Canada has made scant progress in addressing the overrepresentation of Black and Indigenous people in prisons, with some facing even worse conditions than a decade ago, a new report says.
The country’s top prison watchdog says systemic concerns and barriers, including rampant racial discrimination, stereotyping and bias, are “as pervasive and persistent as before.”
Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger said in a press conference Tuesday that he is disappointed the “extraordinarily well-financed” agency in charge of Canadian prisons has failed to recognize its role in reversing the crisis of overrepresentation.
Zinger’s latest annual report includes an investigation of the experience of Black prisoners and the first part of an investigation focused on Indigenous people in the system. Both are updates to landmark reports in 2013, and neither found much improvement since then.
Black prisoners represent 9.2 per cent of the total incarcerated population despite representing only about 3.5 per cent of the overall Canadian population, the report says. More than a third of them are young Black men aged 18 to 30.
The investigation found that Black prisoners were more likely to be overrepresented at maximum-security institutions, involved in “use of force incidents,” involuntarily transferred, placed in solitary confinement, institutionally charged and assessed as “higher-risk” and “lower motivation.”
Black prisoners relayed their experiences of “discrimination, differential treatment, stereotyping, racial bias and labelling,” the report reads, and “consistently reported use of derogatory or racist language by CSC staff, as well as being ignored or disregarded in ways that increase feelings of marginalization, exclusion and isolation.”
The overrepresentation of Indigenous people in prison continues to worsen, with Indigenous people now making up 32 per cent of the prison population, and more than 50 per cent of incarcerated women.
Though more than 30 recommendations have been made to the correctional service over the years on how to fix the problem, including funding healing lodges and allowing the supervision of Indigenous offenders in their own communities, it “hasn’t followed up very much on many of them,” said Zinger.
Zinger’s office has made 18 recommendations to the federal government overall, including eight focused on improving the lives of Black prisoners.
The recommendations include the development of a national strategy that specifically addresses “the unique lived experiences and barriers faced by federally sentenced Black individuals” and a renewed call to appoint a new deputy commissioner focused exclusively on Indigenous corrections.