cleaning. With respect to prison industry, most women who are engaged in prison industry are almost exclusively engaged in gender-stereotyped work such as textiles, laundry, and sewing.
We conducted a review of the secure units, the maximum security units for women. We interviewed two-thirds of those women, 41 out of 62 of them. Here are some of our findings.
The infrastructure is very stark, very restrictive, and inappropriate, in our view. The secure units are also used to manage a few women who have serious mental health issues, and that is quite disruptive for the other women. That breaks down in terms of there being many lockdowns and breaks in routines, and it's very difficult for those women to sometimes witness interventions with use of force. There is a lot of drama. These offenders are too often brought into segregation.
The impact of segregation is also something that we've identified. The great majority of the women incarcerated in secure units have experienced segregation. There's also a gender-based classification system, which requires that some inmates who are seen as higher risk are handcuffed and sometimes shackled to go off the unit, which creates all sorts of problems for those women.
Finally, there also is a lack of meaningful employment, which is more chronic and problematic in the secure unit as opposed to the rest of the institution.
We made many recommendations in our last annual report. One of them was to reduce the use of those secure units and to use them solely for women who would otherwise have been sent to administrative segregation. In that sense, we are looking at simply separating the women instead of isolating them. We think that those who are significantly mentally ill should be transferred to outside hospitals and that Correctional Service Canada should expand its MOUs with other outside resources. We identified that 12 beds would probably do it.
The service should also expand its structured living environments, which are more therapeutic environments, and cascade those women who are in secure units to those medium-security structured living environments. Also, things like trauma-informed approaches are lacking, and when you have at least a third of the women who have PTSD, I think it's pretty obvious.
Let me now talk to you specifically about indigenous women. Here's the breakdown across Canada. There are 265 women now representing 38.7%. I should also mention that among those 265 women, there are six Inuit women. That brings in some level of difficulty because there are small numbers in terms of providing them with programming and services that are tailored to their specific needs, which is legally required of the service.
In terms of the indigenous women in federal custody, I would say that every indicator is worse for them. Compared to non-indigenous women, they tend to be younger, more violent, and more gang affiliated. They also tend to have lower levels of education upon admission. In terms of their social history, half attended or had a family member attend a residential school. Nearly half were removed from their family home. Almost all indicated or reported past traumatic experiences and substance abuse. There were high rates of involvement in prostitution at an early age, and almost half indicated they had a history of injection drug use, compared to 24% for non-indigenous women.
In terms of correctional outcome, there is more self-injury, more segregation, more use of force, and more placement in maximum security for indigenous women. They are also typically assessed at a higher level of risk and are less frequently granted day parole or full parole. They are released later in their sentences, likely at statutory release, which is at two-thirds of their sentence.
Finally, in terms of the direction for reforms, we believe that Correctional Services Canada should rethink the way it does women corrections and go back to the blueprint that was developed when P4W, a prison for women in Kingston, was scheduled to be closed and when the five regional centres were opened. We have witnessed great erosion in that philosophy over the years.
We believe a deputy commissioner for indigenous people should be appointed. We have been advocating for this for a decade now. We believe there should be greater use of aboriginal-specific provisions in sections 81 and 84 of the act, which shift the accountability and responsibility to some aboriginal communities. I'm more than happy to talk to you about that.
There should be more culturally appropriate and trauma-informed models of care. We should also enhance the participation of elders in decision-making, review the classification scales—this has been validated by the Office of the Auditor General—and do more Gladue sentencing and vocational training.
Okay, we're going to reconvene now.
As you see, we have lots of members also by video conference today. I would like to welcome the Native Counselling Services of Alberta. As individuals, we have the authors of My Name is Shield Woman, Ruth Scalp Lock and Jim Pritchard. Moreover, as individuals, we have Dr. Ruth Elwood Martin, and also Mo Korchinski, Elder Mary Fayant, Odessa Marchand, and Chas Coutlee.
If I've announced anyone incorrectly, please accept my apologies.
We're going to start with the Native Counselling Services of Alberta for seven minutes and stay tight to the time.
Native Counselling, you have seven minutes.
My name is Claire Carefoot and I'm the director of Buffalo Sage Wellness House on Treaty No. 6 territory in Edmonton. I want to acknowledge that we're on the traditional unceded territories of the Algonquin nation.
