A One-Day Snapshot of Aboriginal Youth in Custody Across Canada : Phase II

1. INTRODUCTION

Numerous studies contend that Aboriginal people are over-represented at each stage of the Canadian criminal justice system, and particularly in custody (Boe, 2002; La Prairie, 1992, 2002; Ratner, 1996; Roberts & Melchers, 2003; Stenning & Roberts, 2001). There is limited empirical research, however, that documents the overrepresentation of Aboriginal youth. In 2000, the Department of Justice Canada completed the One-Day Snapshot of Aboriginal Youth in Custody Across Canada (Bittle, Hattem, Quann & Muise, 2002), which reported that there were 1,148 Aboriginal youth incarcerated in Canada. The study did not count the number of non-Aboriginal youth, however, which precluded the comparison of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal incarceration rates.

Statistics Canada (2001) reported that Aboriginal youth represented nearly one-quarter of admissions to custodial facilities in 1998/99 in select provinces and territories. [1] It was also reported that Aboriginal youth represented 7% of all youth in those same provinces and territories. This indicated an overrepresentation of Aboriginal youth in custody. The research, however, used admissions as the unit of count rather than individuals . Although admissions can serve as a proxy measure of individuals, it can potentially be mistaken for an accurate count of individuals.

There are several reasons why admissions are not an accurate count of individuals. First, in the case of remands, the same individual can be detained and released several times during a single youth court case and therefore be counted more than once. Second, an admission-based method counts individuals who serve multiple unique custodial dispositions during the same fiscal year more than once. Third, an admission-based method counts individuals who are transferred between open and secure custody facilities under subsection 85(4) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) more than once. If Aboriginal youth are more likely to experience multiple detention stays in the same year or are more likely to be transferred between open and secure custody facilities compared to non-Aboriginal youth, using admissions as the unit of count may affect incarceration rates.

One of the central goals of this study was to determine precise incarceration rates for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth in Canada using a 'snapshot' method. A snapshot of youth in custody counts the number of individuals in each facility on a particular day. [2] This study also compared Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth in custody across several variables including the most serious offence/charge and sentence lengths. In addition, this study compared the results from the original 2000 Snapshot to the 2003 Snapshot to determine changes in the absolute numbers of Aboriginal youth in custody over the three-year period.

This study also qualitatively examined the experiences of Aboriginal youth in custody using a ' Sharing Circle ' method, which is similar to a focus group without the standard interaction among participants. The qualitative data collected provided insight into potential causes and consequences of over-representation based upon a unique perspective - the voices of the Aboriginal youth themselves. The Sharing Circle participants also provided their opinions on the nature and type of correctional programming, which they believed would enhance rehabilitation.

Finally, this study examined potential explanations for the overrepresentation of Aboriginal youth in custody using available data sources.


  • [1] These figures represent the following jurisdictions: Newfoundland and Labrador , Prince Edward Island , Nova Scotia , Manitoba , Alberta , British Columbia , Yukon and Northwest Territories .
  • [2] While a snapshot method provides accurate incarceration rates, it is limited. A snapshot count does not necessarily reflect average custody counts given that custodial admission rates can vary during the year.
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