Correctional Investigator says Situation for Black People in Canadian Federal Penitentiaries has not Improved Ten Years After Landmark Investigation
For Immediate Release
Ottawa, November 1, 2022 – Today, the 49th Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator was tabled in Parliament. The report includes three national investigations, including updates on the experiences and outcomes of Black and Indigenous persons in federal custody, as well as a review of restrictive confinement conditions and practices since the elimination of solitary confinement in 2019. In his news conference, the Correctional Investigator, Dr. Ivan Zinger, zeroed in on the situation facing Black prisoners in Canada.
“Today, I am releasing an update of the Office’s 2013 ground-breaking investigation looking into the experiences of Black prisoners under federal custody. I am very disappointed to report that the same systemic concerns and barriers identified nearly a decade ago, including discrimination, stereotyping, racial bias and labeling of Black prisoners, remain as pervasive and persistent as before. In fact, the situation for Black people behind bars in Canada today is as bad, and, in some respects, worse than it was in 2013.”
The Correctional Investigator’s report shows Black prisoners experience disproportionately poorer outcomes on key measures of sentence administration. Specifically, the investigation found that Black prisoners are over-represented at maximum security institutions. As a group, Black individuals tend to serve more of their sentence behind bars at higher security levels before they cascade down. Black persons are more likely to be involved in a use of force incident regardless of risk or security level, age, sentence length or gender. Black prisoners are over-represented in involuntary transfers. They are subject to more frequent and longer placements in Structured Intervention Units. They incur more institutional charges and are more often designated as a security threat group affiliate. Despite overall lower rates of reoffending and lower returns to custody, Black persons are more likely to be assessed as higher risk, low motivation, and low reintegration potential.
The Correctional Investigator stressed that these findings are not new, have been documented before, and, as such, should have been addressed by the Correctional Service. He pointed out that, in 2016, the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent referred to and endorsed the Office’s earlier findings, as did the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights, in 2019 and again in 2021. In other words, the Service has had ample time and opportunity to address disproportionately poorer outcomes for Black people under federal sentence.
The investigation found numerous examples where Black prisoners are treated unequally or unfairly compared to the rest of the incarcerated population, such as inmate pay levels, access to personal care items, meaningful prison employment, and early release opportunities. Black individuals interviewed for this investigation consistently reported the use of derogatory or racist slurs/language by CSC staff, as well as being ignored or disregarded in ways that increase feelings of marginalization, exclusion and isolation.
Of significant concern, Black prisoners frequently reported being labelled or treated like gang members by CSC staff, even if they did not have an official or active security threat group affiliation. They indicated that staff referred to them as gang members based on a variety of factors including the neighbourhood where they grew up, the people they associate with on their range, groups of Black individuals congregating together, the clothes they wear, or the way they interact with others. The tendency to view behaviours, language, interactions or background through a “gang lens” is especially detrimental as it makes it difficult to cascade to lower levels of security, obtain gainful employment or garner support from the assigned case management team. Further, once a gang affiliation is applied to an individual, it is nearly impossible to have it removed, as there are few disaffiliation options or resources offered by CSC.
“Unfortunately, racial discrimination and bias continue to follow Black individuals into federal custody,” stated Dr. Zinger. “The needs of Black people are unique and grounded in a historical context and experience of racism and discrimination in Canadian society. At the most basic level, the correctional system should not serve to further perpetuate disadvantage. I call on the Correctional Service to address the unique lived experiences of Black persons in federal custody and to work in close partnership with Black community groups, stakeholders and experts in developing and implementing much-needed changes for Black prisoners.”
Dr. Zinger’s report also includes the first of a two-part follow-up investigation of a Special Report that was tabled in Parliament in 2013 entitled, Spirit Matters: Aboriginal People and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Part I of this investigation notes that overrepresentation of Indigenous people in federal corrections has accelerated and disparities in outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous persons have widened. Indigenous individuals are increasingly entering the system at a younger age, spending considerably longer time behind bars, and returning to federal corrections at unprecedented rates compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts.
“Year over year, Canadian prisons are being filled by Indigenous Peoples who are caught up in the proverbial revolving door, experiencing worse circumstances while inside, with few viable options for getting out and staying out,” stated Dr. Zinger. “I will have more to say on these issues once this investigation is complete, but for now it appears that at the highest levels, CSC does not seem to accept that it has any role or influence on reversing the perpetual crisis of Indigenous overrepresentation in Canadian jails and prisons. A corporate culture and a prison system that are resistant to change can only serve to keep Indigenous Peoples marginalized, criminalized, and over-incarcerated.”
The 2021-22 Annual Report report makes 18 recommendations in total, including eight directed at improving the lives and outcomes of Black prisoners. Dr. Zinger renewed his Office’s call for the appointment of a Deputy Commissioner for Indigenous Corrections and issued a recommendation for CSC to be included in the development and implementation of Justice Canada’s Indigenous Justice Strategy. Other nationally significant recommendations include:
- Prohibit any indefinite dry cell placement beyond 72 hours.
- Update CSC’s 2007 National Drug Strategy, which continues to promote a zero-tolerance approach to drugs behind bars.
- Prioritize the current review of the security classification process, particularly as it applies to Indigenous women.
- Rescind the discriminatory movement level system for maximum-security women.
- Provide alternative accommodations for women housed in Secure Units and work toward their eventual closure.
- Review the program requirements and eligibility criteria for the Mother-Child Program, with a view to increasing access and participation in the program and removing barriers, particularly for Indigenous mothers.
- Equip prisoner escort vehicles, including those currently in service, with seatbelt assemblies, handholds and other safety and restraint features.
As the ombudsman for federally sentenced offenders, the Office of the Correctional Investigator serves Canadians and contributes to safe, lawful and humane corrections through independent oversight of the Correctional Service of Canada by providing accessible, impartial and timely investigation of individual and systemic concerns. The 2021-22 Annual Report, along with a Backgrounder and summary of the report, are available at www.oci-bec.gc.ca.
more information, please contact:
Ms. Monette Maillet
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