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ARCHIVED - Report Finds Evidence of Systemic Discrimination Against Aboriginal Inmates in Canada's Prisons

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Ombudsman critical of Correctional Service's treatment of native inmate population

Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada 2005-2006

OTTAWA, October 16, 2006 - According to the Annual Report of the Correctional Investigator, the Government of Canada's Corrections Ombudsman, the federal prison system has practices that discriminate against Aboriginal offenders. The Correctional Investigator found that the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) routinely classifies First Nations, Métis and Inuit inmates as higher security risks than non-native inmates; Aboriginal offenders are released later in their sentences than other inmates; and they are more likely to have their conditional release revoked for technical reasons than other offenders. According to the Report, Aboriginal inmates often do not receive timely access to rehabilitative programming and services that would help them return to their communities.

"The overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in Canada's prisons is well documented. However, these disparities between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal offenders are not as well known and should be addressed on an urgent basis," said the Correctional Investigator, Howard Sapers. "The higher rate of recidivism for Aboriginal offenders is in part due to the Correctional Service's failure to manage Aboriginal inmates in a culturally responsive and non-discriminatory manner," he added. Sapers also noted that "the gap in outcomes between Aboriginal and other offenders continues to grow, and more commitment and resources are required to address the troubling trend."

The Report found that the CSC initially classifies Aboriginal offenders at higher security levels than other inmates, identifies them as having lower reintegration potential and places them in minimum-security institutions at less than half the rate of non-Aboriginal offenders. Aboriginal inmates are placed in segregation more often than non-Aboriginal offenders, limiting their access to appropriate programming. These discriminatory outcomes are even more pronounced in the case of female Aboriginal offenders.

The Report calls on the CSC to make "significant and quantifiable" progress to close the gap between Aboriginal and other offenders in terms of timely and safe conditional release. This includes ending the overclassification of Aboriginal offenders; providing timely access to programming and services to increase the number of Aboriginal inmates ready to appear before the Parole Board at their earliest eligibility dates; and increasing reliance on legislative provisions that allow for the direct involvement of Aboriginal communities in supporting the timely conditional release of inmates. The Report also recommends that the CSC increase the representation of its Aboriginal workforce at institutions where a majority of offenders are of Aboriginal heritage.

While Aboriginal people make up only 2.7 percent of the Canadian population, they account for 18.5 percent of the federal prison population (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2006). According to Statistics Canada data, while the overall incarceration rate for non-Aboriginal people is 117 per 100,000 adults, the overall incarceration rate for Aboriginal people in Canada is estimated to be 1,024 per 100,000 - or almost 9 times higher for Aboriginal persons.

In addition to addressing the treatment of Aboriginal inmates, the Correctional Investigator's Report highlights the Correctional Service's continuing challenge to:

  • provide adequate services to federal offenders with significant, identified mental health needs - the proportion of whom has more than doubled over the past decade;
  • demonstrate compliance with its legal obligation to provide every inmate with essential health care according to professionally accepted standards, and accredit all institutional health care sites;
  • implement a more humane and less restrictive alternative to the long-term segregation of women inmates; and,
  • convene timely investigations and follow-up action regarding incidents of serious injury or death among inmates.

The Report identifies three pillars for ensuring the federal correctional system meets its objectives of safe and humane custody and supervision of offenders, and for assisting in the rehabilitation of offenders and their return to the community as law-abiding citizens: the fostering of a strong culture of human rights with the CSC; the need for correctional staff and senior managers to be accountable in the administration of law and policy; and the requirement to assist offenders to ensure their timely and safe reintegration into the community. Public safety is enhanced when the three pillars are incorporated into correctional operations.

The Correctional Investigator is mandated by an Act of Parliament to be an independent Ombudsman for federal offenders. This work includes ensuring that systemic areas of concern are identified and addressed. The complete Annual Report, as well as the Correctional Service of Canada's response to it, is on the Correctional Investigator's Web site at

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For further information:
Ivan Zinger, LL.B., Ph.D
Senior Policy Advisor and Legal Counsel
Office of the Correctional Investigator
Tel: 613-990-2690