Canada is failing Black and Indigenous prisoners as overrepresentation persists: report

Canada has made little progress in addressing the overrepresentation of black and Indigenous people in prisons, with some facing even worse conditions than a decade ago, according to a new report.

The nation’s top prison watchdog says systemic concerns and barriers, including rampant racial discrimination, stereotyping and bias, are “as pervasive and persistent as ever”.

Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger told a news conference on Tuesday he was disappointed to learn that the “extraordinarily well-funded” agency in charge of Canada’s prisons failed to acknowledge its role in reversing the overrepresentation crisis.

“For an organization that spends so much money to have poor correctional outcomes, especially for Indigenous prisoners as well as Black prisoners, this is a real disgrace and something Canadians should be concerned about,” he said. -he declares.

The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) employs about 1.2 staff members for every person incarcerated and spends nearly $109,000 a year per prisoner, Zinger said, putting it among the best-funded organizations in the world. “These are phenomenal numbers.”

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, who oversees the service, said he welcomed the “meticulous” report and that “extensive work” was underway to resolve the issues.

“I look forward to working closely with CSC to ensure progress is made on the issues identified in this report to improve our federal corrections system,” he said in a written statement.

“All offenders should be able to serve their sentence with dignity and without fear, in an environment that promotes rehabilitation and prepares them to reintegrate into Canadian society.”

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino rises during Question Period in the House of Commons. Mendicino, who oversees the Correctional Service of Canada, said he welcomed the report on federal prisons and that “considerable work” was underway to address the issues. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Zinger’s latest annual report includes a survey of the experience of black prisoners and the first part of a survey focused on Indigenous peoples in the system. Both are updates from historical reports in 2013, and neither has found much improvement since then.

Black prisoners make up 9.2% of the total prison population, although they make up only about 3.5% of the entire Canadian population, the report said. More than a third of them are young black men between the ages of 18 and 30.

The survey found that black prisoners were more likely to be overrepresented in maximum security institutions, involved in “use of force incidents”, involuntarily transferred, placed in solitary confinement, institutionally charged and assessed as ” high risk” and “low risk”. motivation.”

Black prisoners denounce racist language and marginalization

Black prisoners recounted their experiences of “discrimination, differential treatment, stereotyping, racial bias and labeling,” the report reads, and “the consistent use of derogatory or racist language by CSC staff, as well as to be ignored or ignored in such a way as to heighten feelings”. of marginalization, exclusion and isolation.”

They also told investigators they were more likely to be labeled as “gang members” or treated as such.

Zinger denounced what he called the corrections department’s “disappointing and underwhelming” response to his recommendations and its consistent failure to include input and support from black community groups. He said the agency promised more sensitivity training, more research projects and more policy reviews in response.

“The service’s stated commitment to creating ‘a more inclusive, diverse and equitable anti-racism organization’ sounds good on paper,” he told reporters.

“But corporate-led diversity, inclusion and anti-racism frameworks are unlikely to succeed in eradicating the discriminatory and unfair treatment that black people consistently reported to us during this survey.”

The overrepresentation of Indigenous people in prison continues to worsen, with Indigenous people now representing 32% of the prison population and over 50% of women incarcerated.

Aboriginal people are also more likely to be subjected to force by correctional officers, placed in structured intervention, placed in maximum security and labeled as gang members.

Aboriginal inmates are more likely to self-harm and attempt suicide. Five out of six people who died by suicide last year were Indigenous, Zinger said.

“We found, again, terrible results,” he said.

Although more than 30 recommendations have been made to the correctional service over the years on how to deal with the problem — recommendations such as funding healing lodges and allowing supervision of Aboriginal offenders in their own communities — the SCC “didn’t follow a lot of them very much,” Zinger said.

CSC still uses practices similar to solitary confinement: watchdog

Zinger’s report includes a third investigation, this one looking at restrictive confinement in men’s maximum-security facilities.

She found that federal legislation to replace the old “administrative segregation” regime with “structured response units” has failed to prevent the creation and extension of segregation-like conditions.

A wide range of practices similar to solitary confinement are still used, including “voluntary limited association ranges”, which are meant to be designed for “inmates who do not want to integrate into mainstream prison populations” but who do not meet the criteria for placement in structured intervention units, the report says.

These “exist outside the law,” the report says, and Zinger calls on the Correctional Service to develop a national policy dealing with these systems that takes into account the rights, freedoms and privileges of inmates.

Correctional Service of Canada logo
The Correctional Investigator of Canada asks the Correctional Service of Canada to develop a policy on inmate segregation systems that takes into account the rights, freedoms and privileges of inmates. (Raferty Baker/CBC)

Zinger’s office made 18 recommendations to the federal government as a whole, eight of which focused on improving the lives of black prisoners.

Recommendations include the development of a national strategy that specifically addresses “the unique lived experiences and barriers faced by Black people serving federal sentences” and a new call for the appointment of a new Deputy Commissioner focused exclusively on aboriginal corrections.

Among other things, Zinger is urging the government to ban the use of dry cells beyond 72 hours, update CSC’s national drug strategy, change a “discriminatory” system of organizing women in maximum security, and to add basic safety equipment such as seat belts to the prisoner escort. Vehicles.

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