I'm here representing Native Counselling Services of Alberta, one of Canada's longest-standing social justice indigenous organizations. Our CEO, Dr. Alan Benson, who has worked for NCSA, has been a champion of social justice for 40 years. I have been working in the criminal justice system for 29 years.
NCSA is a not-for-profit agency that was established in 1970 with the objective of providing court work assistance to indigenous people in conflict with the law. NCSA recognized that indigenous people in conflict with the law often feel alienated by legal and court procedures and that they need support in navigating the justice system. Since then, NCSA has evolved to deliver over 30 core programs and services in the area of restorative justice, corrections, and family services, as well as legal education, research, training, and film production.
Our mission is to promote the resilience of the indigenous individual and family through programs and services that are grounded in reclaiming our interconnectedness, reconciliation of relationships, and self-determination.
NCSA is a national and international leader in the provision of culturally-based correctional services for indigenous people. The information we offer to the Senate committee today draws upon our 48 years of experience in working with indigenous people and families in Alberta, a 30-year partnership with Correctional Services of Canada, as well as the wisdom we've gathered from supporting thousands of indigenous women in their reintegration journey, witnessing the difficulty of re-establishing themselves in the community in a healthy, respectful way.
Our approach to providing correctional services is informed by almost two decades of research regarding the effects of colonization on the indigenous individual, family, community and the Cree teachings of wahkohtowin, the doctrine of relationships taught to us by elders in our territory.
These research findings were used to create an evidence-based indigenous model of building resilience in 2009. The model has been expanded and deepened by an ongoing research, action-reflection process, by the board, management and field staff, which makes certain our programs and services address the issue of our clients' present and reflect a profound understanding of the healing process.
There are four critical beliefs or assumptions that guide our work. One, indigenous criminal behaviour is connected to historic trauma and being victimized as children. It is the legacy of colonial law and policies, such as the residential school system, that has been passed intergenerationally in indigenous families and communities.
Two, the four dimensions of historic trauma include isolation from healthy family and community support networks, colonized identity, hopelessness and powerlessness, and being disconnected from legal tradition. Therefore, addressing these issues should be the focus of healing interventions.
Third is the reconciliation of relationships damaged by colonization as a cornerstone of reintegration. It is critical that indigenous offenders be supported to reconcile relationships they have damaged through criminal and unhealthy behaviour.
Fourth is the recognition that healing is a self-directed journey. Indigenous offenders need to be responsible for their healing and reconciliation process and they require trauma-informed support for this.
NCSA has been a leader in program innovation of successful reintegration programs for indigenous offenders since 1995. We developed the first historic trauma-healing program for indigenous women offenders, the Spirit of a Warrior, to assist indigenous women who are caught in the cycle of violence to better understand their personal intergenerational cycle of historic trauma-informed behaviour, to build knowledge and skills that will reduce and eventually eliminate trauma-informed behaviour in program participants, and to facilitate the participants' connection and commitment to their lifelong healing journey.
The Warrior program is founded on the values of wahkohtowin—caring, sharing, kindness, respect, love, and self-determination—which are learned through sessions, ceremony, and ritual. The program is nationally and internationally recognized, and for over a decade CSC worked in partnership with NCSA to use these programs.
In 2010 NCSA opened the first section 81 facility for indigenous women. Currently the Buffalo Sage Wellness House is a 28-bed facility that houses both federally sentenced minimum-security inmates and conditionally released offenders on day parole, statutory release with residency, or full parole with residency. These are the strongest women I know. They have survived circumstances that I know I could not have survived.
Buffalo Sage Wellness House provides culturally-appropriate women-centred programs to assist residents on their healing journey and to support them to make good decisions, pursue education and employment, and reconnect with their children and families. The staff at Buffalo Sage provide a high quality of support and supervision to promote the safety of the women as they establish themselves in the community as well as the safety of the general public.
We do have some recommendations, which you had asked for.
First, indigenous women need more opportunities—
First off, I want to give thanks for the ancestor's territory we are on—the Coast Salish, Musqueam, and Squamish—for allowing us to speak in their territory and to the committee.
My name is Mary Fayant. I was born Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. My Indian name is [Inaudible--Editor]. I'm Métis-Cree from the Métis-Cree Nation. I've worked with the provincial and the federal women for the last 17 years. While I was inside, the one thing I observed—this is only my opinion—is that the women came in very bankrupt. They didn't know their language. They didn't know their culture. They didn't know their teaching. Many of them were missing their families, their children, and their loved ones. When the women were inside, the programs that they took and the education they got was very important.
