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Native People In Jail Why Are There

Native People In Jail: Why Are There So Many? Essay, Research Paper The Aboriginal peoples of Canada were the first ones to occupy the land and establish lives for themselves and they were the sole inhabitants for many years before European contact. Aboriginal people are distinguished from others by their culture, language and legal status and there are over six hundred recognized bands in the country.

Native People In Jail: Why Are There So Many? Essay, Research Paper

The Aboriginal peoples of Canada were the first ones to occupy the land and establish lives for themselves and they were the sole inhabitants for many years before European contact. Aboriginal people are distinguished from others by their culture, language and legal status and there are over six hundred recognized bands in the country. Status Indians are registered under the Indian Act and belong to a band that has signed a treaty or other federal government document. Non-Status Indians identify themselves as Aboriginal but are not classified as so under the Indian Act. The Metis are a mixed group of both European and Indian ancestry. According to the 1991 census, about 3.7 percent of Canadians have Aboriginal origins of some sort. Considering their small percentage of the total population of Canada, Aboriginals tend to be over-represented in all stages of the criminal justice system. The census also showed that this group comprised twenty-four percent of those held in custody for conviction of a crime in 1991. (Jackson and Griffiths 236) There have been various inquiries conducted across Canada that have collected a wide range of data to help determine this phenomena. These studies have shown that since there is no proof that native are more “criminal” by nature, there are many other possible reasons for this large over-representation. These reasons include the social problems in many Aboriginal communities, alcohol and substance abuse, conflict with the “white society” and discrimination at the various levels of the justice system.

Background Information:

The society in which modern Canadian Aboriginals now live was created over time from the historical relations with European settlers. Before any contact with other countries, the natives lived in Canada, undisturbed, for a long period and developed successfully with their own beliefs, cultures and way of life. When the foreigners first came to Canada, they explored the new land and gathered resources such as fish, furs and metals. After first contact with the natives, the two groups established a long trading relationship in which the Europeans acquired furs to trade, back in their home countries. The relations remained friendly until these foreigners began to establish their new lives in Canada and essentially, control the country. This is when native society took a turn for the worst; “aboriginal life is marginalized, resulting from the historical processes of colonization, dislocation from homelands, and erosion of traditional activities” (LaPrairie 140) They were forced off their lands and were made to relocate on small reserves throughout the country. Their traditional patterns, such as hunting, fishing and gathering were lost and they were subjected to a wage economy which they knew nothing about. This loss of culture and way of life caused the community breakdown which is prevalent in aboriginal society today.

Potential Causes of Over Representation:

The society in which natives live is a major cause of the amount of crime that takes place in these communities. The majority of Canadians reside in the urban areas close the American border, while most Aboriginals live in the more northern, rural areas of Canada. The rural population and the western provinces of the country tend to experience the highest rates of Criminal Code offenses. In 1991, the crime rates in the Yukon, Northwest Territory and BC were the highest in the country.

There are many factors that contribute to the social disorganization of aboriginal communities and these pressures indirectly cause people to commit crime. These societies experience high rates of unemployment and even the few that do have jobs earn much less income than the rest of the population. In a survey conducted in Saskatchewan, the average income of those living on reserve is less than fifty percent of those who live off reserve. (Jackson and Griffiths 386) For many, federal assistance may be the only source of income. Lack of education is another serious problem that occurs often. In the same study, it is shown that fifty percent of the Natives on reserves had never been to high school and few had completed grade twelve. Family breakdown is another factor that many experience in native communities. In the Saskatchewan survey, single parent families comprised twenty-five percent of all the families on reserve and the birth rate outside of marriage was four to five times that of the national average. The men and women are obviously unable to abide by the “norms” of white, middle class society.

