Unequal justice: Aboriginal and black inmates disproportionately fill Ontario jails | Toronto Star

Blacks and aboriginal people are overrepresented in Ontario’s youth and adult jails, with some staggering ratios that mirror those of blacks in American jails.

A Star analysis of Ontario jail data, obtained by University of Toronto doctoral candidate Akwasi Owusu-Bempah through freedom of information requests, shows:

• In Ontario, aboriginal boys aged 12 to 17 make up 2.9 per cent of the young male population. But in Ontario youth facilities they make up nearly 15 per cent of young male admissions. In other words, there are, proportionally, five times more aboriginal boys in the young male jail population than what they represent in the general young male population.

• For black boys, the proportion of jail admissions is four times higher.

via Unequal justice: Aboriginal and black inmates disproportionately fill Ontario jails | Toronto Star.


From the Outside Looking In: Experiencing Incarceration as a Prisoners Child

A call for study participants What is the study? This study is about children in Northern Ireland and in Canada aged 8-25 who have a parent are in prison or who once had a parent in prison. I would like to know how children and young persons experience visiting their parent in prison, what might be hard about the visit and how they deal with it.Who is doing the study?I, Erin McCuaig am a Ph.D. student from Canada who is carrying out this research under the supervision of Professor Phil Scraton and Doctor Clare Dwyer. You can contact me by telephone at: 613-852-9618 or by email at: emccuaig01@qub.ac.uk Why am I doing the study? Very little is known about how children and young persons feel about visiting their parent in prison. Understanding how you feel is helpful so we can let others know about what it is like to visit a parent in prison and how we can make the lives of prisoners’ children better.What would you have to do? I would be asking you to talk about what it’s like to be a child or young person with a parent in prison or the experience of once having a parent in prison. I would also be asking you how you feel/felt about visiting your parent in prison. This would include some of the things that you might find hard going up to the prison and during the visit, and some of the things that might help you when you visit your parent in prison.Do I have to participate? While it would be great to talk to you, you do not have to participate in the study. If you decide to talk to me, at any time you can stop answering questions and you do not have to answer anything you don’t want to. You can also stop participating in the study if you feel unhappy.How long will it take? I would like to talk to you for about an hour and a half but there will be breaks and any time you want to stop for a break we can.Will what I talk to you about be private? I might write some of the things you say down and I would also like to digitally record what we talk about so I don’t forget anything, but no one apart from myself, Phil and Clare would be allowed to hear the digital recording or read what was written down. Your real name will not be used and the information you share will be used for presentations and articles to tell adults and other young person’s about the lives of children and young persons of prisoners. The only time I would have to tell someone about something you said would be if you told me that you or some else was in danger or might get hurt. If this were to happen I would have to tell another adult but I would talk to you about this first.What will happen to the information I give you? The information that you tell me will be used for presentations and maybe for writing articles. Your name will not be shared and any information that could reveal who you are will be changed to make sure it stays private.Posted by Administrator at 9:32 AM No comments:

via Tracking the Politics of Criminalization and Punishment in Canada.

Predictions: Crime & Punishment in 2013 – Slaw

Another year is in the history books as the creaking structure of the Canadian justice system stumbled along under the weight of crushing new legislation and in the face of chronic underfunding. What does 2013 portend? Read on for some predictions of trends to watch for in the New Year.

