In support of prisoners and prison justice activism in Canada
Native Leaders Call for Alternatives to Jail for Women

Native Leaders Call for Alternatives to Jail for Women
Mar 1, 2005
CBC News
Native leaders call for alternatives to jail for women

WINNIPEG – Aboriginal leaders are challenging the provincial government to think more creatively about women in prison.

Two years ago, the province announced it would close the only women's prison in the province, the Portage Correctional Institute for Women. There have long been complaints about overcrowding, lack of programs, and overall deteriorating conditions at the facility, which was built in 1893.

The decision to close the facility was based on recommendations in the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, which called for more community-based programs for imprisoned women. More than three-quarters of the women in the facility are aboriginal.

A public-input committee was set up last year to make decisions about the new facility, but a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says the province is focusing too much on where to put the new prison, and not enough on the healing that should take place there.

Aboriginal groups who commissioned the report are calling on the government to consider alternatives to incarceration that will help women get educations, job training, and treatment for substance abuse or sexual abuse.

"Maybe we shouldn't be talking prison, maybe we should be talking healing lodge," she says CCPA spokeswoman Elizabeth Comack "Maybe we should recognize that the issues are much broader than that. I mean, this is a real opportunity to really step out and realize the legacy of the AJI."

In addition to healing lodges in northern and southern Manitoba, the report recommends community counselling program and halfway houses.

Chris Henderson, head of the Southern Chiefs Organization, which commissioned the report, says the government should be mindful of the needs of the province's large First Nations and Métis communities.

"Politicians will tell you they listen to the numbers. So if they continue to ignore our issues and put us aside, at some point in time that will come back to haunt them," he says.

Provincial officials say they expect to hear the committee's final recommendations by April.

Link to Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives Report: The Challenge For Change: Realizing The Legacy Of The Aboriginal Justice Inquiry Report (by Charlene Lafreniere, Nahanni Fontaine and Elizabeth Comack)