In 2014, The New Observer reported concerns about the rising population rates of Amerinds and blacks in Canadian federal prisons. According to incarceration statistics, both races were highly over-represented in the prison system when you look at the overall population in the country. Two-and-a-half years later, The Torontoist reports, “There are 70 per cent [sic] more Black Canadians in federal prison than there were 10 years ago…” In addition, Howard Sapers, Correctional Investigator, released his annual report of the status of the prisons. He found that from 2005 to 2015 the overall population in the correction system in Canada grew by 10 percent. The Aboriginal inmate population grew by more than 50 percent. This phenomenon was evident in both male and female populations.
Who Is Howard Sapers?
Why should you listen to Sapers? He was appointed to his position as Correctional Investigator of Canada in 2004. This is his 11th annual report. He is not tied to any political climate, as he has served under two Prime Ministers and under five different Ministers of Public Safety. During his tenure in his position, his team has responded to over 200,000 complaints and calls. Sapers has provided testimony to many different Parliamentary Committees and responded to criminal justice reforms handed down by the government. He believes in human dignity and decency even for those who are deprived of their liberty. Sapers is an advocate for a fair and rational criminal justice system.
In his message of his annual report, he breaks down the incarceration statistics even further, offering some interesting statistics:
- Twenty-five percent of the prison population is now 50 or older.
- Only about 40 percent of inmates have a formal education of grade eight or higher.
- Sixty percent of inmates have not graduated high school.
- Sixty percent of female inmates require prescription medications to manage their mental health needs.
- Seventy percent of female inmates report histories of sexual abuse.
- Eighty-six percent of women in the prison system report physical abuse at some point in their lives.
- Eighty percent of the male inmates have experienced addiction and substance abuse.
Is Racism the Problem?
The Torontoist reports that the high rate of blacks in prison is due to racism and over-policing. In Canada, blacks make up about three percent of the general population but 10 percent of the prison population. Indigenous Canadians make up 24.4 percent of the federal prison population but only 4.3 percent of the general population. This is not a problem just in Canada. In the United States, the numbers aren’t quite as pronounced, but African-Americans make up 13 percent of the general population and account for 37 percent of the prison population.
One local lawyer is calling for an initiative similar to the 1991 Aboriginal Justice Strategy that was created to address the growing population of Indigenous Canadians in the prisons. It offered restorative justice and diversion programs and alternative sentencing. In 2011, a report was issued that outlined the success of the AJS. It had this to say:
“Evidence that the long-term outcome of the AJS of ‘reduced crime and incarceration rates in communities with funded programs’ is being achieved is evident through the results of the recidivism study, which found a significant difference between rates of re-offending of AJS-funded program participants and a comparison group.”
Unfortunately, these same outcomes are not being seen in the prisons.
Are There Solutions?
Some might say that criminals get what they deserve. They do have to pay for their crime, but when you look at some of Sapers’ findings, one has to wonder if the solution starts with ensuring people have an education and that their mental health needs are taken care of. Women who are abused need help to improve their self-confidence and outcomes. Things won’t change overnight, but these statistics should concern everyone.