1. Prison Overcrowding

About a decade ago prison overcrowding was a major news headline in jurisdictions across the country as an under-funded system struggled to deal with a growing population and a steady increase in the number of incarcerated persons. A multi-faceted approach that included an increase in non-custodial sentences and the construction of new facilities bore fruit as 2000-2005 saw a drop in incarceration. 2005 marked the beginning of a return to a steady rise in prison populations – a trend no doubt hastened by the ‘tough-on-crime’ legislative agenda of the Harper Conservatives. With the recent closure of high-profile federal penitentiaries in Kingston, Ontario and Laval, Quebec, it is questionable whether new so-called “super-jails” will be able to keep up with the influx of prisoners. Vic Toews sparked a concern amongst inmates and prison guards alike when he famously suggested “double bunking” this past summer as the quick-fix to the overcrowding problem. The canaries in the coal mine of overcrowding are in fact the Provincial remand facilities where prisoners serving shorter sentences or awaiting trial are housed. Anecdotally, I am hearing disturbing reports of a return to the bad old days of three and four prisoners to a cell making the suggestion of double bunking seem like a pleasant sleepover opportunity. As new mandatory minimum legislation increasingly applies, these prisoners will be migrating to a Federal penitentiary system ill-equipped to handle the influx.  (Read more: Predictions: Crime & Punishment in 2013 – Slaw.)

Pipeline to prison – Briarpatch Magazine

One kilometre west of the city of Prince Albert, the federal Saskatchewan Penitentiary sits on the site of a former residential school run by the Anglican Church of Canada. As in other prisons across the Prairie provinces, the 20-acre facility houses inmates predominantly of Aboriginal descent. This situation is not unique: Indigenous people represent only three per cent of Canada’s population yet account for 17 per cent of its prison population. As the last of the residential schools have shut down, penitentiaries have become the new form of containment for Indigenous people in Canada. In a 1988 study prepared for the Canadian Bar Association, Aboriginal rights advocate Michael Jackson stated: “The prison has become for many young native people the contemporary equivalent of what the Indian residential school represented for their parents.” Almost 25 years later, young Aboriginal men in Saskatchewan are now more likely to go to prison than to finish high school.

Despite the considerable attention these statistics have received, rarely do we consider them in the context of an ongoing colonial project. We must question how it is that Aboriginal people become tangled up in the justice system at all and why it is that prisons have come to be viewed, in the words of Angela Davis, as an “inevitable and permanent feature of our social lives.” How do institutions like schools, which are presented as disconnected from – or even antagonistic to – incarceration, shape a future of imprisonment for Aboriginal youth in Canada?

via Pipeline to prison – Briarpatch Magazine.

Corrections union opposes Bill C-10 – Prince Edward Island – CBC News

The corrections officers’ union voiced its opposition to the much-discussed omnibus crime legislation Bill C-10, which they say puts more people in jail, without addressing inmate mental issues.

The president of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) spoke Thursday at a gathering to coincide with the third day of justice ministers meetings in Charlottetown.

The NUPGE said one in three prisoners have mental health issues, which they say endangers corrections officers and prisoners themselves.

The union said the problem will just get worse when C-10 becomes law.

“When people talk about Harper being tough on crime, I think Bill C-10 demonstrates that the Harper government is dumb on crime,” said James Clancy, the NUPGE president Thursday.

The union called for federal and provincial governments to address the crisis of the amount of people with mental illnesses being incarcerated.

“Our members who work in provincial jails are telling us that the number of inmates with mental health or addiction problems is growing dramatically,” said Clancy in a news release earlier on Thursday.

“The federal anti-crime legislation is going to make a bad situation worse by imprisoning more and more people,” he added. “It is an inhumane way to deal with people who need treatment, not jail time.”

The union estimates the number of mental health cases in jails is growing 10 per cent a year.

The union called for more training for corrections officers, more support staff such as nurses and psychologists, and more beds in facilities.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Bill C-10 will keep violent and repeat offenders in jail longer.

“The cost to victims on an annual basis of crime is $100 billion dollars.”

Toews also said much work has been done on mental health issues of prisoners, for example, there was a symposium recently held in Alberta, where ministers agreed to bring in health and social service workers to collaborate on an action plan.

The Island has two jails – in Summerside and Charlottetown and two youth facilities.

P.E.I.’s Justice Minister Janice Sherry said the Island jails have seen a 30 per cent increase in inmates in recent years. P.E.I. has about 100 corrections officers and about 100 youth workers.

via Corrections union opposes Bill C-10 – Prince Edward Island – CBC News.

