Why it Matters

A National Travesty

“Why, in a society where justice is supposed to be blind, are the inmates of our prisons selected so overwhelmingly from a single ethnic group? ... we believe that the causes of Aboriginal criminal behaviour are rooted in a long history of discrimination and social inequality that has impoverished Aboriginal people and consigned them to the margins of society.”

The evidence is unambiguous: If you are Indigenous, justice in Canada is not blind. In many ways, prisons have replaced residential schools as the new primary source of family disintegration and community fragmentation for Canada’s original peoples.

Indigenous women represent 63% of all incarcerated women – even though they are barely 4% of the Canadian population. And while incarceration rates are falling for the population overall, Indigenous women are the fastest growing among any prison demographic in Canada. 

Indigenous women are more likely to be prosecuted and imprisoned than non-Indigenous offenders. From 2009 to 2019, the number of Indigenous women sentenced to federal prisons grew by 60% (the majority for non-violent offences). They are also likely to receive longer sentences, and serve more of their sentences. 95% of incarcerated Indigenous women have unresolved and inter-generational trauma that is not addressed in correctional institutions; their employment needs go largely unmet in prison, and they have few accommodation or support services after release.

Without adequate housing and supports, such as job readiness and self-employment training programs as they re-enter the community, Indigenous women find themselves chronically unemployed or without sufficient incomes, and living in unsafe, unaffordable and precarious housing contexts that leave them vulnerable to the same circumstances they faced prior to their conflict with the law.

The Missing and Murdered Inquiry and the Truth and Reconciliation both highlight the need for appropriate supports and services in the community for Indigenous women so that we can end the cycle of trauma once and for all.

“The Indigenization of Canada’s prison population is nothing short of a national travesty..dramatic changes [are needed] to stop the revolving door.”