Lived Experience of Discrimination:
©2002, Patricia Monture-Angus
Not only the most obvious layer of discrimination, but the most frequently cited, faced by Aboriginal women who are federally sentenced is their over-representation within the prison system.
Concurrently, as Fox and Sugar note, the relevance of the correctional system’s goals when applied to Aboriginal women raises an even more pressing concern. The ongoing failure to rigorously consider the structure and impact of the system on Aboriginal women results in continued disadvantage and discrimination beyond the travesty of over-representation. It is no surprise the statistics regarding overrepresentation have continued to increase, as it remains true that there is a continuing need to advance our understanding of culturally appropriate opportunities and to make real those options. The continued failure to do so reinforces cultural, racial and gendered barriers, which are causally related to over-representation. Equally, this failure impedes access to the very goals that the Correctional Service of Canada espouses of “safe and humane custody and supervision” while offering opportunities for “rehabilitation”.1 These are the values the system is legislatively mandated to secure and redress should be available when an identifiable group is denied access to them.
The pattern that emerges from an examination of the numbers of Aboriginal women in prison tells an important story and demonstrates the first layer of systemic discrimination. In 2000, Aboriginal women comprised 23% of the federal prison population (Okimaw Ochi Healing Lodge, Undated: 2) when Aboriginal Peoples made up only 2.8% of the general Canadian population according to figures provided by Statistic Canada.2 This over-representation has been steadily rising since the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women reported in 1990. Then, Aboriginal women comprised 15% of the federal prisoners (Okimaw Ochi Healing Lodge, Undated: 2).
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