Howard Sapers, the ombudsman for Corrections Canada, released a report yesterday on the aboriginal population in this nation's prisons. His findings should disturb all Canadians, native and non-native. The lead editorial in today's Toronto Star repeats some of Sapers' findings:
Sapers points out that the 3,400 First Nations, Metis and Inuit prisoners in federal prisons account for 23 per cent of inmates, up from 17 per cent a decade ago, even though aboriginals are just 4 per cent of the general population. And the trend shows no sign of abating any time soon.
While Canadian law provides for native communities to take custody of offenders in Healing Lodges, far too few inmates qualify, barely one in 10, and there are too few lodges to house any more. Correctional Service Canada and native communities run eight lodges, with fewer than 300 spaces. And there are none at all in Ontario, British Columbia, the Atlantic provinces or the North. As a consequence there has been no progress in closing the large rehabilitation and reintegration gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal offenders.
In fact, the gap has grown -- a gap that is mirrored in the staffing of Canada's prisons:
He also notes that of the federal system’s 19,000 staff, just 12 are aboriginal community development officers tasked with planning prisoners’ release into the wider community.
Sapers gives the details on Stephen Harper's "tough on crime" agenda. Like Kevin Page and Michael Ferguson, he exposes the lie behind the rhetoric. When the prime minister talks about being "tough on crime" he really means "imprisoning the disadvantaged."
A quick note: My wife and I will be away for a couple of days. I'll be back at the beginning of next week. Spring is on the way!