Parliamentary Committee Notes: Overrepresentation (Indigenous Offenders)
Date: March 9, 2023
Fully releasable (ATIP)? Yes
Branch / Agency: CPB, Public Safety
The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) continues to see an increase in the proportion of federally sentenced Indigenous offenders. Despite accounting for approximately 5% of the adult population, Indigenous Peoples continue to be overrepresented in the federal correctional system, accounting for 28% of all federally sentenced individuals and 32% of all individuals in custody; and Indigenous women account for 50% of all federally incarcerated women.
- Our government is concerned about the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in our justice system and we are working hard to address the systemic factors that have contributed to it.
- This is a complex issue requiring ongoing and sustained collaboration of many partners, including various levels of government, agencies, Indigenous communities and groups, and other community stakeholders to support the rehabilitation and safe reintegration of offenders into the community.
- At the federal level, the Correctional Service of Canada has implemented programs and services intended to be both culturally responsive to the offender and inclusive of Indigenous communities, taking into account each individual offender's Indigenous social history, evaluating culturally responsive or restorative options, and determining the best ways to address the rehabilitative needs of the offender.
- The Commissioner of the CSC has also been mandated to appoint a Deputy Commissioner for Indigenous Corrections, which is in the final stages of staffing and should be in place shortly.
- Public Safety has also implemented measures to support crime prevention through community programming to address determinants of crime, and new opportunities for culturally-responsive policing in First Nation and Inuit communities.
- CSC is also working to create additional Section 81 agreements and Section 84 release plans to enhance reintegration by ensuring that Indigenous offenders have access to culturally-relevant programming and supports in the community.
- Despite these efforts, we recognize there is more work to do. We will continue to work with our partners to provide culturally responsive interventions and services to support the rehabilitation of Indigenous offenders, and successfully reintegrate them into the community.
The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) continues to see an overrepresentation of Indigenous offenders in CSC institutions. Despite accounting for approximately 5% of the adult population, Indigenous Peoples are disproportionately represented in the federal correctional system, accounting for 32% of all individuals in custody. This issue is further amplified in the context of female Indigenous offenders; As of April 2022, Indigenous women accounted for 50% of all federally incarcerated women. In addition to this, Indigenous women accounted for 65% of sentenced women in maximum security custodial centres across Canada.
CSC and PS are working to respond to the disproportionate representation of Indigenous peoples in custody, and to support whole-of-government reconciliation efforts to align legislation, programs, and initiatives with articles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the Declaration Act (UNDA) through a variety of programs and actions including:
- The National Indigenous Plan which includes streamlining existing Indigenous resources and services to ensure that those offenders choosing to access the Indigenous Continuum of Care interventions are prioritized for placement at specific sites.
- The Indigenous Community Correction Initiative (ICCI), which was renewed as part of the June 2022 Federal Framework to Reduce Recidivism, supports community-led alternatives to incarceration and reintegration projects responsive to the unique circumstances of Indigenous people.
- Indigenous Interventions Centres (IICs) which are a key component of regional Indigenous action plans to integrate intake, programs, and interventions, as well as engage Indigenous communities at the start of an Indigenous offender’s sentence, or at least two years before their first eligibility date.
- The Pathways Initiative for offenders who are committed to following an intensive traditional path of healing which includes the active involvement of Elders.
- Correctional programming for Indigenous and Inuit offenders which are designed to meet their specific needs by including ceremonial sessions, culturally relevant materials, and Elder involvement.
- Indigenous Social History (ISH) training for staff, which focuses on the integration of ISH considerations in decision-making and increased responsiveness to the unique needs of Indigenous offenders in interventions.
- Responsivity resource kits which are intended to provide correctional and education program staff with the tools needed to work and interact effectively with offenders with special needs and/or those that require special considerations in the program context, such as women and Indigenous offenders.
- The convening of a Sub-Committee of CSC’s Executive Committee focused on Indigenous Corrections in December 2019, which will provide strategic analysis, horizontal advice, and recommendations while ensuring a strong voice and action on Indigenous issues within CSC’s senior management team.
- The Connecting Spirits, Creating Opportunities initiative, which is a wellness and community-building initiative for Indigenous employees that will support the participants and their managers in career planning, as well as promote retention of culturally competent Indigenous employees in support of succession planning.
- Indigenous Community Development Officers who will provide Indigenous offenders with the support to engage their families and home communities in their release planning, as well as Indigenous Community Liaison Officers who will provide support to offenders upon release, particularly in urban centres.
- The Anti-Racism Framework and Actions to combat systemic racism and discrimination, and the overrepresentation of Black, racialized Canadians, and Indigenous Peoples in the criminal justice system.
- PS has also implemented Indigenous programming to prevent, address, and reduce Indigenous involvement in criminal activities via investments into, but not limited to, the Youth Gang Prevention Fund, the Northern and Aboriginal Crime Prevention Fund, and the Building Safer Communities Fund.
- The establishment of a new position of Deputy Commissioner for Indigenous Corrections.
Conditional Release and Reintegration
Alongside actions taken to address overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples within federal institutions, actions are also being taken in the context of release and reintegration.
The Gladue decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999 found that judges must take into consideration the unique circumstances of Indigenous Peoples during sentencing. This decision had an impact on every aspect of the criminal justice system, including conditional release. As such, Parole Board of Canada decisions must be attentive to the systemic and background factors which may have contributed to an Indigenous offender’s engagement with the criminal justice system, and demonstrate consideration of those factors in their reasons for decision, which facilitates a more holistic and relevant picture of the offender.
There has been a significant increase in the percentage of discretionary releases for Indigenous offenders, from 23.5% in fiscal year 2013-2014 to 38.6% in fiscal year 2020-2021. Discretionary releases of offenders are increasingly successful, with results for Indigenous offenders at 38.6% in 2020-21 versus 28.9% in 2015-16.
CSC continues to increase the use of Section 84 releases. Section 84 of the CCRA provides a legal framework for CSC to engage with Indigenous communities in the release planning process for offenders who express an interest in returning to their identified community. CSC also continues to implement several reintegration initiatives that will strengthen reintegration support for Indigenous offenders as they transition from the institution to a life in the community. This includes project funding for Indigenous organizations delivering trauma and problematic substance use interventions, projects that address gang disaffiliation, and life skills interventions for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis offenders.
Prepared by: Jenna Smith, Correctional Policy Unit, CPB, (343) 548-0161
Approved by: Talal Dakalbab, SADM, CPB, (613) 852-1167