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Thursday, 11 October 2012

Justice and incarceration. A hidden Public Health issue

Stats Canada just released annual incarceration statistics which are accessible at adults in justice system.  .  Hidden in the release is that incarceration is slightly up for the first time while many other measures indicate reduced persons under supervision.  Note that roughly 1/3rd of incarcerated persons are in federal facilities, and of the remaining half are sentenced and half are in remand awaiting action by the courts. That such a large proportion are awaiting court action should in of itself be considered unacceptable. 

Those incarcerated represent about ¼ of the adults who are under supervision of the correction system, with the majority on probation. As for youth, nearly 15,000 are under the oversight of the correction system. youth 12-17 involved with justice system 

Look carefully at the two charts and the summaries.  Specifically what conclusions would you draw on the rate of youth crime?   As presented and on the surface, the data might suggest substantially lower rates in youth.  Certainly the overall reduction in incarceration and persons under supervision is highlighted.  The minor blip of an increase in 2010-2011 of those in facilities is opposite to the overall trend of the past decade and perhaps partially related to tougher economic conditions.

If you look carefully at the actual rates of persons under supervision, the units of presentation are per 100,000 for adults and per 10,000 for youth – making the youth under supervisions numbers look much smaller. Put differently, 0.6% of all adults and 0.8% of youth 12-17 are actively involved with the Canadian justice system. Why the higher rate in youth?  Why the differential presentation of the data? 

Another question is given the reducing number of persons in custody, why are we redefining minimum sentences – to boost jailhouse business?  Why are we looking at building new facilities for an expected increase in incarcerated persons?   And most importantly, why in the face of advice to the contrary, does the Harper government ignore the facts and openly propagate misleading information on crime in Canada. 
Canada is a relatively safe place and becoming safer with time. 

The justice system already imposes barriers to rehabilitation and re-integration into society such that the wellbeing of those ever involved with the justice system is compromised as an additional penalty for their actions - something that has lifelong implications. Such added implications are not inherent in a society where maximizing individual potentials is to be prompted.

While considerable focus is placed on reforming the health care system, where on the pundits on justice reform in a similar fashion that might lead to improvements in social and health wellbeing? 


  1. Hi there, Have you seen this report yet?

  2. Thanks for the link Nonstop.

    The issue of Aboriginal overrepresentation and elevated rates of incarceration is deserving of its own posting. There is evidence of systematic biases in Canadian sentencing and the report you flag is another great documentation of this bias. Newer approaches to sentencing circles and creative sentencing are demonstrating some value. They do not address the disservice that prison institutionalization has done, and may reflect a societal persistence of philosophies that are founded in issues like residential schools and Indian hospitals - the consequences of which we are struggling with currently.