There seem to be few people who think the answer to solving the abysmally high incarceration rate for aboriginals in Canada is to make it easier to throw them in jail and keep them longer. But that’s what many believe the federal Conservative government is intent on doing.
In the past five years alone, the population of aboriginal inmates in federal penitentiaries increased by 43 per cent. Today, aboriginal people make up 23 per cent of all inmates in federal institutions despite representing just 4 per cent of Canada’s population.
Former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci issued a report that suggested Ontario’s justice system is in crisis as it concerns the province’s First Nations community. He found that aboriginal people are subjected to systemic racism in the courts, prison and jury process.
In Saskatchewan, which has the highest native incarceration rate in the country, the person who’s been handed the job of trying to change this grim picture told the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police that we aren’t going to “arrest our way” out of it.
Dale McFee, former police chief in Prince Albert and now deputy minister of corrections and policing in Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Justice, is trying to introduce more holistic techniques in an attempt to reverse this situation. Aboriginal people, who represent 11 per cent of Saskatchewan’s population, have made up as much as 80 per cent of the jail population in recent years. Mr. McFee’s approach means pouring resources into things such as abuse counselling and addressing poverty and cultural issues before they lead to aberrant behaviour.
But the federal Conservatives are allergic to words such as holistic, especially as it pertains to matters of crime and punishment. In fact, it’s possible that the Conservatives are going to make what’s already a national disgrace into an international embarrassment.
A plethora of studies that have shown that prison and longer sentences don’t act as deterrents or reduce the likelihood that a person will reoffend. In fact, studies have demonstrated that more prison time can actually increase crime.
Correctional Investigator of Canada Howard Sapers stated, ''“You cannot reasonably claim to have a just society with incarceration rates like these,” Sapers said Sunday in a speech he gave at a church in Toronto.''
“The growth in the custody population appears to be policy, not crime driven. After all, crime rates are down while incarceration rates grow,” he said, adding that crime across Canada has been declining for more than a decade, long before the current government’s “tough on crime” agenda.
Office of the Correctional Investigator
The Office of the Correctioanl Investigator and Human Rights: Ageing, Disordered and Aboriginal Offenders in Canadian Federal Corrections
Demographic Overview of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada and Aboriginal Offenders in Federal Corrections
Examining Aboriginal Corrections in Canada http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/xmnng-brgnl-crrctns/index-eng.aspx
Alarming number of aboriginals in Canada's prisons: watchdog
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