‘Disturbing and entrenched imbalances’: Indigenous people make up 30 per cent of prison population

prison
‘Today, sadly, I am reporting that the proportion of Indigenous people behind bars has now surpassed 30%’ says Ivan Zinger. Photo: APTN File

Canada’s Correctional Investigator says Indigenous people now represent 30 per cent of those locked up in federal prisons despite making up just five per cent of the general population.

“Four years ago, my Office reported that persons of Indigenous ancestry had reached 25% of the total inmate population,” said Ivan Zinger, Canada’s correctional investigator said in a statement released Tuesday. “At that time, my Office indicated that efforts to curb over-representation were not working.

“Today, sadly, I am reporting that the proportion of Indigenous people behind bars has now surpassed 30%.”

For more than a decade, Zinger’s office has been tracking the increase of custody rates.

According to the correctional investigator, “custody rates for Indigenous people have accelerated, despite an overall decline in the inmate population.”

Each year Zinger’s office issues a report, with a warning, that Canada must do something to curb the over incarceration of Indigenous offenders – both men and women.

In his last report, Zinger said that prison outcomes for all prisoners were improving except for Indigenous and black inmates.

”Since April 2010, the Indigenous inmate population has increased by 43.4% (or 1,265), whereas the non-Indigenous incarcerated population has declined over the same period by 13.7% (or 1,549),” said Zinger in the statement. “The rising numbers of Indigenous people behind bars offsets declines in other groups, giving the impression that the system is operating at a normal or steady state.

“Nothing could be farther from the truth.”

Zinger said that the rising number of Indigenous prisoners and surpassing the 30 per cent mark “indicates a deepening Indigenization of Canada’s correctional system,” and he referred to these trends as “disturbing and entrenched imbalances.”

Zinger called on the Correctional Service of Canada to do more.

“For too long, CSC has recused itself from any responsibility for Indigenous over-representation, preferring instead to simply reiterate that Corrections, being situated at the back (or receiving) end of the criminal justice system, exerts no control or jurisdiction over “upstream” factors that decide who is sent to prison, for what reasons or for how long,” he said.

Zinger noted that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and two parliamentary committees have called for changes to the justice system including the need to appoint a deputy commissioner for Indigenous Corrections, increase access and availability of culturally relevant correctional programming, clarify and enhance the role of Indigenous Elders, improve engagement with Indigenous communities and enhance their capacity to provide reintegration services, enhance access to screening, diagnosis and treatment of Indigenous offenders affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and develop assessment and classification tools responsive to the needs and realities of Indigenous people caught up in the criminal justice system.

More to come.

Online Producer / Ottawa

Before moving to become the APTN News social media producer, Mark was the executive producer for the news in eastern Canada. Before starting with APTN in 2009, Mark worked at CBC Radio and Television in Newfoundland and Labrador and Ottawa.


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