Thursday, February 09, 2012

Does Incarceration Make Sense!

The Prison: "Humane Alternative" or A Tool of Social Control?
A Historcial Review
By Devon DB
Global Research, February 19, 2012
In researching and examining the reasons for the existence of prisons, one may find an array of answers. There are many of those who would state that the creation of prisons is the common sense argument that it was a response to criminal activity and whose purpose was to rehabilitate those deemed “criminals” by society. Yet, the creation of prisons was actually a product of the Enlightenment Period, as can be seen in Cesare Beccaria’s book On Crimes and Punishment, where he applies Enlightenment concepts to punishment and imprisonment. However, prisons can also be viewed in a much different light, as Michel Foucault does in his book Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, where he extols the idea that prisons were created as a tool of social control. The arguments of both Beccaria and Foucalt should be examined and applied into how they fit into the creation of prisons in early 19th century America.
The logical reasons for imprisonment were first conceived by Cesare Beccaria, an Italian philosopher of the Enlightenment age. In his book On Crime and Punishment he stated that people, wanting to live in relative peace and security, willingly gave up some of their liberty to establish laws which were enforced by an administrator or judge. However, having a judge is not enough due to the fact that it is “necessary to defend [liberty] from the usurpation of each individual, who will always endeavour to take away from the mass, not only his own portion, but to encroach on that of others.” [1] Thus, in order to ensure that people do not attempt to limit the freedom of others, punishments must be established for those who break the law. Imprisonment came into play as Beccaria thought that prison was the most rational of punishments as it was based in solid evidence due to the law determining “the crime, the presumption, and the evidence sufficient to subject the accused to imprisonment and examination.” [2] This manner of thinking not only established a logical basis for prisons, but it also represented a humane alternative to other punishments such as death and flogging. This would have a major impact on Quakers in 19th century Pennsylvania.
In colonial America, there existed buildings which were there mainly to lock up vagrants and those whose crimes didn’t warrant capital punishment. While these were called prisons, they were little more than holding cells and were not used to reform prisoners. That changed, however, with the state of Pennsylvania. After the Revolutionary War, in 1786, the penal system was revised and allowed for the death penalty in all but two major crimes. (This was in the spirit of Beccaria as he argued that swift punishments aided in the deterrence of crime.) In this revisement, a provision was included which allowed for public hard labor by prisoners. While this may have seemed like a good idea, it backfired as it only led to more crimes being committed and an overall increase in the number of prisoners. This caused widespread fear and panic, resulting in Quakers coming together to form prison reform groups such as The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Misery of Public Prisons. In addition to this, many Quakers also wanted a more humane system of punishment. Groups such as these pressured the Pennsylvanian government to create a state-run prison because due to “the severity of the laws, with the disgraceful mode of carrying them into effect” [3] such a prison was warranted. These demands resulted in the creation of the Walnut Street prison, which made Pennsylvania the first state to use prison to rehabilitate criminals.
Yet, one must ask the question: What is rehabilitation? Does it simply mean that the criminal no longer breaks laws or can it mean that in prison, he is socialized to become more compliant with the status quo? While the latter idea may seem far-fetched, it is exactly what Michel Foucault argues in his book Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.
As was previously stated, the want for a more humane system of punishment is why many Pennsylvanians argued for a prison system. The creation of the prison system was the most humane of punishments, not only due to its lack of barbarity when compared to other means of punishment, but also was the fairest means of punishment as prisons “[make] it possible to quantify the penalty exactly according to the variable of time” thus creating “wages-form of imprisonment that constitutes, in industrial societies, its economic ‘self-evidence’- and enables it to appear as a repartition.” [4]
The creation of the Walnut Street prison was also due to fear and panic on the part of Quakers. This fear, spurred by the increase in crime due to prisoners being out in public, would logically lead to the creation of prisons as “How could the prison not be immediately accepted when, by locking up, retraining and rendering docile, it merely reproduces, with a little more emphasis, all the mechanisms that are to be found in the social body?” [5] Essentially, what prisons do, are to take those who are deemed “criminals” by society (who are in reality social deviants) and funnel them into a system that reinforces societal norms on larger scale, with the hopes that the “criminals” will come out of prison being more compliant to status quo.
