Rise in female, aboriginal inmates alters prison population: StatsCan

A rising number of inmates at correctional facilities across Canada are females and aboriginal people, a change that poses a unique challenge for jails, a Statistics Canada report says.

A rising number of inmates at correctional facilities across Canada are females and aboriginal people, a change that poses a unique challenge for jails, a Statistics Canada report says.

The report released Monday provides a portrait of the changing face of adults at both federal and provincial facilities over the past decade ending in 2006/07.

It found that overall more adults are spending time in provincial or territorial jails awaiting a trial or sentencing, but fewer are being housed there to serve a sentence.

The number of inmates at federal prisons, where those convicted of sentences two years or longer are incarcerated, has grown steadily in the past decade.

But the fraction of the prison populations made up by aboriginal people and women has seen a constant increase in the 10 years.

Different programs needed for women

Though women still make up only a small percentage of the largely male prison population, the number of female offenders has climbed in recent years.

Between 2001/02 and 2006/07, the number of women admitted to remand rose by 36 per cent while the overall remand admissions increased by 14 per cent.

In the same five years, the number of adults in custody at provincial or territorial jails for their sentence fell nine per cent, but women admitted jumped by 11 per cent.

The growth of female prisoners poses a problem for facilities not only because the women are housed separately from men, but because they need different programs, the study says.

More women inmates tend to have multiple treatment needs — largely related to family/marital relationships, work and personal or emotional challenges, the study says.

Of the women serving their sentence, the most common conviction fell under the umbrella category "Other Criminal Code" offences, those not relating to property or violent crimes.

A recent rise in those offences was largely driven by a jump in sentencing for breach of probation, while an increase in women in prison for violent crimes rose mostly due to robbery cases, the study said.

Manitoba and the Northwest Territories reported the largest proportion of women sentenced to jail or prison for violent crimes, with 46 per cent and 64 per cent respectively.

2 out of 10 prisoners are aboriginal

A disproportionate number of adult inmates — two out of every 10 — were aboriginal people, the study said.

Between 2001/02 and 2006/07, the number of aboriginal people admitted on remand increased by 23 per cent compared to an overall 14 per cent.

And those behind bars to serve their sentence rose by four per cent, while the overall numbers dropped nine per cent.

The report notes facilities face a challenge since aboriginal people are seen as needing more "culturally-sensitive programming." They are also more likely to be classified as having a higher risk of reoffending and a higher need for rehabilitation, the study said.

While statistics showed 44 per cent of non-aboriginal inmates in provincial jails had full- or part-time work at the time of incarceration, while only 29 per cent of aboriginals did. They were also less likely to have completed high school.

More security risks at remand facilities

The swelling number of inmates in provincial jails awaiting sentencing or a trial are changing the demands on the facilities.

Security risks tend to be higher in facilities with large numbers of prisoners being held on remand because of frequent movement, with people being admitted, released or transported to and from court.

Those facilities are also seen as having a "harsher environment" because of high security, lack of programming and unpredictability of inmates' length of stay, the report says.

In 2006/07, just over 251,500 adults were admitted to provincial or territorial jails, a one per cent increase from the previous year and part of the past decade's continuous climb.

In the previous 10 years, there were 26 per cent more admissions to remand but 28 per cent fewer admissions for sentencing at provincial and territorial facilities.

Federal correctional institutions had an 18 per cent rise in the same period.