They need the programs to help them get back and be grounded. They also need the education they can take so that when they get out in the community, they can continue their education and can get decent jobs.
I also witnessed, when I was inside both provincial and federal, our women having their children with them, which is very important. Not only does the mother become a mother to the child, but the whole inside, all the women, become a community. They mother the child also, and they're aunties to that child.
It is important to our women and our men that we partner with the communities, which we are doing at this time in our pre-pathways program. We bring in elders from the community who can help our brothers and sisters who are inside. It's a small thing for some people, but just to sit with an elder to talk with them, sing with them, drum with them, or hear their stories is very important to our women and men. We do circles, pipe ceremonies, and sweats. It's imperative that they have their ceremonies. They need to have their ceremonies to get grounded again—mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. It's also imperative that they go and deal with their trauma. They have a lot of trauma in their lives, and they have to deal with the trauma first. You can quit drinking and doing drugs, but you have to stay quit. To stay quit, you need to heal inside. There's a lot more I'd like to say, but I'm going to pass it on to Chas so that I don't take up all the time.
Thank you for listening, all my relations.
My name is Chas Coutlee. I have lived incarceration experience in the provincial system and then eventually in the federal system. I spent a total of four and a half years inside federal corrections. I'm now a third-year social work student. I also work as a child and youth care worker with indigenous youth, and I'm currently doing a practicum with indigenous mothers and children. My goal is to become a specialized and culturally appropriate trauma therapist.
When I was incarcerated for the last time, I had the opportunity to start to work on my trauma through ceremony and weekly visits with a psychologist. I intentionally set myself up to do this work, however big or uncomfortable the feelings were. I needed to know that I could live in a way where drugs were not an option to numb the pain.
Elder Holy Cow did circles with us every day at lunch. We set up a sweat lodge. We helped her to prepare food. She did pipe ceremonies with us, and she was always available. She believed in me, and I noticed that women who wanted to participate in ceremonies would refrain from drug consumption as a way to be respectful. This is the first time I recognized culture as a powerful and effective tool for recovery. The Pathways house in Fraser Valley Institution was influential in healing and in getting women to participate in group activities. There's a wait-list for this program, and I recommend that there are more of these Pathways units. There was inclusivity, community, respect, and support.
Elder Holy Cow helped me put a piece back into my healing that I didn't know I was missing. I carried shame for being an indigenous woman. Elder Holy Cow showed me positive role modelling, and this helped remove my shame. My last parole hearing was in a circle, and we held an eagle feather when we talked. I was included, able to share my truth about my hopes and dreams for my future moving forward. Because this last parole hearing was elder-assisted, it felt different than a non-indigenous parole hearing. Indigenous support is imperative for indigenous healing.
In provincial corrections, I took an indigenous women's studies course run by NVIT. I was excited to be a part of this, as it was a gentle reminder that I wanted to get back on track with my education. When I was leaving Fraser Valley Institution for a survivors of trauma and abuse program, Elder Holy Cow told me that she believed in me, and she was an honourable and truthful women. She told me that my spirit is strong, and I believed her. She always reminded us women that “just because this is where you're at right now...this is not your final destination.” I wanted more than anything to be a good mom and a good role model for my daughter, and today I am. I choose to live my life today with one foot in ceremony and one foot in education. Indigenous culture saves lives, and education produces access or choices to live well and as productive members of society.
My recommendation for federally incarcerated women are higher education, that Pathways units be expanded to serve more women, and also trauma-informed care to help correctional staff understand and work with women who are seeking to overcome their trauma.
Hi, my name is Odessa Marchand. I am a status aboriginal person from Vernon, B.C. I've been in and out of jail since I was 12 years old. The last sentence I got was 10 years. I did seven years and I'm now on parole. I was granted day parole under section 84 for aboriginal people.
I didn't grow up with my culture and when I went into federal prison, I found my culture. I also did aboriginal programming and mainstream programming. An elder was available to do smudges in the aboriginal program, but otherwise the programs were the same.
I didn't grow up with my culture. I learned everything inside. I wanted more teachings about my culture. Otherwise, I found the programs very repetitive and not interesting. If the programs were to happen at the end of your sentence, I think there would be a lot more good for the people when they get out.