Examples of using punishment to force the behavior of criminals can be seen in 18th century Pennsylvania, in the form of the use of solitary confinement to force individuals to conform themselves to what was deemed “acceptable behavior.” Caleb Lownes, an active manager of the Walnut Street prison’s work program, tells such a story of one man who was put in solitary confinement for refusing to work and after several weeks of having little to no social interaction and unbearable living conditions, caved into the pressure and decided to work in the prison. It was noted that “The utmost propriety of conduct has been observed by this man ever since.” [6] Lownes noted earlier that “a change of conduct was early visible” when prisoners were informed “that their treatment would depend upon their conduct.” [7]
Thus, the establishment of prisons in the early United States was not only a more humane method of punishment, but was also used a tool of social control. This manner of thinking persisted for quite some time and manifested itself in such things as prison reform, in order to make the prisoners more compliant with greater societal norms. It is a manner of thinking that continues to affect prisons and prisoners to this very day.
1: Cesare Beccaria, On Crimes and Punishment (United States of America: Seven Treasures Publications, 2009) pg 10
2: Ibid, pg 82
3: Caleb Lownes “An Account of the Alteration and Present State of the Penal Laws of Pennsylvania,” in William Roscoe Observations on Penal Jurisprudence and The Reformation of Criminals (London, England: Black Horse Court, Year Unknown) pg 6 [Please note that this book was retrieved from Google Books]
4: Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. by Alan Sheridan (New York, New York: Vintage Books, 1977) pg 232
5: Ibid, pg 233
6: Lownes, pg 16
7: Lownes, pg 11
Profit Driven Prison Industrial Complex: The Economics of Incarceration in the USA
For every 100,000 Americans, 743 citizens sit behind bars
By Nile Bowie
Global Research, February 6, 2012
URL of this article:
For anyone paying attention, there is no shortage of issues that fundamentally challenge the underpinning moral infrastructure of American society and the values it claims to uphold. Under the conceptual illusion of liberty, few things are more sobering than the amount of Americans who will spend the rest of their lives in an isolated correctional facility – ostensibly, being corrected. The United States of America has long held the highest incarceration rate in the world, far surpassing any other nation. For every 100,000 Americans, 743 citizens sit behind bars. Presently, the prison population in America consists of more than six million people, a number exceeding the amount of prisoners held in the gulags of the former Soviet Union at any point in its history.
While miserable statistics illustrate some measure of the ongoing ethical calamity occurring in the detainment centers inside the land of the free, only a partial picture of the broader situation is painted. While the country faces an unprecedented economic and financial crisis, business is booming in other fields – namely, the private prison industry. Like any other business, these institutions are run for the purpose of turning a profit. State and federal prisons are contracted out to private companies who are paid a fixed amount to house each prisoner per day. Their profits result from spending the minimum amount of state or federal funds on each inmate, only to pocket the remaining capital. For the corrections conglomerates of America, prosperity depends on housing the maximum numbers of inmates for the longest potential time - as inexpensively as possible.
By allowing a profit-driven capitalist-enterprise model to operate over institutions that should rightfully be focused on rehabilitation, America has enthusiastically embraced a prison industrial complex. Under the promise of maintaining correctional facilities at a lower cost due to market competition, state and federal governments contract privately run companies to manage and staff prisons, even allowing the groups to design and construct facilities. The private prison industry is primarily led by two morally deficient entities, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corporation). These companies amassed a combined revenue of over $2.9 billion in 2010, not without situating themselves in the center of political influence.
