This week in journalism, the CC Spectator did some crime and courts reporting. For this issue I was the columnist, and here’s what I wrote:
Our current justice system is broken, and aboriginal men are the ones paying the price.
At Stony Mountain Institution just outside Winnipeg, 65 per cent of inmates are aboriginal. That’s a staggering number compared to Manitoba’s general population, where aboriginals make up about 10 per cent, according to the 2013 National Household Survey.
Consider some things we do know: many aboriginals are still reeling from the effects of the residential school system. Many are familiar with the child welfare system and know the effects of being dislocated. Many know someone who has committed suicide or someone who has substance abuse issues. And many struggle with cultural identity, lack formal education and live in poverty or poor living conditions.
It’s no wonder many aboriginals wind up walking through the revolving doors of prisons and provincial jails.
A troubling study released last summer by the Correctional Service of Canada proves that growing up in these conditions is bound to have a lasting, harmful effect.
Half of federal offenders surveyed said they had been through the child welfare system. Sixty one per cent had a family member who had also been in prison. Ninety six per cent had substance abuse issues that related to the reason they were in prison.
It’s almost as though these circumstances are all these aboriginal men know. When they serve their time and are free, the odds of them staying out are slim.
The same study also found that aboriginal offenders are more likely denied parole, and they returned to prison more often.
In just 10 years, the federal inmate population increased by 17 per cent, while the aboriginal inmate population grew by 47 per cent.
It’s an endless cycle. It needs to be fixed to protect the futures of young aboriginal men, who are walking through those revolving doors in rapidly growing numbers.
Many Canadians believe offenders deserve harsher sentences, and they aren’t satisfied when offenders are released back into the public. On the other side of the coin, they complain about how much of their money goes toward prisons.
People have to stop simply brushing off the fact that the majority of Stony Mountain’s offenders are aboriginal men.
It’s time to open our eyes to the real problem, namely structural racism. Nothing is going to get better until we stop blaming these men for circumstances out of their control.
It’s time we re-examine current practices in the justice system and find a way to fix them. The issue is certainly complex, but most of all, it’s sad.