I got my Dogwood Diploma inside. I also did the DBT, dialectical behaviour therapy program. It helped me more than any other program. It taught me how to recognize my feelings, and it breaks them down so that they are easier to understand. It prepared me for real-life situations, and it gave me skills, feelings, and understanding. It was a voluntary program, but they should make DBT mandatory for everybody.
I recommend that there be more support in the community for aboriginal people who are on parole. When I had my parole hearing, there were a lot of aboriginal people there to support me. I went to a non-aboriginal halfway house, and there was very little support for me and my culture. In the halfway house, when I wanted help from the aboriginal liaison, I couldn't get hold of him.
Inside federal corrections, there is an aboriginal elder always available to us. Now that I was in the community, I felt dropped. I didn't know where to go for help. I went to sweats voluntarily, on my own. It made me feel like a failure because I was asking for help and did not get it. I recommend that aboriginal elders meet regularly with indigenous people at halfway houses, with set meeting times.
My name is Mo Korchinski. I live in Maple Ridge, B.C. I'm a non-aboriginal woman, but I follow aboriginal teachings through my elder, Holy Cow. I spent a total of seven years in and out of the B.C. provincial prison, with long sentences where I had the opportunity to watch women coming and going. I've been out for 11 and a half years, and I'm coordinator of unlocking the gates peer health mentoring program, which receives funding through the B.C. First Nations Health Authority.
Most women inside prison are not bad people. They're broken, they're wounded, and they need healing. It goes back to generations of abuse, passed from one generation to another. Somewhere along the line we have to break this cycle.
I had never found a sense of belonging or community until I went inside the prison. It's sad that women like me feel that they don't belong in the outside community. Most helpful for me, while I was inside, was to be able to get in touch with that inner child who was broken, and to know that I can now protect that inner child. I had to let go of a lot of the hurt and abuse that I had experienced. This healing started for me inside prison, through my aboriginal teachings.
I'm very blessed that when I was released, I was able to find a research assistant job working with women being released from prison. In our research, women were saying that they needed somebody to walk beside them as soon as they were released. Women tell us that they lose everything when they go to prison, and they are released with nothing except for their belongings in a clear plastic bag.
We started a health peer mentor program five years ago where we mentor women for the first 72 hours upon their release. The impact of this program on women leaving prison is a feeling of being safe and supported on the day of their release. Approximately 65% of the peer health mentoring program participants are indigenous. Being able to connect women with a peer health mentors who have prison experience themselves gives women hope that they too can beat the cycle of incarceration and addiction.
Women are desperate and vulnerable when they are released from prison. This is a high-risk time for women to go back to using street drugs or buying street pills, with a good chance that these pills will be fentanyl. The fentanyl crisis has caused increased fear among incarcerated women preparing for release. The number of people overdosing is frightening for all addicts, but even more so for incarcerated women being released and having nowhere to go.
Women inside prison reach out to our program because they want to change their lives. Women don't want to come out from prison, use substances, and live on the streets. Why are so many women coming out of prison today and overdosing and dying? Why aren't correctional facilities giving more trauma counselling inside so that women are healthy when they come out? If you really want to understand the women inside prison and what works for them, please read Arresting Hope: Women Taking Action in Prison Health Inside Out, because we wrote it from inside the prison.
Good afternoon. I'm very honoured to appear here today. I would like to say there's a strong need for spiritual support. Women who end up in prison are often spiritually broken, the results of generations of intergenerational trauma from residential schools. Seven generations are impacted by residential schools.
Number two, we need treatment programs and plans. We need to have elders in these programs in the prison system. We have to find a way to find their spirit. It's so important to get reconnected to the use of culture and tradition, especially our ways. The use of the medicine wheel approach is spiritual, it's so important to build that foundation, mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Number three, there's a high rate of incarceration of indigenous women. They lose connection their with their roots, their family, community, and they're forgotten by our own people. The families don't have resources to travel back and forth to these prisons, to obtain all the necessary security clearance they are required to have. We face so many barriers.
Number four, there are problems with institutionalization. First, they lose all life skills to do with living and functioning in community, so taking care of themselves is so important. They need community-based prevention programs, healing circles, and women's shelters. Second, they need post-discharge services and supports in the community, both on the reserve and in the city.
