Funding issues may make the operations of aboriginal healing lodges such as Edmonton's Stan Daniels Centre increasingly difficult, a federal prison watchdog says in a recent report.

In the report, which focuses on the over-representation of aboriginal people within the federal prison system, correctional investigator Howard Sapers says healing lodges face insecurity due to chronic underfunding — making it difficult for facilities  to meet operational costs.

The Stan Daniels Healing Centre — a 70-bed minimum security facility — is one of the few programs in Canada serving as a re-integration centre for aboriginal offenders, and is the only such centre located in an urban setting.

The centre’s programming focuses on repairing relationships between offenders and their communities, and helps individuals find employment and housing after their release.

It is also unique in that it is run by an aboriginal agency.

Allen Benson, CEO of Native Counselling Services of Alberta which runs the Stan Daniels Centre, is concerned that limited federal funding may jeopardize the centre’s future.

Although Correctional Service Canada (CSC) says it remains committed to supporting programs like the Stan Daniels centre, Benson is worried that current funding can't keep up with the growing problem.

A growing problem

"We’re deeply concerned about the funding issues," he said Monday. "With the rising population of aboriginal people, [over-representation] is going to become a bigger epidemic than it already is."

While aboriginal people make up just four per cent of Canada’s population, they make up 23 per cent of federal inmates — a nearly 40 per cent increase from 2001-2002 numbers.

"We’re building more prison beds — but we’re not building more healing lodges," Benson said.

He believes that this is a mistake.

He thinks federal support of the aboriginal healing lodges will ultimately save Canadians money and form safer, stronger communities.

"Without those healing programs, basically we’d be releasing an offender straight from prison into the community. The community would not be as safe," said Benson.

"We need to have a recognized process for dealing with aboriginal offenders through integration."

Patrick Kotok, 51, has spent nearly half of his life in prisons across the country and has been through the re-integration program at the Stan Daniels centre.

Kotok credits the centre’s programming for helping him determine the root causes of his crime, and also helped him deal with his addiction to alcohol.

"They help you write your resume, they give you job interview skills, they help you set up with interviews to look for work... it’s been a great help," said Kotok, who is now hoping to go back to school.

"In my case, [the healing centre] made a difference because it helped me open up my eyes."

With files from the Gareth Hampshire