Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Natives hurt more by prison crowding

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Manitoba aboriginals are the hardest hit due to the overcrowding at federal prisons on the Prairies, Canada's correctional investigator says.

From 2010 to 2011, the number of federal inmates jumped by 1,000 -- with 51 per cent of that increase in the Prairie region -- and 43 per cent of those were aboriginal offenders.

"There's been a very disproportionate increase across the Prairies," said Howard Sapers, correctional investigator of Canada. "There is an impact that has been felt in Manitoba."

At the Stony Mountain Institution, the inmate population increased by almost 100 -- to 607 in 2012 from 511 in 2009.

At Rockwood Institution, a minimum-security prison, the population jumped to 146 from 94 during the same period.

Double-bunking also increased 33 per cent last year in the Prairies. Currently, 27 per cent of inmates in the Prairies are double-bunked, compared with 18 per cent in the rest of the country.

New laws in the last two years have put aboriginal people at a disadvantage in the prison system, said John Hutton, executive director of the John Howard Society of Manitoba.

"Overcrowding in Manitoba jails is going to become much worse," he said. "It's making people who are already facing charges stay longer, making it harder to get parole and harder to get out."

Laws resulting in a reduction in the number of conditional sentences and new mandatory minimum sentences have had a greater effect on those who are socially disadvantaged, Hutton said.

"When our prisons are overcrowded the difficulty is that affects corrections to do effective programs and do rehabilitation," Hutton added.

In provincial correctional centres, there's still a bed crunch. It's 850 beds short for roughly 2,500 inmates, a number that has jumped by 500 inmates in the last two years. That being said, more than 130 beds have been added since August 2011.

On Tuesday, Manitoba chiefs brought to light policing and jail concerns in the northern First Nation of Northlands Denesuline in Lac Brochet, where detainees were chained to the concrete floor of a hockey arena because they didn't have access to RCMP jail cells.

With the introduction of Bill C-10, the new omnibus crime bill, mandatory minimum sentences for offences such as drug trafficking will have a disproportional impact on aboriginal people, further spiking prison numbers, Hutton said.

Manitoba Justice Minister Andrew Swan said the province is working to add more beds, including 200 this year.

"The building of additional capacity is something under active consideration," Swan said in a statement to the Free Press.

"We, along with other provinces, have raised the need for collaboration with the federal government on the implementation of Bill C-10 and... as the federal government rolls out the changes they are mindful of the need for more operational and financial resources."

The federal government said it's working to enhance rehabilitation and crime prevention for aboriginals.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 14, 2012 A10

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