Illustration: Sophie Yang

Three months ago, convicted murderer Terri-Lynne McClintic was transferred to an Aboriginal healing lodge, after serving eight years of her life sentence in the Grand Valley Institution for Women. The Correctional Service of Canada had granted her request, oblivious to the media frenzy about to come. Her transfer to Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge — an alternative prison system that practices Indigenous values and customs in order to lower recidivism rates — sparked widespread outrage amongst Canadians, many of whom sympathized with the victim’s family. Many argue that child killers like her shouldn’t be given these special accommodations, and that that McClintic’s heinous crimes deserve — and should only deserve — a permanent stay in a maximum security prison. Indeed, the horrific nature of McClintic’s involvement in the 2009 murder of eight-year-old Tori Stafford should enrage all of us, but does it necessarily mean her presence in a healing lodge should do the same?

The most prevalent argument made against the transfer is that Indigenous healing lodges are too comfortable and offer security measures that would be inadequate for a convicted child killer. Notably, Andrew Scheer, the leader of the Conservative Party, expressed his disgust at McClintic being eligible to transfer to a healing lodge, and that the Liberals should ensure she is “behind bars” instead. However, the reality is that modern prison systems are not that different from Aboriginal healing lodges in terms of the level of accomodation and security. Prisons are no longer dark dungeons where prisoners are kept behind steel bars at all times — they offer workshops and job opportunities for inmates as well. Healing lodges are no places of luxury either. Despite the name, inmates still adhere to strict schedules, and are required to perform chores and attend rehabilitative programs. Whether you believe that is already too lenient for offenders like McClintic is irrelevant to the issue at hand — the two prison systems are similar in their treatment of inmates, so her transfer from one to another shouldn’t as big of a deal as it is made out to be.

In addition, the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge offers the same level of security that McClintic’s previous institution had. Though lacking barbed wire, the healing lodge has eighty-nine armed security guards for its sixty prisoners — much higher than the nationwide average of three inmates per correctional officer [1].  What’s more, McClintic is classified as a medium-security prisoner, so there is no reason a medium-security healing lodge should not be adequate to both accommodate her and ensure that the surrounding community is safe. Healing lodges are going to be different from what the public imagine prisons to be, but that doesn’t mean they’re not as adequate in protecting communities and regulating inmates as traditional prison systems.


Since both systems are so similar, some may ask — why bother transferring McClintic at all? Well, although both should appease the public’s sense of justice and safety concerns, the difference is rooted in the inmates’ experience. Healing lodges have been shown to drastically lower recidivism rates by as much as 50% for Indigenous inmates [2], so this could be what McClintic needs in order to address her violent past and further her education to ease her eventual transition back into society. At the healing lodge, inmates are treated as members of the community and are motivated to participate in the community by means of chores and healing workshops. For an individual like McClintic, who has been a drug user since she was eight, the healing lodges could be a way for her to finally come to terms with her past and move on to a better future.

Furthermore, it’s not just McClintic’s rehabilitation that’s up for improvement — the safety of the prison guards and the other inmates is as well. In 2012, McClintic was accused of physically assaulting another inmate — evidence that the traditional prison system isn’t working for her or anyone in her vicinity [3]. The healing lodges’ independent living format and vocational training programs provide a much needed, much less violent outlet for her grudges, and actually help keep those around her safe. Although there is not definitive proof that McClintic would miraculously improve in a healing lodge, it is clear that it is a much better alternative to the current system.

If you’re someone like Andrew Scheer, however, and you believe that McClintic should still be punished for her actions in a traditional prison, the welfare of murderers and inmates like McClintic probably won’t be of much interest to you. Thus, it may surprise you to learn that it would be in your best interest, and the best interests of the general public, to have McClintic transferred to a healing lodge. Even though she is currently serving a life sentence, life sentences in the Canadian justice system don’t mean that the prisoner stays in prison for life. More than 40% of those sentenced to life in prison are eventually released back into society [4]. McClintic would’ve been eligible for parole in six years, and it is fairly likely that she would rejoin society at that point. So now, for those of you who ask what is the point in rehabilitating a murderer — the real question is: What kind of person would you rather have rejoin society? Would you rather have a community member that spent decades in a traditional prison with little access to education and a history of abuse, or one that was able to learn important life skills through an Indigenous healing lodge? Would you feel safer in your community with a murderer who has spent their years enduring more punishment or one that was given an opportunity at reform? Everyone, regardless of the repulsion they feel against “helping prisoners”, would choose the latter. The reality is that we can’t keep prisoners locked up forever — one way or another they are going to rejoin society, and it is up to society to craft a prison system that ensures that they don’t reoffend when they do. If healing lodges could potentially prevent McClintic from committing other crimes, then it would be certainly worth the transfer.

No matter how counterintuitive it may be to teach child murderers life skills or to put them in more progressive prison systems, it is the best option for not only the inmates, but also for the safety of society as a whole. Indeed, McClintic committed heinous crimes in the past, and no one is denying that she should face severe consequences. However, the anger that we feel towards her actions shouldn’t blind us in making the right decisions. Yes, our satisfaction of revenge would be fulfilled if we forced her to stay in a traditional prison system — but her chances at recidivism — and with it, our long term hope for a safe society — would be compromised. It’s time we set our innate desire for punishment aside, and place her in an environment that will benefit both her and society.



Works Cited:

[1] Stefanovich, Olivia. “Inside the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge Housing Child Killer Terri-Lynne McClintic | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 22 Oct. 2018,

[2] Ferreras, Jesse. “Healing Lodges – It’s Not Whether They Work, but How Well, Research Shows.” Global News, Global News, 29 Sept. 2018,

[3] Richmond, Randy. “Tori Stafford Killer Terri-Lynne McClintic Sent to Healing Lodge, Tori’s Family Says.” The London Free Press, 25 Sept. 2018,

[4] Chang, Arturo. “By the Numbers: ‘Lifers’ in Canada’s Prisons.” Global News, Global News, 4 Mar. 2015,