North

N.W.T., Yukon, Nunavut have highest incarceration rates in Canada

A CBC analysis reveals that more people are incarcerated per capita in the three territories than the rest of Canada, with the Northwest Territories leading at nine times the Canadian average.

N.W.T. has nearly 9 times the number of people in jail per capita, compared to rest of Canada

A CBC analysis reveals that more people are incarcerated per capita in the three territories than the rest of Canada, with the Northwest Territories leading at nine times the Canadian average. (Northwest Territories Department of Justice)

Canada's three Northern territories are jailing more people per capita than the rest of Canada, and the N.W.T. is jailing more people per capita than the United States. 

A CBC analysis reveals that in 2013, the Northwest Territories had nearly nine times the number of people in jail per capita than the Canadian average. 

Nunavut had six-and-a-half times more people in jail per capita than the rest of Canada, while Yukon had about three times the Canadian average.

In 2013/2014, the N.W.T.'s incarceration rate was 755 per 100,000. In 2013, the incarceration rate in the U.S. — a country with one of the highest incarceration rates in the world — was 700 per 100,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice. 

The incarceration rate in Nunavut was 563; in Yukon it was 278. The Canadian average was just 86. 

However, incarceration rates in the territories fluctuate wildly, likely due to the small population from which the numbers are extrapolated. According to Statistics Canada, rates in the territories are either trending downward, or increasing only marginally. 

Minor offences a factor

Caroline Wawzonek, a Yellowknife lawyer, says many of the charges that lead to jail sentences in the N.W.T., are from minor offences.

"With mischief and disturbing the peace, we're at 26 times and 36 times the national average. Those are tremendous numbers," Wawzonek says. "And yet those are not the kinds of offences that people would normally be particularly fearful of."

Caroline Wawzonek, a Yellowknife lawyer, says many of the charges that lead to jail sentences in the N.W.T., stem from minor offences. (CBC)
Wawzonek links those charges to addictions and mental illness — born out of a history of trauma from residential schools, to the stresses of living in poverty and homelessness.

Wawzonek says RCMP regularly release people under conditions, such as a requirement to stay sober. She says that's an impossible task for many, who are funneled back into the justice system. 

The result, she says, is more people being held in remand, while they await trial, often for crimes that were not very serious in the first place.

The data supports that: while incarceration rates are stable, across Western Canada the proportion of people behind bars who are simply waiting for their day in court surpasses the number of people in jail serving a sentence.

"We need to create opportunities to support families," Wawzonek says, "to ensure people who experienced trauma don't get re-traumatized and victimize others."

With files from Jacques Marcoux

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