As Indigenous women inmate numbers rise, more supports needed after release

Number of Indigenous women in federal prisons has increased by 60 per cent in a decade

Posted: November 17, 2017
Last Updated: November 17, 2017

Laini Lascelle, a spiritual advisor at Grand Valley Institution for Women, would like to see more supports available for Indigenous women when they leave prison. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

A spiritual adviser with Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont. says more needs to be done for Indigenous women after they leave prison to ensure they do not return.
Laini Lascelles, an Ojibwe and Lennape woman from the Delaware Nation, has been counselling women at the federal  facility for the past two years.

"Some women, unfortunately, come back. Some I haven't heard from, which is great. There's still a lot of work to do in that area," Lascelles said.

According to the Office of the Correctional Investigator, the number of women sentenced to federal institutions has increased by almost 30 per cent over the past decade.


In the same time period, the number of Indigenous women in prison has increased by 60 per cent.

In total, Indigenous women represent 37 per cent of all women behind bars, and half of women in maximum security facilities.

'A very sad reality'

When an Indigenous women enters Grand Valley Institution, Lascelles said the inmate is given the option to work with a spiritual advisor or Indigenous elder, through Elder Services.

She said some women are in touch with their cultural identity, but many are not. 

"When we talk about The Seven Grandfathers, some women have no idea what that means or even know what it means to be First Nations," she said. 

"I've heard many, many times where an Indigenous woman or an Indigenous man says the first time they started learning about who they are was coming to prison. That's a very sad reality, but that's the reality."


This work of art, displayed at a three-day event called Women in Prison, was created by Indigenous artist Xochiti. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

Teachings and ceremonies

Through one-on-one counselling, group teaching and ceremonies, Lascelles helps the women understand who they are and where they've come from. 

She said the teachings not only help the women heal from past traumas, but also prepare them for the day when they will leave the prison and return home.

'I wish that we had more resources in all of those different areas, more workers that were specifically trained with incarcerated people.' - Laini Lascelles

"We're always stressing that this isn't your home, this is temporary," she said. "You're here for however length of time — make the most of it to do the work that you need to do on yourself."

Indigenous women who have a strong sense of self have a better chance of success upon leaving the prison, but Lascelles said there are still many challenges for those who return to community.

Many are alone, have no family supports, and — if they are returning to a remote community — they may have limited access to community supports as well.

"I wish that we had more resources in all of those different areas, more workers that were specifically trained with incarcerated people... There's a whole network there that needs to be in place," she said.

"It's tough, but we look at while they're with us ... there's this process to feeling stabilized, to feeling like they can make it, that they can get through some of the challenges that will be coming up the road."