In 1992, Parliament passed a law that allowed aboriginal communities to establish and operate healing lodges to help natives transition from prison to freedom, and to take a lead role in overseeing their release and return to society.

But in the 20 years since, only four agreements for new healing lodges have been finalized. That’s added up to just 68 beds, according to a new report that calls on Corrections Canada to implement a 20-year-old law and use the funding that came along with it.

So what is a healing lodge, and why does Canada need more of them?

Howard Sapers, Canada's correctional investigator and the author of the report released Thursday, says a healing lodge is a correctional facility that "is culturally appropriate, that deals with healing and with aboriginal spirituality, which involves aboriginal ceremony."

They are residential, custodial facilities, and under the 1992 law can be operated by aboriginal communities under contract to Corrections Canada. There are currently nine healing lodges across Canada.

The Correctional Service of Canada offered a similar description. According to its website, healing lodges offer services and programs that reflect aboriginal culture "in a space that incorporates aboriginal people's tradition and beliefs."

"In the healing lodge, the needs of aboriginal offenders serving federal sentences are addressed through aboriginal teachings and ceremonies, contact with elders and children, and interaction with nature," states a Corrections Canada backgrounder.

"A holistic philosophy governs the approach, whereby individualized programming is delivered within a context of community interaction, with a focus on preparing for release."

The lodges were created over concerns that mainstream prison programs weren't working for aboriginal prisoners, who are significantly over-represented in the system.

While aboriginal Canadians comprise just 4 per cent of the general population, they make up 23 per cent of the population in federal penitentiaries -- a number that has doubled since 1987.

"Aboriginal offenders spend more time at higher security levels, they typically don't get released until their warrant expiry or their statutory release date,” Sapers told CTV’s Canada AM Friday. “They are disproportionately part of the maximum security population, they are involved in more self-harm and security incidents inside institutions. And this seems to be flowing largely from the lack of accommodation.”

Meanwhile, the recidivism rate among those who graduate from the healing lodge programs is shown to be lower than those who come through the traditional prison system.

Sapers said the need for change is urgent.

"In 1992 when the law was passed the situation was considered critical. Now it's dramatically worse. The status quo is not an option and if we don't address this we're going to have far higher numbers of aboriginal offenders inside our institutions," he said.