ARCHIVED - Speaking Notes for
Mr. Howard Sapers, Correctional Investigator,
33rd Annual Report to Parliament

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October 16, 2006

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

As Correctional Investigator, my job is to be an independent Ombudsman for federal offenders. It's also my role to review and make recommendations on the Correctional Service's policies and procedures, to ensure that areas of concern are identified and appropriately addressed.

My mandate expresses an important component of the criminal justice system.

The Office of the Correctional Investigator reflects Canadian values of respect for the law, for human rights, and the public's expectation that correctional staff and senior managers are accountable for the administration of law and policy on the public's behalf. Good corrections after all equals public safety.

Last year when my Annual Report was released I shared my findings with Canadians that federal penitentiaries were quickly becoming warehouses for the mentally ill. I recommended that the Correctional Service of Canada immediately secure and commit adequate funding for the implementation of itsMental Health Strategy. Unfortunately, the money has not come and the Correctional Service has not been able to address my recommendation. The mental health services offered to these offenders continues to be seriously deficient.

While not abandoning the issue of mental health services, this year's Report highlights a number of other concerns that continue to hamper the Correctional Service's delivery of both its legal and policy obligations. Areas of ongoing concern for my Office include the inadequate delivery of health care services; insufficient focus on the particular needs of women in prison; and the need to improve the safety and security of the prison environments.

Today, however, I would like to direct your attention one overwhelming issue requiring urgent attention - the growing crisis regarding Aboriginal inmates.

The experience of Canadian Aboriginal peoples and the justice system has been described as "Canada's national disgrace".

The over-representation of natives in Canada's prisons and penitentiaries is well-known: nationally, Aboriginal people are less than 2.7% of the Canadian population but comprise almost 18.5 % of the total federal prison population.

For women, this over-representation is even more acute - they represent 32 % of women in federal penitentiaries.

Alarmingly, this huge over representation has grown in recent years. While the federal inmate population in Canada actually went down 12.5% between 1996 and 2004, the number of First Nations people in federal institutions increased by 21.7%. This is a 34% difference btw Aboriginal and non Aboriginal inmates. Moreover, the number of federally incarcerated First Nations women increased a staggering 74.2% over this period.

While the Correctional Service is not responsible for the social conditions and policy decisions which help shape its offender population, it is responsible for operating in compliance with the law and ensuring all offenders are treated fairly.

It is therefore with grave concern I am underscoring today that the Correctional Service of Canada falls short of this standard by allowing for systemic discrimination against Aboriginal inmates.

For example:

  • Inmates of First Nations, Métis and Inuit heritage face routine over-classification resulting in their placement in minimum security institutions at only half the rate of non-Aboriginal offenders.
  • The over-classification for Aboriginal women is even worse. For example, at the end of September, native women made up 45 percent of maximum security federally sentenced women, 44 percent of the medium security population and only 18 percent of minimum security women.
  • This over classification is a problem because it means inmates often serve their sentences far away from their family and the valuable support of other community members, friends and supports such as Elders.
  • Aboriginal offenders are placed in segregation more often than non-Aboriginal offenders.
  • Placement in a maximum security institution and segregation limits access to rehabilitative programming and services intended to prepare inmates for release and successful reintegration into society.
  • Aboriginal inmates are released later in their sentences than other inmates.
  • The proportion of Full Parole applications resulting in reviews by National Parole Board is lower for Aboriginal offenders.

In short, as stated by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the general picture is one of institutionalized discrimination. That is, Aboriginal people are routinely disadvantaged once they are placed into the custody of the Correctional Service.

The higher rates of parole failure and recidivism for Aboriginal offenders compared to non-Aboriginal inmates are in part due to the Correctional Service's inability to consistently manage Aboriginal inmates in a culturally responsive and non-discriminatory manner.

As a consequence, longer periods of incarceration and more Statutory Releases, as opposed to parole, for Aboriginal offenders contribute to less time in the community for programming and supportive intervention than for non-Aboriginal offenders.

The proportion of Aboriginal offenders under community supervision is significantly smaller than the proportion of non-Aboriginal offenders serving their sentences on conditional release in the community.

Aboriginal offenders continue to be over-represented as a proportion of offenders referred for detention and ultimately detained compared to the other offender groups.

Parole is more likely to be revoked for Aboriginal offenders than non-Aboriginal offenders. The rate of revocations for breach of parole conditions (i.e., no new criminal offence) is higher for Aboriginal offenders.

Aboriginal offenders are re-admitted to federal custody more frequently than non-Aboriginal offenders, and too often this cycle of inequitable treatment begins again. To break this cycle, the Correctional Service must do a better job at preparing Aboriginal offenders while in custody, and provide better support while in the community.

The outcome gaps are even more pronounced when looking at the situation of Aboriginal woman offenders.

The Correctional Service's own statistics regarding correctional outcomes for offenders confirm that, despite years of task force reports, internal reviews, national strategies, partnership agreements and action plans, there has been no measurable improvement in the overall situation of Aboriginal offenders during the last 20 years.

To the contrary, the gap in outcomes between Aboriginal and other offenders continues to grow. Clearly, more commitment and resources are required to address this troubling trend. Today, I call on the Correctional Service of Canada to act swiftly to strengthen the implementation of itsStrategic Plan for Aboriginal Offenders by fully adopting the following recommendations within the year:

  • Implement a security classification process that ends the over-classification of Aboriginal offenders;
  • Significantly increase the number of Aboriginal offenders housed at minimum security institutions;
  • Increase timely access to programs and services that will significantly reduce time spent in medium and maximum security institutions;
  • Significantly increase the use of unescorted temporary absences and work releases programs to assist in supporting safe and timely community reintegration;
  • Significantly increase the number of Aboriginal offenders appearing before the National Parole Board at their earliest eligibility dates;
  • Build capacity for and increase use of agreements which provide for the direct involvement of Aboriginal communities in supporting timely conditional release; and
  • Significantly increase the number of Aboriginal people working at all levels in the Service, and especially at institutions where a majority of offenders are of Aboriginal ancestry.

Equitable treatment of Aboriginal inmates is required by law. It is also a human rights and public safety issue.

The vast majority of inmates are released back into communities across Canada. It is beneficial for everyone if these men and women return to their home communities having received fair and adequate treatment from the Correctional Service while incarcerated.

In closing, I would like to leave you with a few notable facts:

  • Four in ten federally incarcerated Aboriginal offenders are 25 years or younger.
  • First Nation youth are the fastest growing demographic in Canada.
  • HIV and Aids are much more prevalent among Aboriginal people. The lack of a full range of harm reduction strategies disproportionately affects them.
  • Should the current trends continue unchecked, experts project the Aboriginal population in Canada's correctional institutions could reach the 25% mark in less than 10 years.

Clearly, the need to do better is obvious and urgent. My message to the correctional service is walk your talk and make real progress a priority. My message to government is give the Service the resources required to get the job done.

Thank you.

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