Challenges of the Correctional Services of Canada
Throughout the 20th century Canada has experienced changing demographics and an increase in crime rates that have presented challenges to the Correctional Services of Canada, the federal government agency responsible for the incarceration and rehabilitation of convicted criminal offenders (National Parole Board, 2009). With the changing demographics, such as Canada’s growing ethno-cultural diversity and heightened immigration levels, contemporary Canadian corrections continue to face unique challenges. The author of this report contends that dramatic demographic shifts, the expansion of diversity within Canada, and the growing involvement of Aboriginal peoples in the justice system have proven consequential; as such, these growing challenges position the Correctional Services of Canada in a state of uncertainty.
The author of this report surveys some of the pertinent issues at the forefront of the Correctional Services of Canada which, amongst others, include: the emergence of a more difficult offender population, specifically the prevalence of prison and youth gangs and the challenges presented by Aboriginal offenders; the latter of which complicated by what is expected to be an above-average growth in Aboriginal populations, alcohol and substance abuse and the repercussions of failed government attempts at assimilation dating back to the 19th century (National Parole Board, 2009).
Changing demographics: diversified gang affiliations in an ethno-cultured Canada
Canada is defined by unique societal and cultural components that have intensified in recent decades; components such as an influx of allophones and observers of non-Christian religions are reflected in the culture and ethnicity of convicted criminal offenders. Changing demographics such as heightened levels of immigration and Canada’s growing ethno-cultural composition, respectively, have correlated with an increase in crime rates (National Parole Board, 2009).
As Canada continues to diversify, so do the backgrounds of convicted criminal offenders; the National Parole Board has identified the emergence of a more difficult offender population with lengthier criminal histories. A pertinent issue relevant to the backgrounds of offenders is the growing problem of more extensive gang affiliations; “… the impact on the community, justice system and health care system is also enormous” (Chatterjee, 2006, p. 3). The author of this report supports the contention that subsequent challenges of the Correctional Services of Canada, developing from more extensive gang affiliations in communities, are “…the growing prevalence of inmate gangs that are based on communities and import their affiliations and tactics into correctional institutions” (Griffiths, 2014, p. 140). With the aforementioned growth, the securities of correctional institutions in Canada have been affected by gang affiliations’ disruptive practices; practices, such as undermining rehabilitative programming, the distribution of contraband and supporting criminogenic values, have been associated with heightened levels of correctional violence (Winterdyk, 2009).
Additionally, the author of this report contends a forthcoming concern for the Correctional Services of Canada and many communities is the growing prevalence of youth gangs:
Scholars have identified a number of risk factors for the emergence and continuation of youth gangs. Research indicates that socio-economic (poverty and unemployment, actual or perceived disadvantage), family-related (dysfunctional, abusive or negligent family), school (poor academic performance and low attachment to schools) and community (disorganized, crime-prone and unsafe) factors that contribute to marginalization of youth, as well as negative individual/biological factors (anti-social attitudes, FASD) may contribute to the emergence and continued existence of youth gangs (Chatterjee, 2006, p. 3)
Albeit increasingly multiethnic, overrepresentation of Aboriginal involvement in youth gangs continues to persist despite representing a diminutive 6 percent of Canadian youth (Griffiths, 2014). In surveying the ethnic composition of youth gangs, the Canadian Police Survey reported in 2007 that an estimated 21 percent of youth gang members are Aboriginal (Linden, 2010); a statistic consistent with “exponential growth in Aboriginal gangs in urban and rural areas of the Prairie provinces” (Griffiths, 2014, p. 140).