(Jackson and Griffiths 173) One of the communities largest problems is family violence. Of the women surveyed by the Ontario Native Women s Association in 1989, eighty-five percent admitted that they had personally experienced family violence and that eighty percent of the time, the abuse was a result of alcohol. (Jackson and Griffiths 389) All of the above factors contribute to high levels of conflict and this increases the likelihood of Natives becoming involved with the law. “For example, high levels of social disorganization caused by years of economic deprivation, cultural change and discrimination have been used by various researchers as an explanation for high rates of crime on some reserves in Canada.” ( Jackson and Griffiths 99)

The use of alcohol and other substances is prevalent in Aboriginal societies, especially in urban areas, and is one of the reasons why these people are so over represented in the Canadian justice system. Solvent abuse is common with younger generations, and involves inhaling substances such as gasoline, nail polish remover, paint thinner and varnish. In one such case in Shamattawa, Manitoba, eighty percent of children between the ages of three and eighteen took part in these activities. Many of these children were labeled as chronic users and suffer the possibility of brain damage. (Jackson and Griffiths 387) Unfortunately, this community does not have any treatment centers, so many of these abusers must go without help. Health and Welfare Canada does offer substance abuse programs but they are restricted to Status Indians that live on reserves only.

The corrupt society in which these people live also drives most to become dependent on alcohol to the extent that their lives actually revolve around drinking. In Saskatchewan, thirty to forty percent of natives are involved with alcohol abuse compared to only six percent of the general population. Drinking often occurs as a negative response to society or as a form of entertainment. People become frustrated by not being able to find work and the horrible conditions in which they must live and simply give up on trying to make things better. They have no self respect and don t care about anything. Considering the high unemployment rate, natives have a great deal of free time and few opportunities for recreational activities. They often drink because there is simply nothing better to do. There is no evidence that Aboriginals are less able to tolerate alcohol but they do behave distinctively when they are drunk:

Since they tend to be more actively in pursuit of the effects of alcohol, they are much more ready to behave like drunks. And behaving like a drunk is determined by how the drunk s behaviour is conceived. In our society there is a tendency to expect drinking to make social relations more fluent, and to allow conversation to flow. Among many Indians drink is expected to remove far more restraints than that.

(Brody 35)

Aboriginals do not consume alcohol moderately; instead they drink until they can no longer control themselves. Just short of unconsciousness, they become extremely angry and violent. The most popular forms of these outbursts are aggression against outsiders and violence against police. (Brody 39) The use of alcohol and other solvents have very negative effects because these substances alter the state of mind, causing natives to commit crime. Incidentally, the crimes that natives are arrested most for, are offenses relating to alcohol.

Both men and women are highly represented in the Canadian criminal system relative to the Native population but the case of women criminals is more extreme. From 1962 to 1984, thirty percent of women suspects were Native, although Natives only comprised three percent of the total population. They are much more likely to be charged for liquor offenses than non-aboriginal women and they are more than twice as likely to be charged and convicted of violent crimes. These women are usually characterized as being young, unmarried and uneducated which are all results of the social disorganization in their communities. They also suffer a great deal of violence at home and more than thirty percent of those convicted in Manitoba had been abused or sexually assaulted by their male partners. These women are also more involved in liquor offenses than non-native women because alcohol abuse is common in their society and is used as a way to escape from the many social problems. Aboriginal women are also usually unable to pay fines as an alternative sentence because of the high unemployment on and off reserves. When a fine payment is defaulted, a sentence of incarceration is given instead, thus making the representation of aboriginal women in jail even more predominant. Native women are even more disadvantaged than men and thus are over-represented in jails.

