Prisons in Canada

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Canada has large federal and provincial prison systems. As in the United States, incarceration rates in these prisons are strongly loaded along racial and class lines, with lower-class people and people of colour vastly over-represented in prison populations.

Incarceration rate

The following data are from an article, "Mass Incarceration is Modern Day Slavery" by Christopher Wilson, Mojdeh Cox, and Isabelle Miller in Our Times: Canada's Independent Lbour Magazine Fall 2016, pp 14-17. The authors are associated with the Confederation of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU)

We looked at some telling statistics: In 2016, Canada's crime rate hit a 45-year low. Since peaking in 1991, the crime rate has been cut in half. At the same time, the number of people incarcerated has hit an all-time high. According to the article "Modern Day Residential Schools" (Macleans Magazine, February 18, 2016), the incarceration rate for Indigenous women has increased 112 percent in the last decade. In federal prisons, Indigenous inmates account for 22.8 percent of the total incarcerated population, while representing only 4.3 per cent of the total Canadian population.


While the Black populaton of Canada is three percent, people of African descent represent 10 per cent of the federal inmate population, notes the Torontoist's Catherine McIntyre. And according to the Toronto Star ("Unequal Justice: Aboriginal and black inmates diproportionately fill Ontario jails", March 1, 2013) Black boys are four times overrepresented versus white Boys in youth jail populations, while Indigenous boys are five times overrepresented."

The authors say Canadian self-talk about "multiculturalism" and the country's supposed tolerant society obfuscates the reality.

The discrimination against racialized victims of the police and prison system continues after their sentences are over because of criminal record checks by employers -- they can't get jobs.

Mass incarceration is increasingly being labelled the "new Jim Crow". Michelle Alexander, US author and civil rights lawyer, traced an unbroken line from the Atlantic Slave trade, to the institution of slavery, to segregation, to mass incarceration and deliberately discriminatory policies -- what Alexander deems "racial control under changing disguise." Her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, ... illustrates how a new host of discriminatory policies were instituted, not by accident, at just the time civil rights gains were being made." (P 16.)