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


Numerous studies contend that Aboriginal people are over-represented at each stage of the Canadian criminal justice system, and particularly in custody. There is limited empirical research, however, that documents the overrepresentation of Aboriginal youth.

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

While there have been substantial reductions in the number of Aboriginal youth in custody since 2000, Aboriginal youth continue to experience an appreciably higher incarceration rate compared to non-Aboriginal youth. The incarceration rate of Aboriginal youth was 64.5 per 10,000 population while the incarceration rate for non-Aboriginal youth was 8.2 per 10,000 population. Aboriginal youth were almost eight times more likely to be in custody compared to their non-Aboriginal counterparts.

Sharing Circle participants discussed their experiences both in custody and prior to their incarceration and identified several serious issues including substance abuse, organised gangs, and racism. Participants also discussed their views on effective correctional programming for Aboriginal youth in custody. One of the key findings that emerged was a keen interest in Aboriginal cultural/spiritual programming and individual Mentoring.

The high incarceration rate of Aboriginal youth is likely related to a series of interactive factors. High rates of poverty, substance abuse and victimization can lead to family breakdown, and serious criminal behaviour at a young age. Possible discrimination within the youth criminal justice system may lead to the differential treatment of Aboriginal youth. In combination, these factors may be working to incarcerate Aboriginal youth at a rate eight times that of non-Aboriginal youth.

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