The number of people imprisoned under state and federal custody increased 772% percent between 1970 and 2009, largely due to the incredible influence private corporations wield against the American legal system. Because judicial leniency and sentencing reductions threaten the very business models of these private corporations, millions have been spent lobbying state officials and political candidates in an effort to influence harsher “zero tolerance” legislation and mandatory sentencing for many non-violent offenses. Political action committees assembled by private correctional corporations have lobbied over 3.3 million dollars to the political establishment since 2001. An annual report released by the CCA in 2010 reiterates the importance of influencing legislation:
“The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. Legislation has been proposed in numerous jurisdictions that could lower minimum sentences for some non-violent crimes and make more inmates eligible for early release based on good behavior. Also, sentencing alternatives under consideration could put some offenders on probation with electronic monitoring who would otherwise be incarcerated. Similarly, reductions in crime rates or resources dedicated to prevent and enforce crime could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities.”
Considering today’s private prison population is over 17 times larger than the figure two decades earlier, the malleability of the judicial system under corporate influence is clear. The Corrections Corporation of America is the first and largest private prison company in the US, cofounded in 1983 by Tom Beasley, former Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. The CCA entered the market and overtly exploited Beasley’s political connections in an attempt to exert control over the entire prison system of Tennessee. Today, the company operates over sixty-five facilities and owns contracts with the US Marshal Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Bureau of Prisons. The GEO Group operates 118 detention centers throughout the United States, South Africa, UK, Australia and elsewhere. Under its original name, the Wackenhut Corrections Corporation was synonymous for the sadistic abuse of prisoners in its facilities, resulting in the termination of several contracts in 1999.
The political action committees assembled by private prison enterprises have also wielded incredible influence with respect to administering harsher immigration legislation. The number of illegal immigrants being incarcerated inside the United States is rising exponentially under Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency responsible for annually overseeing the imprisonment of 400,000 foreign nationals at the cost of over $1.9 billion on custody-related operations. The agency has come under heavy criticism for seeking to contract a 1,250-bed immigration detention facility in Essex County, New Jersey to a private company that shares intimate ties to New Jersey's Governor, Chris Christie. Given the private prison industry’s dependence on immigration-detention contracts, the huge contributions of the prison lobby towards drafting Arizona’s recrementitious immigration law SB 1070 are all but unexpected. While the administration of Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer is lined with former private prison lobbyists, its Department of Corrections budget has been raised by $10 million, while all other Arizona state agencies are subject to budget cuts in 2012’s fiscal year.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this obstinate moral predicament presents itself in the private contracting of prisoners and their role in assembling vast quantities of military and commercial equipment. While the United States plunges itself into each new manufactured conflict under a wide range of fraudulent pretenses, it is interesting to note that all military helmets, ammunition belts, bulletproof vests, ID tags, uniforms, tents, bags and other equipment used by military occupation forces are produced by inmates in federal prisons across the US. Giant multinational conglomerates and weapons manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Corporation employ federal prison labor to cheaply assemble weapons components, only to sell them to the Pentagon at premium prices. At the lowest, Prisoners earn 17 cents an hour to assemble high-tech electronic components for guided missile systems needed to produce Patriot Advanced Capability 3 missiles and anti-tank projectiles.
In the past, political mouthpieces of the United States have criticized countries such as China and North Korea for their role in exploiting prisoner labor to create commodity products such as women’s bras and artificial flowers for export. Evidently, outsourcing the construction of the military equipment responsible for innumerable civilian causalities to the prisons of America warrants no such criticism from the military industrial establishment. In utter derision toward the integrity of the common worker, prison inmates are exposed to toxic spent ammunition, depleted uranium dust and other chemicals when contracted to clean and reassemble tanks and military vehicles returned from combat. Prison laborers receive no union protection, benefits or health and safety protection when made to work in electronic recycling factories where inmates are regularly exposed to lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic.
