Corrections Canada report slams services for aboriginal offenders
"This report is a wakeup call for Correctional Services Canada"
More than 20 years ago, Parliament created the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, allowing the Correctional Service of Canada to include more aboriginal community involvement in corrections and respond to the unique needs and circumstances that contribute to high incarceration rates for aboriginal people.
But since then, not much has changed.
Disparities in opportunities and outcomes between aboriginal and non-aboriginal offenders continue to widen, finds a report issued March 7 by the Correctional Investigator of Canada, Howard Sapers.
“Close to one in four inmates in federal penitentiaries today are of aboriginal ancestry, yet aboriginal-specific legislative provisions are chronically under-funded, under-utilized and unevenly applied by the Correctional Service. In failing to fully meet Parliament’s intent, my review concludes that the federal correctional system perpetuates conditions of disadvantage for Aboriginal people in Canada,” Sapers said in his report.
The report, Spirit Matters: Aboriginal People and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, notes that the Correctional Service of Canada does not have control over the number of offenders entering the federal system, but it can influence the number of offenders returning to a penitentiary after their release.
“The enhancement of aboriginal cultural and spiritual opportunities for offenders, particularly if offered in an aboriginal environment, is acknowledged as a positive approach to the successful reintegration of aboriginal offenders,” it states.
The report found:
• Aboriginal offenders are under-represented in community supervision populations and over-represented in maximum security institutions;
• Aboriginal offenders now account for 21.5 per cent of the incarcerated population and 13.6 per cent of offenders supervised in the community;
• The total aboriginal offender population (community and institutional) represents 18.5 per cent of all federal offenders;
• In 2010-11, aboriginal women accounted for over 31.9 per cent of all federally incarcerated women, representing an increase of 85.7 per cent over the last decade;
• Aboriginal offenders serve disproportionately more of their sentence behind bars before first release;
• Aboriginal offenders are more likely to return to prison on revocation of parole; and,
• Aboriginal offenders are disproportionately involved in institutional security incidents, use of force interventions, segregation placements and self-injurious behaviour.
Other key findings of the report include:
• Limited understanding of Aboriginal people, culture and approaches to healing within federal corrections, especially among front line staff in facilities.
• Inadequate and uneven application of the Gladue judgment of 1999, which said hat differences in culture, language and socio-economic opportunities can create “unique” circumstances for aboriginal people, and, in some cases, these may mean that alternative or shorter sentences are more appropriate than jail;
• Lack of money and contractual limitations that impede the work of elders inside federal institutions.
• Inadequate response to the urban realities and demographics of aboriginal people; and,
• Penitentiary-based interventions far out-number community reintegration alternatives.
The report looked at implementation of Sections 81 and 84 provisions of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
Section 81 allows the Minister of Public Safety to enter into agreements to transfer care and custody of an aboriginal offender who would otherwise be held in a federal penitentiary to an Aboriginal community facility.
Section 84 provides for aboriginal communities to be involved in the release of an aboriginal offender returning to their community.
With respect to Section 81 implementation, the report found that just four agreements have been established between the federal government and aboriginal communities since 1992.
There are none in the North.
The report also found “substantial funding discrepancies” between Section 81 Healing Lodges operated by communities and Correctional Services Canada facilities.
Regarding Section 84 implementation, the report notes that while intended to enhance aboriginal community involvement in release planning, the process has become bogged down by “complex, bureaucratic and time-consuming exercises that are not well understood within or outside the CSC.”
As well, of CSC’s 19,000 employees, just 12 are Aboriginal Community Development Officers, working to facilitate and coordinate this process in all regions of Canada.
Specific recommendations of the report include:
• Appointment of a Deputy Commissioner for Aboriginal Corrections to ensure adequate focus and accountability;
• Negotiation of a “permanent, realistic and at-parity funding levels for existing and future Healing Lodges” and additional bed spaces where the need exists;
• Expansion of Canada Corrections staff training about aboriginal people, history, culture and spirituality to include training in the application of Gladue principles.
• Resolution of workload, payment and standard of services issues faced by elders to ensure that they are “equal partners in the delivery of programs and services;” and,
• Reduction of the amount of red tape and accelerate the process for Section 84 releases.
“This report is a wakeup call for Correctional Services Canada,” said Terry Audla, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, in a March 7 statement.
“Many of these alarming issues have been raised years ago, especially sections 81 and 84, which concerns direct treatment and support for those Inuit who are incarcerated and leaving correctional services. The problem of the increasing number of Inuit in our prison systems must be managed better and I call on the federal government to take immediate action.
Audla said he knows first-hand about law enforcement because he worked for three years in the correctional office in Kuujjuaraapik.
“There must be more Inuit specific rehabilitative programs. This report makes it clear that the status quo isn’t working and the federal government must engage directly with the Inuit to put in place support for those Inuit who are incarcerated,” he said.