In support of prisoners and prison justice activism in Canada
Aboriginal People Overrepresented in Saskatchewan Jails

Saskatchewan convicts heavily aboriginal
June 3, 2005
Globe and Mail
By UNNATI GANDHI

Aboriginal people are overrepresented in Saskatchewan's adult correctional system, with people aged 18 and 19 making up about 13 per cent of them, a Statistics Canada study released Friday reports.

Between April 1, 1999, and March 31, 2004, about 25,000 adults had completed at least one supervised sentence. Of these, 57 per cent were aboriginals. According to the 2001 census, aboriginal people make up only 10 per cent of the province's adult population.

But the most revealing statistics were for young aboriginals. Thirteen per cent of the adults in correctional services were aboriginals aged 18 and 19 years. In Saskatchewan, they represent 5.2 per cent of all aboriginal adults. Non-aboriginals in the same age group make up only 0.3 per cent of supervised adults.

Supervision in this case includes adults sentenced to a period of custody of less than two years, those held in custody on remand or other temporary detention, and adults on probation, conditional sentences, bail supervision and other community correctional programs.

A professor of native studies at the University of Saskatchewan does not find these statistics shocking.

“It's not new, not new at all,” Patricia Monture said. She said that the Canadian correctional services system has had an overrepresentation of aboriginal peoples since 1967.

“Saskatchewan has the distinct honour of having a record number of aboriginals in the correctional system.”

But the fact that the rate among young adults is so high means that all the “changes and improvements” being made to the correctional system are not making a difference, she said.

“There have been a lot of changes since 1967, all kinds of changes. But the figures of overrepresentation have continued to increase, and it is most dramatic among aboriginal women and aboriginal youth.

“The pattern has already been described as horrific. And it's going to get worse.”

According to the Statscan study, aboriginal people under the supervision of Saskatchewan's correctional service system were younger, had a lower level of education and poorer employment records than non-aboriginal people. They were also more likely to be identified as having substance-abuse, attitude, family and marital, social-interaction and employment problems.

“The big question is ‘Why?' Why, if we're changing things, is it not getting better? Because we continue to look at the system individually. We're not looking at alcoholism, residential schools, foster care, substance abuse, violence against women, racialized profiling by police as linked to aboriginal overrepresentation.”

Ms. Monture said that as long as Canadians look at these factors on an individual basis, nothing will change.

The study also found that aboriginal people were more likely than non-aboriginal people to return to the correctional system within four years of release.

About 58 per cent of aboriginal people who were released between April 1, 1999, and March 31, 2000, were readmitted within four years. This was twice the proportion among non-aboriginal people (28 per cent).

Just last month, the Saskatchewan government vowed to increase the aboriginal presence in its police and court systems and attempt to address the underlying causes of crime in a $48-million effort to respond to calls for justice reforms in the province.

That report resulted from a $2.8-million probe into the provincial justice system that found anti-native racism in the police system contributing to an environment of mistrust.

Source: Globe and Mail