“The indigenization of Canada’s prison population is nothing less than a national travesty… the proportion of Aboriginal people behind bars now exceeds 30% of the total prison population, he said.” said Dr. Ivan Zinger, Correctional Investigator of Canada last January.(The Conversation)
In his report, Zinger an independent government investigator, explained that nearly one in three inmates in Canada is Native American, Inuit or Métis, while Aboriginal people make up less than 5% of the country’s population.
According to Zinger, Canada is facing the “Indigenization” of the federal system has hit a record high with 30 per cent of all inmates serving a federal sentence identifying as Indigenous. He expects that number to climb to 33 per cent in the next three years. (Edmonton Journal)
In fact, federal prisons, where sentences for the most serious crimes are served in Canada, now have 1.265 more Aboriginal people than they did a decade ago. This represents an increase of 43%, while the non-Aboriginal prison population decreased by 14% over the same period. (Edmonton Journal)
According to the investigator, the figures are “even more troubling for Aboriginal women,” who now make up 42% of Canada’s female prison population. Dr. Zinger also addressed the issue by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, which documented the impacts of Canada’s residential-school legacy, as well as the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (TheGlobalMail)
“Federal corrections appear to be impervious to change and insensitive to the needs, backgrounds and social realities behind high rates of Aboriginal delinquency,” says Zinger. (Edmonton Journal)
Zinger explained that the Canadian justice system works against Indigenous people at every level, from police checks and arrests to bail denial and detention, sentencing miscarriages and disparities and high incarceration rates. These trends are also well-documented in countries like the United States, Australia and New Zealand. It is clear that the problem lies in our justice systems.
Around the time that Canada started receding its formal “Indian assimilation” policies in the 1950s, including the end of the residential school requirement, penitentiary and child welfare systems started to quietly assume a new role in the lives of Indigenous people. In fact, prior to the 1960s, Indigenous people only represented one to two per cent of the federal prison population. The rates have consistently increased every year since. (The Conversation)
The Office of the Correctional Investigator reports the incarceration rate of Indigenous people is now at 26.4 per cent of the federal prison population, while they comprise only four per cent of the Canadian population. Incidentally, the Canadian crime rate has fallen in the last 20 years. (The Conversation)
“Not only are Indigenous people more likely to be imprisoned, but they are also more often subjected to some of the most restrictive levels of punishment, including segregation, forced interventions, higher security classifications, involuntary transfers, physical restraints and self-harm.” (The Conversation)
The office of the Correctional Investigator is the ombudsman for federally sentenced offenders and is designed to provide oversight of the Correctional Service of Canada through impartial investigation of individual and system concerns. (TheGlobalMail)