Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jails shouldn't be 'racial ghettos'

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The country's corrections investigator, Howard Sapers, has found Correctional Service Canada is not fulfilling its statutory duty to keep aboriginal offenders from bouncing back into the system. Too few programs are aimed specifically to rehabilitate native offenders, and the rate at which they are filling Canada's jails is rising.

Manitoba's Stony Mountain, in effect, is an aboriginal prison with a native population exceeding 60 per cent. The populations in provincial Prairie jails are higher, Mr. Sapers noted in his report, Spirit Matters. This is as a result of a failure on many levels, but the correctional service has not done enough to divert native prisoners into programs that are better at turning them into productive citizens who stay out of the courts.

For example, there are only four First Nations healing lodges, three in Western Canada. The lodges get less funding than healing facilities operated by CSC, their workers are paid far less and are in constant turnover.

Mr. Sapers found part of the problem is that CSC, itself, decided to unnecessarily restrict who can be transferred to the lodges. Although the Corrections and Conditional Release Act does not restrict the lodges to minimum-security prisoners, CSC policy does. This constrains lodge development because 80 per cent of aboriginal inmates are ranked at higher risk.

The reported noted that many of the factors leading so many aboriginal people into jail are beyond the reach of corrections: Aboriginal people are more likely to be involved in crime due to the lingering impact of colonial policies and due to high unemployment, substance abuse and mental-health issues, they have criminal records that trigger higher risk ratings.

But Mr. Sapers pulled no punches in noting CSC has not done its part -- money that was supposed to be spent on healing lodges was diverted to other use in the correctional system. The long-standing financial neglect of the few lodges operating means slow progress on strong rehabilitation, even as the number of aboriginal inmates rises steadily.

CSC needs to undergo a sea change in attitude, something Mr. Sapers say can be carried out only by the appointment of a deputy commissioner at CSC to introduce policies and programs designed to meet the needs of aboriginal inmates. The data imply that not too far in the future, Canada's jails will look like racial ghettos. The Harper government should see the wisdom of the necessary cultural change Mr. Sapers describes.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 19, 2013 A10

History

Updated on Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 1:52 PM CDT: Clarifies the Corrections and Conditional Release Act does not restrict the lodges to minimum-security prisoners.

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