Despite calls from a number of federal agencies and committees, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) says it has an “appropriate” level of governance to serve the high number of Indigenous people locked away in Canada’s penitentiaries particularly women who now make up more than 40 per cent of the female population in prison.
“It’s disappointing,” said Ivan Zinger, the Correctional Investigator of Canada.
Because of the high rates of incarceration, Zinger, along with a number of federal advocates, Auditor General for Canada, House of Commons and Senate committees, and now the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, has called on the CSC to create a special position within the prison service.
“We call upon the federal government to create a Deputy Commissioner for Indigenous Corrections to ensure corporate attention to, and accountability regarding, Indigenous issues,” said the inquiry’s Calls for Justice 5.23.
It’s a position that the CSC has resisted in the past.
And according to a recent response to a request for comment from APTN News, the CSC believes its current governance structure is adequate.
“Indigenous corrections operates under the direct supervision of the Senior Deputy Commissioner (SDC),” said a statement from the CSC. “Under CSC’s governance structure, the SDC is the most senior executive reporting to the Commissioner.
“Currently, we consider this level of senior management responsibility to be appropriate to provide the leadership required to improve and sustain correctional results for Indigenous offenders.”
(Ivan Zinger. APTN File)
But calls for the CSC to create this position goes back a decade.
It is one of the longest outstanding recommendations from Zinger’s office.
The position would have one job – serve the interests of Indigenous people locked up in Canada’s penitentiaries.
“The appointment of a Deputy Commissioner for federally sentenced Indigenous offenders is required to ensure an Indigenous perspective and presence in correctional decision-making,” Zinger said. “The CSC has made little discernible or meaningful progress in narrowing the gap in correctional outcomes and gross over-representation of Indigenous people in federal corrections.
“A Deputy Commissioner and a clear commitment to significantly reallocate and transfer responsibilities to Indigenous communities for the care, custody and supervision of Indigenous offenders would go a long way to address the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the MMIWG.”
According to statistics from Zinger’s office and supplied by CSC, the overall incarceration rate of Indigenous peoples is 29.4 per cent – up from 19.6 per cent in 2010.
Since 2010, the federal inmate population has increased only 1.2 per cent, while the Indigenous population has increased by 52.1 per cent.
For Indigenous women the statistics only get worse.
Over the last 10 years, the federally sentenced women (FSW) inmate population has increased 34.8 per cent, while the Indigenous population has increased by 73.8 per cent.
The proportion of the FSW inmate population that is Indigenous has increased from 32.1 per cent to 41.4 per cent.
Indigenous women make up approximately 4.3 per cent of women in Canada.
In every category of prison life, Indigenous peoples fared worse than any other group.
They spend the most time in segregation, are more likely to be classified as maximum security, be released later in their sentences and when they do get out have their parole revoked more often.
“A deputy commissioner of Indigenous corrections’ sole responsibility, sole role would be to improving correctional outcomes,” said Zinger. “Someone to dedicate 100 per cent of their job, in consultation with the Aboriginal advisory committee, to improve live for Indigenous peoples.”
Sensing little change with the outcomes of Indigenous inmates, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, whose department CSC falls under, directed Kelly to review its governance structure.
(Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. Photo: Tom Fennario/APTN)
Goodale’s request on Sept. 5, 2018 was to, “re-examine CSC’s governance structure and the role of the National Aboriginal Advisory Committee in order to ensure greater integration of Indigenous needs and perspectives into CSC decisions at the senior level.”
“I look forward to receiving an update from you on this process by December 2018, with implementation in 2019,” the minister said in his mandate letter.
The minister’s office said CSC is still reviewing the decision.
“Minister Goodale received an update on December 18, 2018. CSC is undertaking a broader review of the governance of Indigenous Corrections, including the role of the National Aboriginal Advisory Committee,” said Public Safety spokesperson Scott Beardsley.
“We are expecting an update on the outcomes of the governance review in the near future, including proposals to strengthen Indigenous Corrections as requested in the mandate letter.”
(Anne Kelly, commissioner for the Correctional Service of Canada says the current goverance structure is “appropriate” to help Indigenous offenders. Photo: Mark Blackburn/APTN)
The Senate committee on Human Rights issued an interim report on Canada’s prisons in March.
The report confirmed life inside is harder for people of colour: “tackling this issue is particularly urgent for federally-sentenced Indigenous and Black persons who are significantly overrepresented in the correctional system.”
Its full report is due out later this month.
“There’s a culture in corrections that is very strong… it’s very difficult to turn around,” said Zinger. “There’s a sense that they know better.
“That’s why you have to look at performance, and if the performance isn’t there doing more isn’t going to effect change.”
APTN requested an interview with Anne Kelly but was told the “CSC is still reviewing the recommendations and at this time, the Commissioner would not be in a position to provide an interview.
“We may be able to accommodate this request in the future.”