Thunder Bay's John Howard Society welcomes a federal report condemning the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in prison and that the correctional investigator of Canada has highlighted a situation too prevalent in northwestern Ontario.
The executive director of the local branch said she agrees there should be increased services for Aboriginal offenders, but noted society also has to deal with the root of the problem.
"I think we need to recognize that this is about poverty. It's about issues of race," Liisa Leskowski said.
"It's about recognizing that disadvantaged groups are disproportionately represented within our criminal justice system. And that's broken and needs to be changed."
The report indicated Aboriginal people make up four per cent of the country's population, yet they account for 23 per cent of the prision population.
Leskowski said she's surprised it's taken this long to shine a light on the issue and that much more support is needed for First Nations and Métis offenders.
'Overabundance' of Aboriginal inmates
The legal counsel with the Anishnabek Nation said he, too, is not surprised by a report about the number of Aboriginal people in prison.
Fred Bellefeuille said there are a number of reasons why there are more Aboriginals in prision — from lack of representation on juries to the legacy of residential schools. There are similar trends in northern Ontario, he added.
"If you walk into the jail here in North Bay, or in Sudbury, or Sault Ste. Marie or Thunder Bay at any given day, you'll see an overabundance of Aboriginal people unfortunately," Bellefeuille said. "And that is a problem."
Steps need to be taken to have more Aboriginal people on juries, he noted.
Bellefeuille said cultural sensitivity training should be offered to workers within the justice system.