Detrimental Effects of Incarceration

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Themes: Systemic Racism; Incarceration; Over-Incarceration; Health; Mental Health; Prison Segregation; Custody; Systemic Discrimination; Colonialism; Reintegration; Release Planning 

Acknowledgement:  This research document produced by Legal Aid Saskatchewan was reviewed by Dr. Bryce Stoliker (PhD). Dr. Stoliker is a Research Officer at the Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science and Justice Studies at the University of Saskatchewan. He holds a B.A. (Hons.) in Psychology and Criminology, an M.A. in Sociology, and a Ph.D. in Criminology. His research focuses broadly on the correctional system and specifically on the (mental) health and well-being of people in custody. He has over 8 years of experience in corrections research and has published extensively on the topic of suicide and self-harm among correctional populations, as well as the topic of older people in custody. Since joining the Centre in 2020, Dr. Stoliker has been involved in various research and evaluation projects tasked with assessing criminal justice processes, as well as examining programs and services for justice-involved individuals in Saskatchewan. The research document was reviewed for comprehensiveness and accuracy to ensure quality and validity of the research. The information in this document is current as of April 2024.

Executive Summary: Indigenous overrepresentation in Canada's criminal justice system is alarming, evident in victimization rates, incarceration statistics, and disparities across provinces. Saskatchewan and Manitoba exhibit the highest Indigenous admissions, highlighting a concerning trend of over-incarceration of Indigenous individuals. Indigenous individuals face systemic discrimination throughout the justice process, exacerbating their overrepresentation at all stages. This discrimination persists in sentencing, where Indigenous offenders are denied bail and further disproportionately incarcerated. Administrative offenses contribute significantly to over-incarceration rates, particularly in provinces like Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Furthermore, the detrimental effects of incarceration on mental health exacerbate the issue, perpetuating a cycle of reoffending. Implementing restorative, and culturally grounded justice approaches like Healing Circles and Sentencing Circles, along with community-based justice committees, offers promising alternatives to incarceration. These culturally sensitive methods prioritize healing, rehabilitation, and community reintegration. To address overrepresentation effectively, systemic discrimination must be acknowledged and countered with comprehensive reforms, including increased access to culturally relevant services, education, and meaningful engagement with Indigenous communities. Embracing restorative justice principles and empowering Indigenous self-determination are crucial steps towards achieving equity and healing within Canada's criminal justice system.

Purpose of the document: What are "Systemic and Background Factors" and how are they relevant to the Gladue Principles? Systemic and background factors (also known as Gladue Factors) are the unique experiences, circumstances, and challenges that an Indigenous person, their family, community, or Nation has faced. They relate to the harmful effects of colonialism and discrimination, past and present. Systemic and Background factors must be considered in a Gladue analysis (e.g. the direct and intergenerational impacts of residential school and the Sixties Scoop, among others). These factors are broader circumstances known to contribute to the over-incarceration of Indigenous persons in particular, as well as those that figure prominently in the causation of crime more generally. The purpose of this Research Summary is to help provide social context and background information for judges, lawyers, and Gladue report writers to better unpack the complex ways systemic discrimination and settler colonialism can impact an Indigenous person’s life. As well, these summaries will provide evidence-based research that speak to alternatives to incarceration, restorative options, and ways to support an individual through healing, aftercare, and release planning. While these summaries cannot replace the need for case-specific information about Indigenous individuals or the contemporary dynamics within their families and Nations, they can be used to craft more effective submissions and reports that better tie those case-specific details to the broader social context surrounding Indigenous overincarceration.

Access a copy of the Detrimental Effects of Incarceration Summary by downloading the PDF attached at the top of this entry