Prison

Overrepresentation

Today, I am getting ready to do an ignite talk (www.ignitelondon.ca). I am actually not nervous about this (okay maybe a bit) but I am nervous about receiving my mark back from these two other essays I wrote. I think I could have set up my arguments to be a bit more persuasive; however, due to time constraints, was limited. I actually had to ask for two extensions–you would think being unemployed I would have more time. No, that’s not the case. Working part-time and trying to do full-five credits for a school year is tough. At my school, they even consider 3.5 credits full time.

Anyways, I am nervous. I honestly think there is too much pressure on undergrads. This blog post isn’t about that topic though.

I was kind of annoyed when I was writing my second essay. It was on the overrepresentation of Aboriginal women in federal institutions. A bit of background:

Aboriginal women are:

  • …more likely to receive a higher security classification
  • …are more likely to be unemployed (full-time)
  • …more likely to head single parent households w/ less income than non-Aboriginal single mothers and Aboriginal single fathers
  • …overrepresented in the sex trade
  • …are overrepresented in the federal inmate population

One student talking to me the other day said she was angry with everything she was reading (she was writing an essay on Aboriginal women too). On the advice that was given to me, I told her to use that anger to write. I try to write about things that are near and dear to me.

The overrepresentation of Aboriginal women in Canadian institutions is near and dear to me because I met a lot of Aboriginal women who were or have been in prison/jail, either for a short time or a long time.

What made me angry about this paper was that the security classification system is extremely discriminatory. This classification system uses categories such as education, employment, sexual habits, or past victimization, to determine if the individual requires a higher security classification or not. Based on the stats I listed above and the categories listed in this paragraph alone, Aboriginal women then receive a higher security classification than any other prison population.

Oh and should I add that Aboriginal women make up LESS than 3% of the total Aboriginal population, yet 1/3 of the total prison population and 50% of the high-security federal inmate population? Yeah, that is important to remember when you look at those stats and the security classification system.

Just thought I would let you all know. You know, in case you are all wondering about Aboriginal women in Canada again.

Jail Conditions

I have been reading some news articles about the jail conditions during the G20 summit in June 2010.

I know that the issue with the G20 police efforts is/was that it is/was too much. More recently, TO Police Chief Bill Blair said that the police were “overwhelmed” and “not properly trained.” To read the TO Star news article, click HERE.

I also know that some of the people complained that they were arrested because they were just “there.” Wrong place. Wrong time. When I first watched it on television, I could see some peaceful protests going on and remember saying to my friends, “I wish I was there.” Not to be there but to support my friends who I knew were there that were peaceful protesters. I don’t wish that anymore.

Among those people that were arrested, they said that the jail conditions were horrible. Jail isn’t supposed to be a 4-star hotel stay. Or even a 1-star hotel stay.

From the various articles that I have read, I can remember reading that girls had to go to the bathroom in front of male officers. Male/females stripped searched. Physically abused. No food. No water. For hours at a time. No lawyer. No phone call.

Sorry, but it’s jail. Jail cells don’t have a separate room for a bathroom with a door. Jail cells don’t have down filled duvets waiting for you to be wrapped in. Oh and if you are just being held for a certain period of time (usually less than 12 hours), food doesn’t have to be provided for. Just a light snack. A glass of water. Isn’t it that a person can survive 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food… Just a rule of thumb.

Judging how the police reacted during the G20. That’s all they reacted on. A rule of thumb.

But this post isn’t about jail conditions during G20. Where some people were held for a little as a few hours. To maybe a few days.

This post is about the fact that incarcerated Aboriginals face more dire jail conditions than what those people would have experienced. At alarming rates.

I found this article, again searching for something completely unrelated to G20, titled Jail Conditions For Canadian Aboriginals a “Disgrace”: Ombudsman. I like how at the end of the article it says,

“If this was the case for non-aboriginal people, I’m almost certain that Canadians would react and demand that something be done,” said Beverly Jacobs.

If the people who are fighting for their “Jail Rights” during the G20, then they should fight against the conditions that not just Aboriginal but also non-Aboriginal incarcerated people face every day in jail. Like, lack of bedding. Or no doors on their bathroom stalls.

Ps. My vent for the day. And, end scene 😉

London Free Press and First Nations Youth

This post is in response to an article titled Siblings Jailed After Fatal Stabbing..

When I first read this article, I was thinking to myself, “Why would a news source announce that these youth were First Nations?” Then I read the readers’ comments, and it made more sense to me now.

A bit of background information (This information is available through the LF press news articles): This occurred last year in August. Both offenders are First Nations. One is a 22 year old mother of three, the other is 18 years old. Both pretty young. One received 2 years (the mother) and the other sentenced to 17 months.

In the Criminal Code of Canada, Section 718.2(e) states the following:


718.2 A court that imposes a sentence shall also take into consideration the following principles:

(e) all available sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considered for all offenders, with particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginal offenders.

The interpretation of this section was conducted during an Appeal to the decision made in R. v. Gladue. That decision can be read HERE.