In addition to performing tasks that can result in detrimental illnesses, prison labor produces other military utilities such as night-vision goggles, body armor, radio and communication devices, components for battleship anti-aircraft guns, land mine sweepers and electro-optical equipment. While this abundant source of low-cost manpower fosters greater incentives for corporate stockholders to impose draconian legislation on the majority of Americans who commit nonviolent offenses, it’s hard to imagine such an innately colossal contradiction to the nation’s official rhetoric, i.e. American values. Furthermore, prison labor is employed not only in the assembly of complex components used in F-15 fighter jets and Cobra helicopters, it also supplies 98% of the entire market for equipment assembly services, with similar statistics in regard to products such as paints, stoves, office furniture, headphones, and speakers.
It is some twisted irony that large sections of the workforce in America’s alleged free-market are shackled in chains. Weapons manufactured in the isolation of America’s prisons are the source of an exploitative cycle, which leaves allied NATO member countries indebted to a multibillion-dollar weapons industry at the behest of the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon. Complete with its own trade exhibitions, mail-order catalogs and investment houses on Wall Street, the eminence of the private prison industry solidifies the ongoing corrosion of American principles – principles that seem more abstract now, than the day they were written.
Predictably, the potential profit of the prison labor boom has encouraged the foundations of US corporate society to move their production forces into American prisons. Conglomerates such as IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom's, Revlon, Macy's, Pierre Cardin, Victoria’s Secret, and Target have all begun mounting production operations in US prisons. Many of these Fortune 500 conglomerates are corporate members of civil society groups such as the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). These think tanks are critical toward influencing American foreign policy. Under the guise of democracy promotion, these civil societies fund opposition movements and train dissent groups in countries around the world in the interest of pro-US regime change. With naked insincerity, the same companies that outsource the production of their products to American prisons simultaneously sponsor civil societies that demanded the release of Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest – an overly political effort in the on-going attempts to install a compliant regime in that country.
The concept of privatizing prisons to reduce expenses comes at great cost to the inmates detained, who are subjected to living in increasingly squalid conditions in jail cells across America. In 2007, the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) was sent to a West Texas juvenile prison run by GEO Group for the purpose of monitoring its quality standards. The monitors sent by the TYC were subsequently fired for failing to report the sordid conditions they witnessed in the facility while they awarded the GEO Group with an overall compliance score of nearly 100%. Independent auditors later visited the facility and discovered that inmates were forced to urinate or defecate in small containers due to a lack of toilets in some of the cells. The independent commission also noted in their list of reported findings that the facility racially segregated prisoners and disciplined Hispanics for speaking Spanish by denying their access to layers and medical treatment. It was later discovered that the TYC monitors were employed by the GEO Group. Troublingly, the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility (WGYCF) operated by the GEO Group in Mississippi has been subject to a class-action lawsuit after reports that staff members were complicit in the beating and stabbing of a prisoner who consequently incurred permanent brain damage. The official compliant authored by the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center also highlights cases where the administration turned a blind eye to brutal cases of rape and torture within the facility.
The first private prison models were introduced following the abolishment of slavery after the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865, which saw expansive prison farms replace slave plantations. Prisons of the day contracted groups of predominately African-American inmates to pick cotton and construct railroads principally in southern states such as Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. In 2012, there are more African-Americans engrossed in the criminal-justice system than any point during slavery. Throughout its history, the American prison system has shared little with the concept of rehabilitation. Like the post-Civil War prison farms, today’s system functions to purport required labor, largely on a racially specific basis. African-Americans consist of 40% of the prison population and are incarcerated seven times more often than whites, despite the fact that African-Americans make up only 12% of the national population. Once released, former inmates are barred from voting in elections, denied educational opportunities and are legally discriminated against in their efforts to find employment and housing. Few can deny the targeting of underprivileged urban communities of color in America’s failed War on Drugs. This phenomenon can largely be contributed to the stipulations of its anti-drug legislation, which commanded maximum sentencing for possession of minute amounts of rock cocaine, a substance that floods poor inner-city black communities.
