Nunavut plans to recruit more Inuit corrections workers

Nunavut's Department of Justice says it is committed to hiring more beneficiaries to work for corrections in the territory.

Inuit staff have greater understanding of experience of Inuit inmates, says counsellor

A prisoner involved in a riot at Iqaluit's Baffin Correctional Centre last week says he did it to call attention to living conditions at the prison. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Nunavut's Department of Justice says it is committed to hiring more beneficiaries to work for corrections in the territory.

The commitment came as part of a response to a damning 2015 Auditor General's report that slammed the territory's justice department for failing to meet key responsibilities regarding the management of correctional facilities. The Department of Justice recently tabled its response to a standing committee's recommendations based on that report.

"Corrections undertook a new approach to hiring by focusing on the competency of an applicant," justice officials wrote in the document, explaining how they planned to hire more Inuit staff.

That new approach to hire more Inuit staff is part of concentrated effort by the department to remove systemic barriers to employment.

The department's success in hiring Inuit has been mixed, with beneficiaries making up 38 per cent of its staff. The women's jail in Iqaluit only employs two beneficiaries out of its 21 staff members, while the Rankin Inlet Healing Centre employs 39 Inuit for its 66 positions. 

"You see us taking ownership of our own people," said Noel Kaludjak who works as a councillor at the centre in Rankin Inlet.

"The inmates communicate better in their own language. A few of them ... have a hard time expressing their needs in English."

Kaludjak said having staff who come from the same background and often the same community as the inmates have a greater understanding of lived experience of inmates and are able to incorporate that into their interactions with prisoners.

The advantages of having greater numbers of Inuit on staff can have long reaching effects, explains Peter Irniq, who runs rehabilitative programs for Inuit prisoners in the South that teach inmates traditional skills and Inuit history.

"Once they get that knowledge and information they feel really proud," Irniq said.

"They feel much more strength and they feel much more hopeful for their own future when they get back to their communities in Nunavut."

The justice department says they've received positive feedback to their efforts to hire more Inuit and say they plan to travel to Nunavut's smaller communities in the future with the aim of recruiting more employees.