Inmates at Nanaimo Correctional Centre build carpentry skill, back Aboriginal literacy

The building blocks of bright futures for young students in many smaller B.C. First Nations communities are taking shape in the carpentry shop at Nanaimo Correctional Centre.

Through a partnership with the Write to Read (W2R) project, local inmates are building custom bookshelves, tables and desks destined for new libraries at First Nations schools throughout the province. In an effort to provide participating inmates with as much pride and ownership as well as a learning opportunity, BC Corrections aims to involve them in projects that they can see through to completion before their sentences end.

“Many inmates welcome opportunities to build skills for their futures through the diverse work programs operating in our correctional centres. The partnership with Write to Read has lent additional meaning to the efforts of inmates in Nanaimo Correctional Centre’s carpentry program. They can take additional pride in knowing that the skills they’re building are also supporting better learning environments and brighter futures for many Aboriginal children.” Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Morris –

First to receive a shipment will be Lax Kw’alaams Coast Tsimshian Academy, which opened in September in the village near Prince Rupert. By the end of 2016, the project expects to complete furniture for libraries in Ahousaht, at Stz’uminus Community School in Chemainus, and for the Yekooche First Nation near Fort St. James. More than a dozen other First Nations have expressed interest in future shipments.

The furniture is just one component of the W2R project’s comprehensive support for literacy among young Aboriginal learners. Beyond the labour inmates are providing, W2R partners are supplying all the materials used to build the furniture and equipping each library with books, Apple mini iPads, at least two all-in-one computers, Wi-Fi access and modular buildings, as needed.

Established in 2007 by former lieutenant governor Steven Point and B.C. Rotary clubs, the W2R project now counts the Government House Foundation, BC Corrections, First Nations, prominent businesses and non-profit societies with an interest in literacy among its partners. Notably, the project has also engaged many enthusiastic, retired librarians in sorting a growing collection of books – currently between 30,000 and 50,000 – for eventual shipping to the new libraries.

Quick Facts:

  • The W2R project began as a response to the disparity in literacy levels between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians. A 2003 survey found approximately 70% of participating urban First Nations scored below the benchmark literacy level, compared to a general literacy level exceeding 90% in B.C.
  • Aboriginal contractors deliver many programs and services specifically for Aboriginal inmates at provincial correctional centres, including spiritual leadership, counselling and cultural programming. Spiritual and cultural services include sweat lodge ceremonies, healing circles and cultural teaching.
  • Aboriginal liaison service providers also assist in developing and managing programs for inmates, co-ordinating Aboriginal cultural education and counselling programs and providing release planning services (e.g., housing, social assistance).

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