Unbeknown to the vast majority of Americans, the US government has been actively taking steps to modify the legal infrastructure of the country to allow for a dramatic expansion of the domestic prison system at the expense of civil rights. On December 31st, 2011, Barack Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) H.R. 1540. Emulating the rouge military dictatorships the US Government has long condemned in its rhetoric, the NDAA introduces a vaguely worded legislation that allows for US citizens to be arbitrarily detained in military detention without due process - might they be predictably be deemed radical, conspiratorial or suspected of terrorism. In a climate of rising public discontent, the establishment media has steadfastly worked to blur the line between public activism and domestic extremism. In addition to the world’s largest network of prison facilities, over 800 located detainment camps exist in all regions of the United States with varying maximum capacities.
Facing economic stagnation, many Americans have been detained in responder camps as a consequence of publically demonstrating in accordance with the Occupy Wall Street movement launched in New York City. Under the guise of protecting Americans from a largely contrived and abstract threat of fundamentalist violence, citizens have been denied the right of peaceful assembly and placed in detainment apparatuses, managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Documents have been released by the American Civil Liberties Union detailing the Pentagon’s widespread monitoring of public demonstrations and the targeting of individual activists under threat of national security. Co-authored by Senator Joe Lieberman, the Enemy Expatriation Act (HR 3166) gives the US government the power to detain nationals and revoke their American citizenship under suspicion of behavior perceived as terrorism.
This legislation becomes increasingly more dangerous as citizens can be labeled domestic extremists based on their constitutionally protected activism or personal political leanings. In January 2006, a contract to construct detention facilities for the Department of Homeland Security worth a maximum of $385 million was awarded to KBR, a subsidiary of Haliburton. Following the signing of NDAA earlier in 2012, leaked documents reveal that KBR is now seeking to staff its detention centers and award contracts for services such as catering, temporary fencing and barricades, laundry and medical services, power generation, and refuse collection. It would be reasonable to assume that these facilities could be managed in partnership with private corporations such as the GEO Group or the CCA, as many federal and state penitentiaries privatize sections of their facilities to privately owned companies. Declassified US Army documents originally drafted in 1997 divulge the existence of inmate labor camps inside US military installations. It is all but unexpected that the relationship between the upper echelons of government and the private prison enterprise will grow increasingly more intimate in the current climate of prison industrial legislation.
The partnership between the United States government and its corporate associates spans various industries however, they all seek the common pursuit of profit irrespective of the moral and ethical consequence – the human consequence. The increasing influence of the Prison Industrial Complex towards official legislation and economic undertakings signifies a reprehensible threat to basic human rights. Perhaps the issuance of government legislation that leads offenders into detainment for the benefit of private shareholders is the purest embodiment of fascism, as cited in Mussolini’s vision of a Corporate State. Perhaps we all (this author included) fail to grasp the seriousness of these legislations and their implications on our lives.
Mumia Abu-Jamal has spent over three decades on death row in the throngs of the American prison system. Prior to his conviction in 1981 for the murder of a white police officer, Jamal was a political activist and President of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. Critical evidence vindicating Jamal was withheld from the trial prior to the issuance of the death penalty. Forensic experts believe he was denied a fair trial. On December 7, 2011, the Philadelphia District Attorney announced that prosecutors would no longer seek the death penalty for Jamal. He remains imprisoned for life without parole and continues his work as a journalist from his jail cell in Pennsylvania.
The incarceration of Aboriginal people in adult correctional services
By Samuel Perreault
Statistics Canada,
July 2009
The over representation of Aboriginal people in correctional services is an issue that has been known for many years. In 1989, the issue of over representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system was raised by the Royal Commission into the Donald Marshall, Jr. Prosecution. In 2002, the Auditor General of Canada identified a lack of information on this issue (Auditor General of Canada, 2002).
