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New Watchdog Report Says Federal Prison System Failing Canada’s Aboriginal People
March 7, 2013
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A new report says the federal prison system is so clearly failing aboriginal people, it's tarnished Canada's human rights record here at home.

The report was done by the country's correctional investigator Howard Sapers, and was tabled in the House of Commons today.

Sapers said aboriginal people are vastly over-represented in federal prisons, adding "If I was releasing a report card on federal aboriginal corrections efforts today, it would be filled with failing grades."

The report found the aboriginal population in prison jumped 43 per cent between 2001-02 and 2010-11.

As well, it says aboriginal prisoners receive longer sentences, and spend more time in segregation and maximum security.

They're also less likely to be granted parole and are more likely to have parole revoked for minor problems.

"By any reasonable measure... the overrepresentation of aboriginal people in federal corrections and the lack of progress to improve the disparity in correctional outcomes continues to cloud Canada's domestic human rights record," Sapers said.

Currently, aboriginal people make up 4 per cent of Canada's population yet they make up 23 per cent of the federal prison population - more than 3,400 in all.

new-report-says-federal-prison-system-is-failing-this-country's-aboriginal-people-feature2.jpg "In other words, while aboriginal people in Canada comprise just four per cent of the population, in federal prisons nearly one in four is Métis, Inuit, or First Nations," Sapers said.

And yet, he said "aboriginal-specific legislative provisions are chronically under-funded, under-utilized and unevenly applied by the Correctional Service."

Aboriginal women made up about 32 per cent of all female federal prisoners in 2010-11, up more than 85 per cent in ten years.

And with Canada's aboriginal population experiencing a "baby boom," the report warns that a "critical situation will get worse" unless the federal government acts.

Sapers told reporters "the status quo's not working," and that "despite years of efforts, things are not getting better" but are instead perpetuating "conditions of disadvantage."

And he said over the past 20 years, Ottawa hasn't made any "new significant investments" in programs for aboriginal offenders.

The report calls on the corrections system to make the rehabilitation and reintegration of aboriginal prisoners a "significant priority".

And it calls for a deputy commissioner for aboriginal corrections to be appointed to bring "focus and accountability."

Sapers also wants to see a long-term strategy to allow aboriginal communities more opportunity to take custody of aboriginal offenders.

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As well, he's calling for more community healing lodges with permanent funding equal to Corrections Canada facilities.

And he wants more training for correctional staff so they better understand aboriginal people, history, culture and spirituality.

Shawn Atleo, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said Ottawa needs to work with aboriginal communities to reintegrate prisoners into society and invest in programs to keep them from reoffending.

"It's a troubling pattern that has to be broken," he said. "When you open the door to a school, you close the door to a jail cell."

This is only the second special report ever written by the Corrections Investigator since the office was created 40 years ago.

Today's report is similar to a separate report released last week by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci.

Iacobucci said he found "systemic racism" toward aboriginal people in the justice system.

new-report-says-federal-prison-system-is-failing-this-country's-aboriginal-people-feature4.jpg "I have called it a crisis, a serious crisis. And I am not an alarmist. We are talking about the lives and liberties of people," he said.

"We can't continue to treat First Nations as objects. We have to be partners. I don't care if it is in the justice system or economic development. It is going to take time."

In his report, commissioned by the Ontario government, Iacobucci found that aboriginal people are underrepresented on juries - which he says creates unfairness for First Nations peoples on trial.

In his report, he said it's a "symptom" of a broader problem in which aboriginal people are under-represented as court officials, prosecutors, defence lawyers and judges.

Related stories

Canada's Education System Is Failing First Nations Kids: Report To The UN

Two First Nations Taking Ottawa To Court, Arguing They Weren't Consulted Over Bill That Could Affect Treaty Rights

Civil Rights Icon Angela Davis On Abolishing Prisons

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