It must be highlighted that this section of the Criminal Code of Canada does not give special consideration to Aboriginal peoples but in reality acknowledges the fact that many of them occupy prison systems. Harper’s Truth in Sentencing Act was seen as a step back because it failed to acknowledge this state of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. This Act removed the 2-4-1 sentencing, where time already served would not be acknowledged in final sentencing. Further exacerbating the rate at which Aboriginals populate prison systems.

Now, I won’t comment on the sentencing and the length that they received but it must be highlighted some of the factors that court’s consider when sentencing.

Some of these include:

  • First Time Offender?
  • Present Situation: education, family, employment
  • Social background: family life, childhood, etc.

In the case of these two individuals, they were both young, one was obviously drinking underage, and one already had three children before reaching the age of 25. This is what life is like in Canada for most Aboriginals. There is alcohol abuse, young parenthood, violent environments (Wasn’t one already carrying a knife…who carries a knife around if they are in a “safe” environment).

I am not promoting bad behaviour or violent behaviour among Aboriginal youth in any way. I am just attempting to address the comments some of the readers had in the article which can be read HERE.

They ask why was the term First Nations used? Why did that have to be mentioned? And one even states that using this term contributes to stereotypes in society. I thought the same thing.

But then I read a comment that said:

Look at the bright side, if you’re a white male, you’ll get at least 15 years for the same crime.

Hmmm, but race is not the case here. What is the case is that Aboriginals are over-represented in the Criminal Court system, including prisons. You say that still is dealing with race. No, it is dealing with the social situation that Aboriginals presently face. The decision in the appeal in R. v. Gladue highlights this.

Within this decision, it states:

  1. This section does not mean that judges should pay more attention to Aboriginal offenders, but attention to their unique characteristics.
  2. That Aboriginals are over-represented in prison systems.
  3. “The unbalanced ratio of imprisonment for aboriginal offenders flows from a number of sources, including poverty, substance abuse, lack of education, and the lack of employment opportunities for Aboriginal people. quoted @ para. 65.
  4. “It arises also from bias against Aboriginal people and from an unfortunate institutional approach that is more inclined to refuse bail and to impose more and longer prison terms for Aboriginal offenders.” quoted @ para. 65.
  5. Aboriginal people who suffer from systemic and direct discrimination are then both offenders to society and fall victim to society.

With the above, I tried my best to grasp the most important points, although this case is significantly important in every which way as it pertains to Aboriginals who enter the criminal court system. I guess by mentioning that the two offenders were First Nations, the news source may have been acknowledging the fact that Aboriginal people still face great disparities when it comes to society.

Relating to this LFpress article, this situation is nothing new to Aboriginal people in Canadian Society–violence amongst its young or its young going to jail, leaving behind futures and children. The thing that I am most annoyed with in this article is the fact that the comments just focus on “First Nations” and fails to acknowledge that some Aboriginal people face huge disparities in comparison to other groups within Canada. Not one comment, showed concern for the 3 children left behind or showed concern for young person who chose to throw their life away.

In the end, some people might respond to this post and say, “Well, who cares? That is their fault.” No, this isn’t their fault. Some Aboriginal people lag behind in education, employment, and some even live in poverty… despite having social supports. These are the inter-generational effects of colonialism, displacement of culture, loss of identity, and most importantly the effects of the Residential School system.

I hope more people begin to understand that Aboriginal people do not have it the best in Canada, and that we don’t get everything “for free.”

Read my post titled I get everything for free! and also my post titled Tax Exemption.

I hope this post changes one individual after reading it. Not everyone. I am content with one 🙂

Solitary Confinement

Last year I had the opportunity to attend a conference and be apart of important changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act and the Mental Health Act.

I am reminded of that conference experience when I read the article in the Globe and Mail titled Prisons grapple with increase in mentally ill female inmates.

The one thing that I would have liked to see included in that article would be the numbers of those women and their corresponding ethnic/racial background.

I only say this because in another article on another website I discovered in my research for my upcoming political science essay, I found this quote:

“In 2004, Renée was the first woman in Canada to be placed on the Management Protocol (MP), a punitive system which involves prolonged periods in solitary confinement…Currently, the four women on the MP are all Aboriginal women. Locked up for 23 hours per day in cells approximately 8′ x 12′, with access to an exercise yard of c.15 x 12 metres for the remaining hour, they have very restricted physical outlet for pent-up emotion..

This above quote was taken from the article titled, “Oppose Dangerous Offender Designation for Indigenous Women” on the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women website.

At the time this article was written (November 10, 2010), it states that the only four women on the MP (in solitary confinement) are Aboriginal. In the Globe and Mail article it states,

Women in maximum security, who often suffer the most serious mental problems, are not permitted to enter in-prison psychiatric units because they are deemed too dangerous.

I wonder if there is a connection or correlation to the number of women in prison and their ethnic background/mental health issues. In other words, are there are a high rate of Aboriginal women in prison who have mental health issues in solitary confinement/isolation cells?

As an Aboriginal woman, I would like to see that issue explored more.