Aboriginal peoples occupy a distinct social, cultural and political status within Canada as bearers of constitutionally protected Aboriginal and Treaty rights. As such, governments need reliable data to ensure an equitable justice system and to put in place effective policies to address the representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system (Kong and Beattie, 2005).
To date, statistical information on the factors contributing to the representation of Aboriginal adults in custody has been limited. Since 1978, the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (CCJS), through the Adult Correctional Services Survey (ACS), has collected data on the number of adults admitted to and released from correctional services in Canada. This survey permits analysis of trends in admissions and releases, including the number of Aboriginal adults admitted to custody each year, but allows little analysis on the factors contributing to incarceration.
A detailed micro data survey was developed by the CCJS and its partners in correctional services in order to have richer data to better respond to policy issues affecting correctional services. The Integrated Correctional Service Survey (ICSS) collects detailed information on the characteristics of each adult entering correctional services, including age, their highest level of education attained, their employment status prior to entering correctional services and their rehabilitation needs. For the reporting year 2007/2008, the following jurisdictions were reporting to the ICSS: Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the Correctional Service of Canada (which is responsible for offenders sentenced to prison for two years or more).
With the ICSS data, it is therefore possible to conduct certain analysis to better understand the factors that may influence incarceration.
This Juristat article first presents a brief overview of all admissions to correctional services in Canada in 2007/2008. Next, data introducing the representation of Aboriginal people in adult correctional services over time and across jurisdictions is provided. Finally, using data from the ICSS and the 2006 Census, an analysis of certain factors that could be contributing to this representation of Aboriginal adults in custody is presented. The factors examined include age, level of education attained, employment status, and the rehabilitation needs of people admitted to custody as assessed by correctional services staff.
Characteristics of people admitted to correctional services
Typically, a larger proportion of women are admitted to provincial and territorial facilities than federal facilities. In 2007/2008, while women accounted for 12% of all admissions to provincial and territorial sentenced custody, they accounted for 6% of federal admissions. As well, a larger proportion of women also tend to be admitted to community sentences than custody, as women accounted for 18% of admissions to probation and conditional sentences in 2007/2008.
There was some variation in the median age of those admitted to provincial and territorial sentenced custody in 2007/2008, ranging from 28 years in Manitoba to 38 years in Quebec, while the median age of those admitted to federal custody was 33 years. In contrast, there was little difference within provinces and territories in age of those admitted to probation in 2007/2008, ranging from 28 years in Saskatchewan to 33 years in British Columbia and the Yukon.
Representation of Aboriginal adults in custody and community programs remains higher than their representation in the overall population
According to the 2006 Census, 3.1% of adults 18 years or older in Canada self-identified themselves as Aboriginal and this proportion has increased over the previous two Censuses. In comparison, the representation of Aboriginal adults in custody and community correctional programs has traditionally been higher. For instance, in 2007/2008, Aboriginal adults accounted for 17% of adults admitted to remand, 18% admitted to provincial and territorial custody, 16% admitted to probation and 19% admitted to a conditional sentence (Table 3).
Among the various programs, the representation of Aboriginal adults is growing only in admissions to provincial and territorial sentenced custody. From 1998/1999 to 2007/2008, Aboriginal adults as a proportion of adults admitted to provincial and territorial sentenced custody grew steadily from 13% to 18% (Table 3). While the number of admissions to sentenced custody has decreased over time for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal adults, declines have been larger for non-Aboriginal adults.
While the number of female offenders is small relative to the total population under supervision by correctional services, Aboriginal females are more represented among the female correctional population than are Aboriginal males within the male correctional population (Table 3).
In all provinces and territories, the representation of Aboriginal adults in correctional services exceeds their representation in the general population, with gaps being wider in some jurisdictions than others (Table 4). For instance, in Quebec the representation of Aboriginal adults in provincial and territorial sentenced custody is two times their representation in the province's general population. In Saskatchewan, the representation is seven times greater.
