Government of Canada

Government of Canada

November 26, 2013 10:27 ET

The Changing Face of Canada's Prisons: Correctional Investigator Reports on Ethno-Cultural Diversity in Corrections

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - Nov. 26, 2013) - The 40th Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator was tabled in Parliament today. The report contains a special focus on ethno-cultural diversity in corrections.

In releasing his report, the Correctional Investigator, Mr. Howard Sapers, noted that recent inmate population growth is almost exclusively driven by increases in the composition of ethnically and culturally diverse offenders. Over the past 10 years, the Aboriginal incarcerated population increased by 46.4% while visible minority groups (e.g. Black, Asian, Hispanic) increased by almost 75%. During this same time period, the population of Caucasian inmates actually declined by 3%. Nearly one-in-four visible minority inmates are foreign-born, many practice religious faiths other than Christianity and a number speak languages other than English or French. "Accommodating ethnic, cultural, language and religious diversity and facilitating meaningful participation in correctional programs and community reintegration for these offenders poses significant challenges for the Correctional Service of Canada," said Sapers.

Diversity in corrections reflects larger demographic trends in Canadian society. However, there are some groups that are disproportionately over-represented in federal penitentiaries and growing at alarming rates. For example, 9.5% of federal inmates today are Black (an increase of 80% since 2003/04), yet Black Canadians account for less than 3% of the total Canadian population. Aboriginal people represent a staggering 23% of federal inmates yet comprise 4.3% of the total Canadian population. One-in-three women under federal sentence are Aboriginal. "These are disturbing trends that raise important questions about equality and our justice system in Canada," added Sapers.

Taken as a whole, visible minority inmates often have better correctional outcomes when compared to the total offender population. Over the last 7 years, on average, less than 5% of visible minority inmates have been readmitted within two years of their warrant expiry date. The rate for the general population is 10.1%. Notwithstanding, visible minority inmates face considerable challenges. A case study conducted by the Office in 2012-13 on the experiences of Black inmates under federal custody found that they are over-represented in maximum security and segregation, incur a disproportionate number of institutional charges, and are more likely to be involved in use of force incidents.

The report points out that discriminatory behaviour and prejudicial attitudes by some CSC staff were reported as common experiences among many Black inmates. "CSC needs to do a better job of recruiting and retaining a more diverse front-line and program delivery staff, especially in institutions which house the greatest proportion of visible minority offenders," stated Sapers.

The Correctional Investigator recommends that CSC develop a national Diversity Awareness Training Plan to provide practical and operational training in the areas of diversity, sensitivity and cultural competency. Sapers also recommends the establishment of an Ethnicity Liaison Officer responsible for building and maintaining linkages with culturally diverse community groups and organizations which at present are very limited.

Other sections of the 2012-13 Annual Report address ongoing priorities of the Office - mental health care, prevention of deaths in custody, conditions of confinement, issues affecting Aboriginal and women offenders and access to correctional programs.

As the ombudsman for federally sentenced offenders, the Office of the Correctional Investigator serves Canadians and contributes to safe, lawful and humane corrections through independent oversight of the Correctional Service of Canada by providing accessible, impartial and timely investigation of individual and systemic concerns. The report cited in this release is available at: www.oci-bec.gc.ca.

BACKGROUNDER

40th Annual Report to Parliament

Ethno-Cultural Diversity in Corrections: A Summary of Issues and Challenges

Overview

  • The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) faces increasing challenges to accommodate ethnic, cultural, language and religious diversity.

  • Close to one-in-five (18%) federal offenders (community and incarcerated) is a visible minority. This segment of the offender population has increased by 75% over the past 10 years.

  • Since 2006-07, the total offender population (community and incarcerated) increased by 1,539 offenders or 7.1%. All new net growth in the offender population over this period can be accounted for by increases in Aboriginal (+793), Black (+585), Asian (+337) and other visible minority groups. During this same time period, the total Caucasian offender population actually decreased (-466).

