Canada’s independent prisons ombudsman has launched an inquiry into a 50 per cent spike in the proportion of black offenders filling federal jails over the last 10 years.
Howard Sapers, the federal correctional investigator, wants to study the possible causes behind the increase, which saw the proportion of black offenders in federal incarceration jump to 9.12 per cent in 2010-2011, from less than six per cent a decade earlier.
It amounts to a 52 per cent leap, with the most dramatic increase occurring over the last five years.
More than 1,300 black offenders are currently serving time in federal penitentiaries. Most of them are in Ontario, where 20 per cent of the entire federal prison population of 14,312 inmates is black, according to new statistics.
Whether those numbers can be curbed–and why they are what they are–will be the focus of Sapers’ report. If there are gaps in the system that must be filled, such as a possible need to hire more visible minority staff, he hopes to identify them.
The disproportionate number of black convicts serving in federal prisons has long troubled Roger Rowe.
The Toronto lawyer, who has been practising for more than 20 years, said little has changed since a 1995 report on systemic racism in Ontario’s criminal justice system.
“On any given day, you can step into any criminal court in Toronto and see a gross over-representation of black young males,” Rowe said, adding that he feels the issue of an over-representation of black and aboriginal people has been studied to death.
“Very often, poverty is a factor. Disengagement from the school system is a factor. Racial profiling is a factor,” Rowe said.
Tazio Clarke, a Toronto social worker who mostly helps adolescent, high-risk and black offenders, said Sapers will likely find that the black prison population is young and in need of education.
As for the latest statistics showing the spike in black inmate representation, Clarke was hardly surprised, adding that he only needs to scan the faces in a detention centre to draw an obvious conclusion.
“Visually, I could see the reality to the stats,” he said. “Like, what’s going on here? Do they have specific jails for other cultures that I’m not visiting? Because I’m not seeing them.”