In addition to being more represented among admissions, Aboriginal adults tend to be admitted more often for violent offences, compared to their non-Aboriginal counterparts. Among the six provinces that reported to the Integrated Correctional Services Survey in 2007/2008, 28% of Aboriginal adults who were admitted to provincial custody had committed violent offences, compared to 25% of non-Aboriginal adults (Table 5). Admissions for serious violent offences (murder, attempted murder and major assault) were more prevalent among Aboriginal adults, as were admissions for common assault.
Census Day incarceration rates highest among adults aged 20 to 34 years
According to the 2006 Census, the Aboriginal population in Canada is a young population. Compared to the non-Aboriginal population, persons aged 15 to 24 years account for a greater proportion of the Aboriginal population (18% versus 13%). The gap narrows among 25-to-34-year-olds as they account for 14% of the Aboriginal population and 13% of the non-Aboriginal population. People in these age groups are at greatest risk of conflict with the law (Silver, 2007; Wallace, 2004; Boe, 2002).
Boe (2002) has actually compared the demographic situation of the Aboriginal population to the Baby Boom that occurred within the non-Aboriginal population. In essence, Canada experienced a significant increase in its birth rate after World War II. As Boe notes, as this group of “Baby Boomers” reached early adulthood in the years between 1960 and 1970, increases were seen in the crime rate. According to Boe, the same situation is now occurring among the Aboriginal population. As was the case for the non-Aboriginal population in the 60's and 70's, high proportions of the Aboriginal population are now entering the age range where people are more at risk of conflict with the law.
Adults within the youngest age groups had the highest rates of incarceration on Census Day in 2006. For example, on Census Day, the incarceration rates for Aboriginal adults in Saskatchewan aged 20 to 24 years and those aged 25 to 34 years were, respectively, 26.6 and 21.9 per 1,000 population. This rate declines to 17.4 per 1,000 population among the 35-to-44-year-olds, and then to 8.2 per 1,000 population among those aged 45 to 54 years. Among the non-Aboriginal population, incarceration rates also decline with age.
To understand if the relative youthfulness of the Aboriginal population is contributing to the representation of Aboriginal adults in custody, we need to see if the ratio between the incarceration rate for Aboriginal populations and non-Aboriginal populations decreases when we control for age. If this ratio remains the same for each of the specific age groups and for the total, then it can be concluded that age does not have an influence on the representation of Aboriginal adults in custody.
Incarceration rate on Census Day, by employment and education status, population aged 20 to 34, Alberta, May 16, 2006
Education and employment characteristics are factors related to incarceration rates among young adults
Education and employment characteristics are other factors that can influence the risk of criminal behaviour (Brzozowski, Taylor-Butts and Johnson, 2006; Lochner, 2004; LaPrairie, 2002; Boe, 2000). Cattarinich (1996) found that the socio-economic conditions of Aboriginal people provided a better explanation for the representation of Aboriginal people in custody than did age. As higher proportions of the Aboriginal population are without a high school diploma or employment, these could be factors contributing to the representation of Aboriginal adults in custody.
According to the 2006 Census, 38% of Aboriginal people aged 20 years and over had not completed high school, compared to 19% of non-Aboriginal people. As well, that year, the unemployment rate among Aboriginal people was 14%, compared to 6% among non-Aboriginal people.
Census Day incarceration rates based on characteristics of education and employment indicate that these factors influenced incarceration in the jurisdictions for which data exist—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Rates based on education and employment were calculated only for adults aged 20 to 34 years to eliminate the effect that age or characteristics of different generations might have on education and employment levels. Moreover, it is generally accepted that analyses of education level be conducted on those aged 20 years and older (to allow for drop-outs to finish high school). Finally, among the jurisdictions for which data exists, this age group is most highly represented in custody and is the age group among adults that is at highest risk of criminal behaviour.
