By Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
“Over-representation of Indigenous people in correctional settings remains one of Canada’s most pressing human rights issues, and is evidence of public policy failures over successive decades as no government has been able to stop or reverse this trend,” said the Correctional Investigator.
(ANNews) – On December 17, 2021, the Office of the Correctional Investigator released a report detailing Canada’s incarceration rates for Indigenous and non-indigenous people.
It found that First Nation, Metis, and Inuit women are grossly over-represented in the Canadian prison system and will soon comprise 50% of all federally-sentenced women in the country.
“In the very near future, Canada will reach a sad milestone where half of all federally sentenced women in custody will be of Indigenous ancestry, despite representing less than 5% of the total population of women in Canada,” stated Dr. Ivan Zinger, a co-author of the report.
“Surpassing the 50% threshold suggests that current efforts to reverse the Indigenization of Canada’s correctional population are not having the desired effect and that much bolder and swifter reforms are required.”
Furthermore, the report also stated that the proportion of Indigenous men and women in the country is also rising, with Indigenous people making up 32% of the entire prison population.
However, despite the rising amount of incarcerated Indigenous peoples, the report also found that the amount of incarcerated Canadians is actually dropping,
“The statistical trends indicate that the number of Indigenous people in federal custody is increasing at a time when overall numbers of incarcerated people are declining,” read the report.
In the last ten years, the overall Indigenous inmate population has increased by 18.1%, whereas the non-Indigenous incarcerated population has decreased over the same period by 28.26%.
Dr. Zinger said of the data, “On this trajectory, assuming overall declines in new admissions to custody, Canada will reach historic and unconscionable levels of Indigenous concentration in federal penitentiaries.”
Dr. Zinger concluded his statement by calling on Government and the Correctional Service of Canada to fully implement recent calls to action from Parliamentary Committees, Commissions of Inquiry, as well as recommendations from his Office —which includes creating and appointing a Deputy Commissioner for Indigenous corrections.
He would also like Canada to significantly reallocate existing resources from the Correctional Service of Canada to Indigenous communities and groups for the care, custody and supervision of Indigenous people.
“Healing Lodges and community-based services owned and operated by Indigenous communities can only yield better outcomes for federally sentenced Indigenous people,” stated Dr. Zinger.
As for the government’s response to the growing number of Indigenous prisoners in the system, Justice Minister David Lametti emphasized Bill C-5, which will aim to remove certain mandatory minimum sentences from the Criminal Code.
“C-5 is an important step in addressing the distressing statistics in the Corrections Investigator’s report,” Lametti said in a media statement.
”Indigenous adults represent five per cent of the general population but account for 30 per cent of federally incarcerated inmates,” Lametti said. “That’s double where it was 20 years ago.”