Almost half of the young people in Canada who end up in custody are Indigenous, shows a report released by Statistics Canada.
The data from Statistics Canada shows that 46% of Indigenous youth were admitted to correctional services in 2016-17, and they’re only 8% of the total youth population.
Michael Redhead Champagne, the founder of Aboriginal Youth Opportunities, has helped support Indigenous youth since 2010. He stated that he’s not surprised to hear the numbers:
“As a member of the Indigenous community, with First Nation, Metis and Inuit people around me, I see the over-representation of Indigenous people going into the justice system.”
Different Sentences for Indigenous and Non-Indigenous People
Champagne has been working with kids in the inner city area, and he has seen that “Indigenous people often get the short end of the stick.” He added that, even though they make the same crime, sentences are different:
“I see Indigenous and non-Indigenous people literally doing the exact same crime and not experiencing the same amount of jail time, probation, etc.”
Since 2012, youth incarceration has slightly declined, but ten provinces and territories showed that Aboriginal youth in custody had seen a steady increase.
Between 2006 and 2007, there were only 21% Indigenous youth admitted to correctional services. Ten years later, the numbers grew to 47% – in Aboriginal boys and 60% – for Aboriginal girls.
The highest numbers of Indigenous youth in custody were in Saskatchewan – 92% boys and 98% girls, and in Manitoba 81% – boys, 82% – girls.
An independent adviser to the government of Ontario on corrections reform, Howard Sapers, said that there’s something even more worrying:
“We are getting so dangerously close to half of all adult women in custody being Indigenous.”
Indigenous men accounted for 28% of admissions, but the Indigenous women accounted for far more: 43%. Meanwhile, they all account for almost 5% of the adult population in Canada.
A Change Can Help Young People Become Successful
Sapers thinks that the reason for the increase in incarceration is because of “some systemic biases built into the system that are contributing to this over-representation.”
He suggests that the numbers can be easily curbed with some changes. If they could help them fight poverty, provide more jobs or fight underemployment, poor housing, and tackle addictions.
Champagne agrees that only change can help Indigenous kids have a better future. He has been working with the kids that have experience violence, adversity, homelessness and addictions, and that have been in conflict with the justice system:
“We as a society have to get better at recognizing those good things when they are happening, celebrating them, and telling those stories, so that our young people can see themselves reflected as successful, as helpers and as leaders, because that’s exactly what they are.”
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.