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Social Issues
Canada’s Prison Population Hits An All-Time High — As Crime Rates Drop
November 26, 2013
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The maximum security Saskatchewan Penitentiary (Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Thomas Porter)

Earlier today, the Correctional Investigator of Canada Howard Sapers released his annual report on Canada’s federal prison system. This year, the report had a special focus on the challenges the system faces dealing with the growing number of visible minorities in our prisons. Below, we take a look at some of the most interesting facts and figures:

7. The number of incarcerated Canadians is at its highest level ever.

Over 15,000 Canadians are currently in prison, up from almost 12,000 a decade ago, an increase of 25 per cent. This increase come in spite of the fact that the overall crime rate has decreased over the past twenty years. (The population, meanwhile, has increased by about 10 per cent over that time.) In a statement delivered on Sunday, Sapers said “You cannot reasonably claim to have a just society with incarceration rates like these,” Sapers said Sunday in a speech he gave at a church in Toronto. “The growth in the custody population appears to be policy, not crime driven."

6. The female prison population is growing even faster

Although women only make up a very small proportion of the total inmate population in Canadian institutions — about four per cent — their numbers have increased by more than 60 per cent over the last decade. Aboriginal women represent almost one in three female offenders.

5. Black and Aboriginal inmates are increasingly over-represented

Black Canadians, representing less than 3 per cent of the general population, form 9.5 per cent of Canada’s prison population. That number is up 80 per cent since 2003. Aboriginal Canadians now comprise roughly 19 per cent of Canadian inmates, despite accounting for only 4.3 per cent of the general population. Despite these increases, the overall distribution of Canadian prisoners remains overwhelming Caucasian (62.3 per cent). Other groups include Asian (5.4 per cent) and Hispanic (0.9 per cent) inmates.

4. Visible minority offenders have better correctional outcomes

Despite being over-represented in Canada’s inmate population, visible minorities are significantly less likely to re-offend than their peers. Over the last seven years, the readmission rate within two years for the general prison population is 10.1% — the rate for minority offenders is half that.

3. Demographic changes pose new challenges for correctional institutions

Expansion in the diversity of inmates has led to institutional changes aimed at supporting a wider range of linguistic and religious preferences. Almost one in four visible minority inmates was born in a country other than Canada, increasing the need for more flexible institutional adjustment and community reintegration programs, Sapers's report argued.

2. There’s high demand for mental health services

According to recent estimates, just under half of all inmates have received at least one institutional mental health service, with that number rising to 75 per cent for female offenders.

1. Double bunking is on the rise

As of this March, the national double bunking rate — the practice of housing two inmates in a cell designed for one — was nearly 21 per cent. This situation is particularly acute in the Prairie region, where the prison population is growing the fastest; more than a quarter of inmates there share a cell designed for one.


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