Security Classification and Indigenous Populations in Prisons

So I thought I would write a blog post on prisoner justice but that quickly changed over to Indigenous populations in prisons and our lovely (sarcasm alert!) Correctional Service of Canada’s security classification system.

I have briefly shared information on this security classification through a short essay I had written for my white collar crime class from last year. However, I have been wanting to write a detailed post on this classification system. This is something that is still being used today and is very limiting in addressing the needs of an person who is entering prison, especially the needs of Indigenous youth and Indigenous women.

The first stat that sparked the change was found on the History of Prisoner Justice website, and that stat read,

“In 1976, First Nations represented only 2% of the total Canadian population yet they comprised 28% of all male prisoners and 25% of all female prisoners. Here in BC where first nations made up only 1% of the province´s population, they made up 40% of the prison population. In Saskatchewan, where they represent 3% of the provinces population, 95% of the male and 80% of the female prisoner population were first nations….First nations youth are also incarcerated at disproportionate rates, they make up only 4% of Canada´s youth population, but represent 26% of incarcerated youth. While numbers vary from year to year, the fact remains; First Nations have been and continue to be over- represented in Canadian prisons. In an attempt to address this over- representation CSC and First Nations communities have been working together to construct Healing Lodges for lower security federal prisoners.” (Source)

If in 1976, the FN population was only 2% of the total population and comprised 28% of all male/25% of all female prisoners, and today they make up 4% of the total population and “aboriginal men and women making up 23 per cent of the country’s federal prison inmate population” (Source). From 2001-2011, there has been a 40% increase in Aboriginal populations in prisons (Source). Conveniently, people are quoted saying in this news article, “What’s being done is not working” (Source).The fact the numbers in prisons have virtually gone unchanged over 30+ years has to be more evidence than any other recently released report that what ever is being done is not working!

In addition to this, another report was released on Indigenous women in Canadian prisons. This report highlighted the fact that Indigenous women make up 1/3 of the federal institution population, and over the past 10 years, Indigenous women prison population has increased “by nearly 90 per cent…making them the fastest-growing offender group” (Source).

The only article/report to briefly mention why these numbers are so high states that “Upon entering prison, offenders are assessed with the aim of determining whether they should be given a security designation of minimum, medium or maximum” (Source). Yet, there is no discussion on how this classification system works.

The classification works on a point system under various headings (Source). Overall, these headings include,

  • the seriousness of the offence;
  • outstanding charges laid against the offender;
  • the offender’s performance and behaviour while under sentence;
  • the offender’s social, criminal and, young offender history;
  • any physical or mental illness or disorder;
  • the offender’s potential for violent behaviour; and,
  • the offender’s continued involvement in criminal activities (Source).

An actual breakdown of where points are counted for how much or how little isn’t provided. However, THIS report on the CSC website provides a breakdown of how some of these points are assigned to offenders. Looking at the breakdown of the points and the headings, it can be seen that the following headings are listed as the following:

Custody Rating Scale

  • History of involvement in institutional incidents (in assault; riot/major disturbance; assault using weapon/causing serious injury)
  • Escape history
  • Street stability (home, family, employment, education) – below average = 32; average = 16; above average = 0 which means people who are homeless, have no employment/limited education receive a higher score
  • Alcohol/drug use – serious = 6

Institutional Adjustment Score

  • The younger the person, the higher the score (20 years = 30; 19 years = 32; 18 years = 24)

Security Risk Score

  • Prior convictions – not looking at type of convictions which means those with less serious convictions like breach/violations may be classified as having a higher score that doesn’t necessarily mean they require a higher security classification
  • Most serious outstanding charge
  • Sentence length – offenders who receive 1 day also receive the same number of points for an offender who receives 4 years
  • Street stability – same as above
  • Prior parole/statutory release
  • Age at time of admissions (highest score for youngest 25 or less = 30)

The same article highlighting the report on Aboriginal women in prison also states the following:

“Aboriginal women are generally over-classified, leading to long-term negative consequences, says the report. “A higher classification level means limited or no access to core programs which impacts parole eligibility and success for re-entry into the community” (Source).

In this same article, it also states that there needs to be a better way to assess Aboriginal women offenders, and in the same breathe tries to argue steps are being made by having elders deliver programs. The issue with this statement is that if Indigenous women are not accessing programs due to their security classification then the programs delivered by elders are not being utilized. In addition to this, the report by the CSC that says that the classification system “works” only on 57 women incarcerated at a federal level with a medium security classification system (Source).

With these sources of information and the current social injustices that include the large number of Missing and Murdered Indigenous women, it is clear that whatever colonial institutions are doing is working since the goal of the colonization/colonial institutions is to get rid of the Indigenous-Other.

If there is no Indigenous women, then there would be no future Indigenous generations. Let’s have a real discussion around today’s generations inside and outside prison walls including Indigenous young people, and Indigenous men/women.

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