Number five, all of the addiction and mental health services in prison, in the community, prevention and discharge should be culturally based, according to our spirituality, including the use of elders, especially our indigenous languages and counsellors. I just wanted to let the committee know that I wrote a book. It was published two years ago, and the name of the book is My Name is Shield Woman. I'm a survivor of residential school. I'm the founder of the Awo Taan shelter in Calgary. It's on Macleod Trail. It will be 25 years in operation March 10th. We opened the shelter in 1993. I really felt my contribution, being a survivor and all the abuse I experienced, that I had an obligation to our women and our children. This book was meant to educate survivors, to look at what happened to us, the pain that we experienced, and to do something about it. It was also meant to educate society about what a survivor experienced at residential school.
Jim Pritchard is my co-author and that's how come I asked him to be with me today: to support me. I've been doing this kind of work and I've been sober now for just about 44 years, and I put all my life into helping our people heal.
I'm still doing this kind of work. I'm going to do it because it's a strong commitment that came from here—from my heart—when I sobered up.
As an elder today, I facilitate groups to help my people back home. I'm from the Siksika Nation. I know that my work is endless, and with the help of my Great Spirit who is with me today to guide me, I feel that it's his will for me to continue this kind of work.
For me, the way I look at it, I did talk about using the medicine wheel approach. If you're going to use this medicine wheel, it has to be a long process, because it all takes time to help an individual to find the Spirit. These programs shouldn't be just Band-Aid solutions. I have run into these kinds of programs over the years. They don't work.
We need something that's going to be long term. Maybe have a facility, a lodge, or a place in the community, a safe place for these women, and not just for the women, but for their children. It's so important. It has to be long term.
Have our elders be a part of the program. When you hire people, these individuals have to be healthy. You have to walk with these individuals. It takes a long time for these people to have trust in you, and you have to be sober, you have to be healthy, and as a person working in this field, I know that you have to have self-care, and you have to look after yourself.
I sure would like to see something in southern Alberta or even in Calgary. Like, I'm the founder of this women's shelter, Awo Taan. It's a shelter for women who flee family and domestic violence, but we need something that's going to really help them, especially to get reconnected. It's so important.
In my culture having a name, a Blackfoot name, is important. My Blackfoot name is more important than my English name. That's why, when I got that name, when we opened the shelter, that's why it's working today, because that spiritual foundation was given to me by my grandma. Whatever we do, I always say that, in native programs, you have to have that strong traditional foundation. Having the elders involved is how I look at something that's going to really help women who go to prison. There is nothing out here where they can go when they come home from jail, because I do feel for them.
I was in jail, too, a long time ago, and I know how it feels. You're so lost. You have good intentions in there, but when you come out, you come out like me, being an alcoholic. I had all these good intentions, but what did I do when I came out? I went back to the street and got drunk. There has to be something in place that's solid to help them.
It sounds, from what you're saying, that it's from both a personal perspective as well as a community perspective. I'm not certain how you—for lack of a better word—institutionalize that within a government program, but I certainly understand the spirit of what you're saying, that you have to transcend it and transmute it. As you said, or someone indicated, I have heard that before regarding the seven generations.
You're generation one, or maybe generation two, at most, so it's a long way to go.
When an indigenous woman commits a crime, what is the greatest adversity she faces going forward: access to adequate representation, access to healing lodges, or reintegration into the indigenous culture? Some of you mentioned previously that it's hard to be a part of the external culture outside of that.
Ruth ScalpLock, what would you say that would be? What is the greatest adversity going forward?
Thank you to all of the witnesses. We're going to use a lot of your work in our final report. We could have talked with you for hours.
I want to ask just only one questions, with thanks to Ruth Elwood Martin for assembling your amazing panel. It's so smart and it's really good to hear.
I'd just like to turn my seven minutes over to the three women who have been on the inside.
Mo, Odessa, and Chas, is there anything that would make your heart sing if you saw it in our final report, something that would let you know that we had either removed some barriers or else put some more supports in place? By this I mean things that if they'd been there when you were younger, you might have avoided prison in the first place. What's missing to keep indigenous women out of jail in the first place? It might be legal aid. It might be better, more sympathetic, police. It might be no child apprehensions, no more kids in care.
The floor is yours. Tell us. Give us your best advice.