Indigenous leaders are calling for more support from the provincial government to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous women in the criminal justice system.

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Vice Chief Aly Bear, New Democrat Saskatoon MLA Betty Nippi-Albright and former inmate Kristen Lerat of the Cowessess First Nation all spoke Wednesday to the needs for rehabilitation programming, but also programs to deter crime.

“We need the safe spaces to reintegrate into the community and not have that high-risk lifestyle,” explained Lerat. “Inside there’s no help there. I was in segregation and it was 100 percent Indigenous women.”

The New Democrats contend the Indigenous incarceration rates in Saskatchewan are the highest in Canada, more than double the national average and 28.5 times higher than the non-Indigenous population.

“This is a top-down failure by this Sask. Party government to properly address the very issues that lead to crime: like poverty, inadequate housing, mental health and addictions,” said Nippi-Albright. “How are we supposed to fix this if we aren’t willing to address the root causes? We need to actually build solutions to housing, in access to mental health supports and ensure that those needed services are in place, especially for those reintegrating into the community. Otherwise, we’re going to continue to see these failures.”

Bear took aim at the Pine Grove Correctional Centre’s overcrowding, suggesting that the prison is using its gymnasium to house inmates, adding the facility’s official capacity is 166 people, yet its inmate population is approximately 245.

Many of the inmates are currently on remand and thus unable to access prison programs.

The provincial government said it provides millions of dollars each year to assist those transitioning from prison into the community. This is done through the STR8 UP program for gang affiliation, a supportive living program through Kate’s Place and a transition home in Saskatoon.

“The Regina Drug Treatment Court combines drug addiction treatment with judicial sanctions for offenders whose criminal activities are driven by drug addiction. People who have completed the program have made significant, positive changes to their lifestyles and reduced their criminal behaviours and drug use. Of those who take part, 74 percent had 90 or more drug free days prior to leaving the facility; 89 percent reported decreased substance misuse; 95 percent improved life skills in the areas of financial literacy and personal management skills; and 89 percent say they understand the impact that their offences may have had on victims,” said a Government of Saskatchewan spokesperson.