Canada's correctional investigator's report an alarming call to reduce First Nations incarceration


Last updated 4/8/2020 at 3:36pm

Though Indigenous people make up 5 percent of the Canadian population, they make up 30 percent or more of prison populations.

OTTAWA, Ont.-A January 2020 report released by the Correctional Investigator of Canada shows that Canada's prisons are being "Indigenized," or filling up with Indigenous men and women at a rate surpassing 30 percent, which could rise to 33 percent, even though Indigenous people make up less than 5 per cent of the total Canadian population.

Indigenous women account for a staggering 42 per cent of the women inmate population in Canada.

The Correctional Investigator of Canada, Dr. Ivan Zinger, issued information showing that the number and proportion of Indigenous individuals under federal sentence is worse than ever and growing. The information points to a number of alarming facts:

• Indigenous people in Canada experience incarceration rates six to seven times higher than the national average

• The Indigenous inmate population has increased by 43.4 per cent while the non-Indigenous incarcerated population has declined over the same period by 13.7 per cent

• First Nations experience longer prison stays and serve a higher proportion of their sentence behind bars before granted parole

• Indigenous people reoffend or are returned to custody at much higher levels.

• Custody rates for Indigenous people have accelerated, despite an overall decline in the inmate population.

The report sets out steps that can be taken to help address this problem, including appointing a deputy commissioner for Indigenous corrections, increasing access and availability of culturally relevant correctional programming, enhancing the role of elders and transferring resources and responsibility to Indigenous groups and communities for the care, custody and supervision of Indigenous offenders, in addition to others.

"This report is an alarming wake-up call. We want to see immediate action to address systemic discrimination and institutional apathy in Canada's corrections system," said Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde. "First Nations are tragically over-represented across the legal system and the AFN is putting forward plans to improve the quality of life and opportunity for our people. But this report shows yet again that this is not the only reason for the mass incarceration of First Nations. Canada must act now.

"We need a justice system that embraces First Nations legal traditions and puts First Nations laws on the same footing as civil law and common law," says Bellegarde. "Additionally, judges and crown attorneys need to be more responsive to the circumstances of Indigenous offenders and offer other alternatives to incarceration. I want to meet as soon as possible with the Correctional Investigator, Dr. Zinger, to discuss the report and the tangible steps he sets out for immediate action."

National Chief Bellegarde stated that he will press for action on this issue with federal ministers who hold responsibilities in this area, including the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Bill Blair, to discuss how Canada can improve the situation and outcomes around Indigenous incarceration.


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