In a special report tabled today in the House of Commons, the Correctional Investigator of Canada Howard Sapers found that the aboriginal prison population has jumped in the last decade and that correctional authorities have not been living up to their obligations.
As well, the report, entitled Spirit Matters: Aboriginal People and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, shows that aboriginal inmates are sentenced to longer terms, spend more time in segregation and maximum security and are less likely to be granted parole.
Among the highlights of the report:
- since 2005-06, there has been a 43% increase in the Aboriginal inmate population
- 23% of the federal incarcerated population is Aboriginal (they are 4% of the overall population)
- one in three federally sentenced women offenders are Aboriginal
- highest concentration in the Prairie Region
- recent growth in correctional populations is primarily attributable to rising number of Aboriginal admissions and readmissions
The report examined the implementation of Sections 81 and 84 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA). It tried to do so in the context of Supreme Court of Canada judgments in R. v. Gladue,  1 S.C.R. 688 that instructed judges to pay particular attention to the unique circumstances of Aboriginal people and their social histories when determining a suitable sentence for Aboriginal offenders.
Section 81 of the Act allows for agreements to transfer care and custody of an Aboriginal offender who would otherwise be held in a federal penitentiary to an Aboriginal community facility.
Section 84 provides for Aboriginal communities to be involved in the release of an Aboriginal offender returning to their community.
In relation to s. 81, the report found:
- only four Section 81 agreements have been concluded with Aboriginal communities since 1992
- there are only 68 Section 81 bed spaces across Canada (capacity for just 2% of some 3,500 Aboriginal inmates)
- no Section 81 agreements have been signed in BC, ON, Atlantic or in the North
- no new Section 81 facility has been added since 2001, despite a 40% increase in Aboriginal incarceration
- three of four Section 81 facilities are on reserve land, yet most Aboriginal offenders are released to an urban setting
In relation to s. 84, the major shortcomings underlined by the report were:
- under-utilized in federal corrections (of some 19,000 federal correctional services employees, just 12 Aboriginal Community Development Officers)
- overly complex and bureaucratic exercises
- not well understood within or outside the federal correctional service
The report came up with a number of recommendations to help correctional services address factors that would help mitigate the chronic over-representation of Aboriginal people in federal penitentiaries. Among those recommendations are:
- creating the position of Deputy Commissioner for Aboriginal Corrections to coordinate programs
- developing a long-term strategy for additional Section 81 agreements and significantly increasing the number of bed spaces in areas where the need exists
- in all these agreements, correctional services should enter into Memoranda of Understanding with the appropriate agency or First Nation leadership to ensure that the leadership and Elders are involved as equal partners
- expanding staff training curricula to include in-depth training about Aboriginal people, history, culture and spirituality for all staff, including training in the application of Gladue principles to correctional decision-making
- partnering with Aboriginal organizations to develop protocols for Section 84 releases into their respective communities
The Correctional Investigator acts as an ombudsman for federal offenders, investigating and solving individual offender complaints.