In all the jurisdictions under analysis, the Census Day incarceration rate for Aboriginal adults aged 20 to 34 who were unemployed and without at least a high school diploma was higher than the rate for Aboriginal adults who were employed and had at least a high school diploma. For instance, the incarceration rate among Aboriginal young adults in Alberta without a high school diploma and employment was 46.1 per 1,000 compared to 2.4 per 1,000 population for those with a high school diploma and a job (Table 7). The same pattern is seen in the other jurisdictions and also among non-Aboriginals. The fact that persons without a diploma and without employment account for a greater proportion of the Aboriginal population could be contributing to the higher overall incarceration rates among Aboriginal adults.
High proportions of Aboriginal adults without a high school diploma and employment contribute to the overall incarceration rates among Aboriginal young adults
As mentioned above, young adults without a high school diploma or employment are more at risk of committing crimes that lead to being incarcerated. Overall, these characteristics exist among a higher proportion of the Aboriginal population than of the non-Aboriginal population. As such, with the high incarceration rates among this population, these characteristics play a role in the overall incarceration rate among Aboriginal adults aged 20 to 34 years.
For example, in Alberta, the overall incarceration rate among Aboriginal adults aged 20 to 34 years was 9.3 times higher than the overall rate among non-Aboriginal young adults (15.5 versus 1.7 per 1,000 population) (Table 7 and Chart 2). However, when comparing Aboriginal adults and non-Aboriginal adults with the same education and employment characteristics, the incarceration rates among Aboriginal adults were 3.3 to 5.1 times higher. In short, these socio-economic characteristics reduced the difference in incarceration rates of adults aged 20 to 34 by half in Alberta. A similar pattern occurs in Saskatchewan (Table 7). Still, even when comparing persons with the same characteristics, incarceration rates for Aboriginal young adults remain higher than those of their non-Aboriginal counterparts.
The representation of Aboriginal adults in custody has historically been, and continues to be, higher than their representation in the overall population. The gap in socio-economic conditions between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people has frequently been presented as context to this representation. Analysis of Census and correctional services data from selected provinces suggests that age, while one of the strongest factors in criminal behaviour, may not be the strongest explanation for the representation of Aboriginal people in custody.
Rates of incarceration based on education and employment characteristics, on the other hand, suggest that a lack of a high school diploma and employment contribute to the representation of Aboriginal adults aged 20 to 34 in custody. Analysis also suggests that while education and employment may reduce an Aboriginal person's risk of incarceration, the risk still remains higher than for their non-Aboriginal counterparts. As such, factors other than education and employment are likely involved in the representation of Aboriginal offenders in custody. Other factors could include income, housing and criminal justice processes. Finally, information on the rehabilitative needs of Aboriginal offenders provides an indicator of risk factors for re-offending and returning to correctional services—factors that may also contribute to the representation of Aboriginal offenders in custody.
Incarceration rate rises in Canada
CBC News
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
The number of people incarcerated in Canada on any given day continues to rise, with the rate climbing by two per cent a year, according to the latest figures from Statistics Canada.
Although there had been a steady decline in the incarceration rate from 1996-1997 to 2004-2005, it has climbed since.
In 2007-2008, the most recent data available to Statistics Canada, there was an average of 38,348 inmates — 36,330 adults and 2,018 youth. The figure translates to 117 people in prison out of 100,000 population and an increase of two per cent from 2006-2007.
The study found that the increase in the rate can be linked to the growing number of adults begin held on remand in provincial and territorial jails while awaiting trial or sentencing. That rate jumped by eight per cent in 2007-2008.
Among the provinces, Prince Edward Island had the highest increase in incarceration rate among adults (14 per cent) followed by Nova Scotia (12 per cent). In contrast, New Brunswick recorded a seven per cent drop. The Yukon's incarceration rate went up by 33 per cent.
Among youth, the rate rose by 15 per cent in Manitoba, but dropped 28 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador.