Aboriginal women make up nearly 34 per cent of all female prisoners and are one of the fastest growing segments of the population in Canada's federal prisons, according to the annual report from Canada’s correctional investigator.
The report says rates of federal incarceration for aboriginal women have increased nearly 84 per cent in the last 10 years. It notes contributing factors such as the effects of residential school and child welfare programs.
Chantal Genier, justice manager for the Council of Yukon First Nations, says those factors only scratch the surface.
"Housing, poverty, dislocation, in the sense of cultural identity, a disconnect, . . . frankly, these all lead to issues for the federal system to deal with,” Genier said.
Even within the prison system, First Nations women face greater challenges than their non-First Nations counterparts.
They represent 75 per cent of self-injury incidents. They are also disproportionately represented in segregation units and maximum security and receive far lower rates of conditional release than non-First Nations inmates.
Katherine Alexander with the Elizabeth Fry society says the increase in the number of incarcerated women can affect whole communities.
"As soon as you separate someone from the community, you separate them from their supports, you separate them from gainful employment, you're separating them from housing, and when people are struggling with those things in the first place, all you're doing is creating a bigger divide,” Alexander said.