Aboriginal Offenders, FASD, and overrepresentation in the criminal justice system
Despite representing a diminutive 4 percent of the Canadian adult population, “there is a disproportionately high number of Natives in federal and provincial prisons and the rate of recidivism is high… ” (Yates, 2000). The legacy of colonization is essential in understanding the challenges that contemporary Aboriginal youths face. The heart of the assimilation strategy, the joint government and church residential school program of the 19th century, would prove to be a horrific failure; children of Aboriginal communities who were placed in an educational settings funded by Parliament suffered frequent physical, sexual and emotional abuse (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996). The author of this report contends that repeated, failed government attempts at assimilation and Aboriginal displacement are reflected in fundamental issues that persist in Aboriginal communities (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996). Griffiths (2014) asserts that the adverse effects of colonization are reflected in fundamental issues such as pervasive poverty, high rates of unemployment and low levels of formal education which plague Aboriginal youth and precede involvement in the criminal justice and corrections systems.
Ethnocentric and racist premises that developed during the 19th century, such as Natives being savage impediments to productive development, played a major role in precipitating alcohol and substance abuse problems within Aboriginal communities (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996). The most pertinent form of alcohol and substance abuse that has plagued Aboriginal communities is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD); a term that canvasses “the full range of prenatal alcohol-induced impairments” (Aboriginal Corrections Policy Unit, 2010). First described in scientific literature in 1973, research studies have since secured a relationship between FASD and youth delinquency and adult crime (Griffiths, 2014). Persons suffering from FASD are subject to a heightened risk of alcohol and substance abuse and involvement in the criminal justice system.
The author of this report recognizes alcohol and substance abuse as a major concern to Aboriginal peoples and the Correctional Services of Canada. These ingrained disabilities that have resulted from alcohol damage to the brain, coupled with what is expected to be an above-average growth in Aboriginal populations, pose considerable challenges to the Correctional Services of Canada’s resources and personnel:
In contrast with the non-Aboriginal population, which is aging and experiencing a decline in the birth rate, Aboriginal communities are experiencing a baby boom, with increasing numbers of Aboriginal youth approaching what are perceived to be the most crime-prone years (National Parole Board, 2009, p. 13)
Conclusion: the response of the Correctional Services of Canada
The growing prevalence of gang affiliations and Aboriginal overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, respectively, present unique challenges to the foundation of the Canadian corrections Correctional Services of Canada – the public, the police and the criminal courts (Griffiths, 2014). To adequately respond to the anticipated complications of gang affiliations and Aboriginal overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, the Correctional Services of Canada must prepare to employ evidence-based initiatives. The author of this report contends that, in addressing the growing prevalence of gang affiliations within communities and the criminal justice system, a multi-disciplinary effort is required, such as the implementation of comprehensive street gang reduction strategies encompassing prevention, intervention and suppression; “The National Crime Prevention Centre has funded several comprehensive street gang crime reduction programs… all are evidence-based and represent promising Canadian initiatives” (Linden, 2010, p. 22). In responding to Aboriginal overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, a more traditional approach is appropriate in re-engaging Aboriginal youth within their respective communities. The author of this report suggests a heightened level of community-based programs and continued reconciliation, returning responsibility to Aboriginal peoples; “First Nations… are designing and delivering correctional services in both communities and institutions… [which] include sentencing circles, community mediation, and sentencing advisory committees” (Griffiths, 2014, p. 307).
Aboriginal Corrections Policy Unit. (2010). Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and the Criminal Justice System. Ottawa: Public Safety Canada.
Chatterjee, Jharna. (2006). A Research Report on Youth Gangs: Problems, Perspective and Priorities. Ottawa: Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Griffiths, Curt T. (2014). Canadian Corrections, Fourth Edition. United States: Nelson Education Ltd.
Linden, Rick. (2010). Comprehensive Approaches to Address Street Gangs in Canada. Ottawa: Public Safety Canada.
National Parole Board. (2009). Vision 2020 – Public Safety, Public Service. Ottawa: National Parole Board.
Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. (1996). Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples: Volume 1 – Looking Forward, Looking Back. Ottawa: Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.
Winterdyk, John Fillipuzzi. (2009). Prison Gangs: A Review and Survey of Strategies. Ottawa: Correctional Service of Canada.
Yates, Richard. (2000). Introduction to Law in Canada. Scarborough: Prentice-Hall Canada Inc.