  • Though slowly declining, Caucasians make up the largest proportion of the offender population (62.3%), followed by Aboriginals (19.3%), Blacks (8.6%), Asians (5.4%), Hispanics (0.9%) and other visible minority groups (3.4%).

  • When combined, the number of Aboriginal and visible minority inmates now exceeds 6,000 of a total incarcerated population of approximately 15,000. In other words, 40% of the inmate count on any given day now comes from a non-Caucasian background.

  • The growing proportion of visible minority offenders reflects an increasingly diverse, multi-ethnic and pluralistic Canadian society. Nearly one in four visible minority offenders are foreign-born, many practice religious faiths other than Christianity and a number speak languages other than English or French in their home. Facilitating institutional adjustment, meaningful participation in correctional programs and community reintegration for these offenders poses considerable challenges.

  • Emerging demographic trends and patterns will shape and define who occupies federal penitentiaries for generations to come.

Case Study in Diversity

  • In 2012-13, the Office conducted a case study examining the experiences and outcomes of Black inmates in federal custody. The case study included a literature review, data analysis and qualitative interviews with Black Inmate Committees, Black inmates, CSC personnel and community organizations and volunteers. The findings of this case study are reported in the 2012-2013 Annual Report. The full report is also available on the Office's website (www.oci-bec.gc.ca).

  • Black inmates are one of the fastest growing sub-populations in federal corrections. Over the last 10 years, the number of federally incarcerated Black inmates has increased every year, growing by nearly 90%. Black inmates now account for 9.5% of the total prison population, while representing less than 3% of the Canadian population.

Issues of Concern

Conditions of Confinement

  • On many indicators of correctional performance, visible minority offenders appear to fare better compared to the total offender population. Over the last 7 years, on average, less than 5% of visible minority inmates have been readmitted within two years of their warrant expiry date. There are however, important differences in these very distinct and diverse groups.

  • As the case study on Black inmates demonstrates, Black inmates are over-represented in maximum security and segregation, incur a disproportionate number of institutional charges, and are more likely to be involved in use of force incidents.

  • Discriminatory behaviour and prejudicial attitudes by some CSC staff are reported as common experiences for many visible minority inmates. For example, Black inmates report stereotyping by CSC personnel that often labels them as gang members. Black inmates report that their behaviours, actions or spoken communication appear to be assessed through a 'gang lens'.

  • Diversity training that is integrated within the overall training framework and rooted in practical and operational experience and support is key to building awareness, sensitivity and cultural competency within CSC.

Programming

  • The Case Study indicates that there needs to be increased attention given to the relevance, applicability and delivery of the current programming model. Correctional programs need to be reviewed and updated from a diversity perspective and emphasis needs to be given to hiring and retaining more diverse front-line and program delivery staff in institutions which house the greatest proportion of ethno-cultural offenders.

  • Negative staff attitudes and stereotyping are perceived to create a barrier to prison employment for visible minorities. Access to meaningful work opportunities and vocational skills training are important in preparing offenders for their safe and timely reintegration into the community.

Cultural Programming and Services

  • Cultural programming, including community contacts, is an important complement to CSC programming in supporting rehabilitation and reintegration, but these opportunities are limited, offered on an inconsistent basis, and may have limited capacity for participation.

  • The Case Study found that meaningful partnerships with external visible minority cultural groups are limited. The support of external cultural groups can significantly impact reintegration success for visible minority offenders.

Recommendations

  1. CSC develop a National Diversity Awareness Training Plan that provides practical and operational training in the areas of diversity, sensitivity awareness and cultural competency. This Training Plan should be integrated within the overall training framework.

  2. CSC establish an Ethnicity Liaison Officer position at each institution responsible for building and maintaining linkages with culturally diverse community groups and organizations, ensuring the needs of visible minority inmates are met and facilitating culturally appropriate program development and delivery at the site level.

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