Two weeks ago, 34-year-old Kimberly Squirrel was found frozen to death in Saskatoon. Before this tragedy, Kimberly Squirrel was released from the Pine Grove Correctional Centre near Prince Albert. It seems that her tragic death has prompted Patti Tait, the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society Saskatchewan branch, to talk about issues that indigenous women face in modern society.
At a Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations conference Monday, Patti Tait spoke to the public, calling on the province and Saskatchewan communities to increase women’s mental health, addictions, and housing resources so the number of female prisoners in the province could be quelled.
Patti Tait said:
“Sadly, the bulk of the women we’re dealing with in this province are Indigenous women. Presently we are experiencing an influx of women into our provincial system.”
Kimberly Squirrel’s family said that nobody told them that she was released from prison. Three days later, her frozen body was found, and the news shocked the public.
Patty Tait continued:
“The sad testimony of that is that there was nothing that we as an agency could have done because we’ve been denied access to the institutions presently because of COVID. And when there’s a shy, bashful Indigenous woman in the institution, she may not reach out to us. If we were there, if we were able to go into the institution, if we were able to meet the women on their units, we would be in a better position to establish meaningful relationships. Relationships that would mean that a woman who is being released from jail would call out to us.”
Right now, 190 women are being held at Pine Grove and less than half of them are sentenced. Tait has stressed out that helping these women needs to start in the community before they are being sent to prison.
“If there were resources in the community for mental health issues, for housing for women, for addictions, many of the women who are presently on remand and sitting doing dead time effectively in Pine Grove would be housed in the community. We’d be able to take care of them in the community. It would be a safe and viable alternative to having them incarcerated, in some cases for well over a year. I can tell you that I’ve dealt with women who have been incarcerated for well over a year in Pine Grove institution awaiting trial and then found not guilty of the crimes that they were accused of and released into the community with a whole year or more of their lives lost.”