MCC and Bill C-10

November 3, 2011

WINNIPEG, Man. — Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) continues to express concern over  Bill C-10, the federal government’s Safe Streets and Communities Act.

The bill, sometimes referred to as the federal government’s “omnibus crime bill,” proposes a number of changes to several laws and mostly focuses on the punishment of wrongdoers.

MCC’s many years of experience in the field of restorative justice suggest that communities are not made safer by such an approach, but through community-based crime prevention and rehabilitation strategies.

In late September MCC sent a letter to Canada’s justice minister, expressing its concerns over the bill. More recently, Wilma Derksen, founder and past coordinator of MCC’s Victims’ Voice program, made a presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights which was hearing submissions relating to Bill C-10.

As a parent of a murdered child, she questioned the priorities of the proposed crime legislation and spoke about the importance of the government supporting initiatives that create safer communities through addressing root causes of crime, supporting victims of crime and helping ex-offenders reintegrate into the community.

Following is Derksen’s statement:

November  3, 2011

Prepared for the house of commons standing committee on Justice and Human Rights, Statement on Bill C-10

Wilma Derksen, MCC Canada Victims’ Voice Program founder and past coordinator

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I am pleased to have this opportunity to address you and the rest of the committee regarding Bill C-10, The Safe Streets and Communities Act.

I am here on behalf of Mennonite Central Committee. However, I will also be speaking to you as a parent of a murdered child.  I am here because the issues you are addressing are extremely important to me and my family.

My daughter, Candace, was 13 years old when she was abducted in November, 1984 and found murdered six weeks later. We lived without knowing the details of what happened for two decades.

I not only know the horror of murder, I am also intimately acquainted with the aftermath of violence. From the beginning I began working with other victims and I learned that the emotional aftermath can be as threatening as the crime itself.

The attention focused on this bill reminds me very much of the time when Candace first disappeared. All I could think of was her murder and the need for justice and safety. It was very difficult for me to think or talk about anything else. But I had to learn. I had two other children who were alive. And I had a husband who needed a loving wife. If I would have waited for safety and for justice, I would have had to wait for a very long time. Life would have passed me by.

I am still involved with other victims of crime. Two weeks ago I was with a group that spent most of the evening analyzing the problems of our justice system. We were wallowing in our pain, not always being “politically correct” as one member put it, but allowing each other to speak freely. At the end of the evening, I asked them what they would do to create justice in our country.

To be honest, I expected that they would suggest changes to our criminal justice system similar to the bill we have before us today. I thought they would prioritize safety at all costs, propose stiffer sentences and advocate for more victim rights.

They didn’t. As we went around the circle, they all agreed that the answer to crime is to put more emphasis on the school system and other social programs. While not denying that we have to maintain prisons, they insisted that we as a society need to put our energy and creative thinking into giving our young people a better education.

I could share equally compelling stories from my work with offenders. My experience and the way my family and I chose to respond to it all opened up opportunities to visit many of the prisons across Canada—from William Head in BC to the Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick.

I’m thrilled to report that this past February we saw our own case finally brought to justice. For the first time we heard the story. But sentencing of the man who murdered our daughter did not satisfy our deep longing for justice.

In some ways, we had already found justice in the joy of the good things that had come out of Candace’s death and in the support of our community of friends.

The trial brought out the truth, and it was the truth that healed us and set us free, not the sentencing. I still find no satisfaction in thinking that the man will be sitting in prison for the next 25 years. There is nothing life-giving about that, it is just sad.

In this short time, I can’t begin to give you a comprehensive critique of the bill but I do want to register my concerns with the potential for unintended consequences.

For example, even though it sounds wonderful to enshrine the victims’ voice at parole board hearings, I also worry about this. Could we be locking some victims and offenders together in a dysfunctional dialogue for the rest of their years?

