Canada

Jail conditions for Canadian aboriginals a 'disgrace': ombudsman

Aboriginal offenders are far less likely to get parole or be rehabilitated by their experiences in jail, the ombudsman for federal prisons says.

Aboriginal offenders are routinely discriminated against by the corrections system and are far less likely to get parole or be rehabilitated by their experiences in jail, the ombudsman for federal prisons says.

Releasing his annual report into conditions in federal prisons, correctional investigator HowardSapers said the challenges faced by aboriginal people in Canadian jailsamounts to"a national disgrace".

"Despite years of task force reports,internal reviews, national strategies, partnership agreements and action plans, there has been no measurable improvements in the conditions for aboriginal offenders during the last 20 years," said Sapers at a news conference in Ottawa.

He said the overall incarceration rate for aboriginal Canadians was nine times higher than for the population at large and thesituation was even worse for aboriginal women.

One in three inmates in federally-run women's prisons were aboriginal, he said, with almost half of them in maximum security institutions.

Aboriginals often sent to maximum security prison

He said there was "routine overclassification" of native prisoners, who were far more likely to be sent to maximum security prison than offenders from other backgrounds.

"That means they [aboriginal offenders] often serve their sentences away from family, community, their friends and elders," Sapers said, "They are sent into segregation more often … severely limiting access to rehabilitative programs and services that are intended to prepare them for their release."

Parole is routinely denied or revoked, often on technical grounds, he said.

Sapers called on the federal government to address the situation urgently with new programs, more resources and consultations with aboriginal leaders and communities.

Angus Toulouse, of the Ontario Regional Council of the Assembly of First Nations, said poverty, inadequate educational and employment opportunities, alcoholism and domestic abuse were among the reasons for overrepresentation.

"Where disadvantaged socio-economic factors lead to overrepresentation of First Nations peoples in the criminal justice system, this is systemic discrimination," said Toulouse.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day has said he will consider the findings of Sapers's report but there is no evidence of systemic discrimination against native offenders in the prison system.

The president of the Native Women's Association of Canada said the alarming rise in the number ofaboriginal women who areincarcerated affects all Canadians.

"If this was the case for non-aboriginal people, I'm almost certain that Canadians would react and demand that something be done," said Beverly Jacobs.