Perhaps we need to include the victims at the beginning of the process, mapping out their healing journey at the same time as the guilty are being sentenced. Perhaps this should be at the discretion of the judge.

Furthermore, I wonder if we can afford to focus so many or our scarce resources on mopping up the past that there are only crumbs left for the living who are struggling to find hope for the future?

As the Minister of Justice rightly noted earlier this week, beyond legislative initiatives such as Bill C-10, the Government of Canada is funding many creative, community-based justice initiatives that address the root causes of crime, support victims of crime and help ex-offenders reintegrate into the community. I would ask that you assign a greater proportion of your attention to this good work.

This is the month my daughter was abducted 27 years ago.

People often ask how we survived the impact of murder, how did we elude the grip of violence and hold onto our joy. The winning formula for us was – love first, justice second.

I do thank you for your wonderful hard work in governing our country and I wish you much wisdom as you deliberate.

Coalition of Churches Condemns Ottawa’s Justice Plan

Globe and Mail, January 26, 2011

Congregations of Christian churches across Canada are being asked to tell the federal Conservative government they don’t want to pay for its justice agenda.

The Church Council on Justice and Corrections, a 39-year-old coalition for justice reform that represents 11 of the largest Christian denominations, has written a strongly worded letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper condemning legislation that is expected to increase the number of convicts dramatically and require billions of dollars worth of prison construction.

Now the group is trying to convince its congregations that laws to end conditional sentencing, impose mandatory minimum prison terms for non-violent offences, and prevent early parole will actually make streets more dangerous while draining tax dollars.

The council has created a graphic titled Prison Facts: The Co$ts to demonstrate the savings it says could be achieved by keeping non-violent offenders out of jail. The graphic is being distributed through church e-mail networks with an accompanying message that urges people to express their opinions about the issue.

“We are trying to educate the public and the people in our churches about this,” said Lorraine Berzins, co-ordinator of analysis for the CCJC, who worked in Canada’s federal penitentiaries for 14 years. “It goes so much against all the evidence about what keeps communities safe, and it does so much harm, and they are going to spend so much money, that it’s really surprising that there isn’t more opposition.”

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is a member of the council along with other 10 other faith groups including the Anglican and United churches, has joined the CCJC in opposing Mr. Harper’s crime bills, Ms. Berzins said.

In October, Bishop Gary Gordon of the Diocese of Whitehorse voiced his concerns to the Prime Minister. Bishop Susan Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada has written to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to protest against the planned prison expansion.

And, in December, Laurent Champagne, the president of the CCJC, wrote to Mr. Harper to say the strategy of locking up more people for longer periods has been repeatedly proven neither to reduce crime nor to assist victims.

“Your policy is applying a costly prison response to people involved in the courts who are non-violent offenders, or to repeat offenders who are mentally ill and/or addicted, the majority of whom are not classified as high risk,” Mr. Champagne wrote.

“These offenders are disproportionately poor, ill-equipped to learn, from the most disadvantaged and marginalized groups,” he wrote. “They require treatment, health services, educational, employment and housing interventions, all less expensive and more humane than incarceration.”

Public safety is enhanced through healthy communities that support individuals and families, Mr. Champagne wrote. “We, therefore, respectfully ask you to modify your government’s policy, taking into consideration the impact it will have on the most disadvantaged, its lack of effectiveness, and its serious budgetary implications.”

But it will take much to sway Mr. Harper, who said in a speech this month to mark the fifth anniversary of his government: “Canadians want to be able to feel safe in their homes and communities, and that means that the bad guys need to be taken out of circulation. Does that cost money? Yes. Is it worth it? Just ask a victim.”

When asked about the letter from the CCJC to the Prime Minister, a spokesman for Mr. Toews said part of keeping communities safe is keeping dangerous criminals behind bars.

“Under the previous system, criminals – including convicted terrorists – were sometimes released the day after their sentencing. This is unacceptable to Canadians,” said Christopher McCluskey, who added that the government has extended financial support to victims.