The large amount of conflict that exists between natives and the rest of Canada is another reason that they appear to be so greatly represented in prison. Before their lives were interfered with, the natives had their own distinct ways of dealing with crime and resolving conflict. When the Europeans began to implement law in Canada, they made little attempt to consider the culture and traditions that had been carried out by various bands for centuries. Aboriginal law was traditionally based on three important principles: resolving conflict, restoring order and harmony in the group or community and healing the offender, victim and community. (Jackson and Griffiths 390) The Canadian system however, focuses primarily on the behaviour of the individual offender and rarely addresses the causes of behaviour and the needs of the victim and community. Natives also disagree with the implementation of incarceration in Canada; “Imprisonment was and (continues to be) viewed as a destructive measure that harms not only the accused, but also the community.” (Comeau and Santin 132) These two systems differ greatly and cause a great deal of conflict between the way the law is made and administered. Since Canadian law does not consider natives, there is a greater incentive for them to be frustrated and disobey. Another problem is that many Aboriginals simply do not understand how the Canadian system works. They are unsure about the role of police, court procedures and what rights they are entitled to. This is exaggerated even more for those who do not understand the English language well. An example of this is the fact that aboriginal people plead guilty more due to misunderstanding. (LaPrairie 140)

Racism and discrimination, although hard to prove, are also considered to be the reasons that there are so many natives in the federal and provincial prisons across Canada. It is shown through studies however, that; “they are less likely to receive alternative sentencing, receive bail or get parole than non-Aboriginal Canadians. They are more likely to be incarcerated for a longer length of time than non-Aboriginal people.” (Royal Commission 86) There must be some reason why these factors continue to be true and the most common explanation for this is discrimination by all levels of the justice system. In the first stage of the system, many natives feel that they are treated unfairly by police officers because they tend to be arrested more often. They are also seen to be discriminated against because they receive legal representation rather than lawyers from the private bar. They usually spend no more than fifteen minutes with these lawyers before their case is represented in court. This could not possibly be enough time to gather the appropriate background information and details of the crime. Judges also tend to be harsh on native Canadians as a whole. It is shown through studies that judges are responsible for; “disproportionate sentencing of Aboriginal people to periods of incarceration in the absence of other sentencing options” (LaPrairie 141) Since most natives live in remote areas that are not easily accessible, it is difficult for them to access alternative sentencing options. In absence of these options, it is easier for judges to simply hand out shorter sentences. The granting of probation is conditional upon prior records of natives and since they appear to be incarcerated more often, they are less likely to receive this alternative. This creates a cycle in which many Aboriginals get caught up in throughout their lives. These factors all contribute to the unfair treatment that natives often receive through the justice system and cause them to be over represented in prisons.

Possible Solutions:

In order to cure the problem of over representation of aboriginal people in the Canadian justice system, there are many possible solutions that could be implemented to alternatively address crime. Some of the more common programs that are currently underway in western cities are native-run community based counseling services, cultural awareness programs, legal counseling and drug and alcohol therapy. (McMillan 302) These programs are designed to help overcome the conflicts that many natives come across every day in their communities. Circle sentencing is another resource that has been recently implemented in the Yukon and several provinces. In the same room, the judge, prosecutor, defense lawyer, victim, offender and community members all sit together to discuss a particular case. They discuss the background circumstances, needs of the victim and community and eventually arrive, by consensus, at an appropriate sentence for the offender. This is an effective alternative to sentencing because Aboriginal views and cultures are represented and it allows for restitution which the Canadian system usually ignores. Other solutions that have been recommended are the hiring of more Aboriginals at all levels of the justice system to avoid racism and discrimination, the use of alternatives to jail since natives are against incarceration and the implementation of a native-run court system to better address their distinct needs.

Aboriginal self government is currently an important issue and it is viewed to be a possible solution to the problem of high crime rates. It is defined as; “the right to govern themselves as they decide, sharing power with Ottawa and the provinces.” (Comeau and Santin 54) The idea of native people is not to fight for their independence as many might think. The models of self government being examined by native leaders would naturally follow the laws of Canada, the provinces and the territories but would also reflect their own practices and traditions. It would be beneficial for natives to adopt many different systems to incorporate the great deal of diversity between the different bands across the country. This poses a problem however, because the government feels that they should all agree on one system. In 1989, it was also argued by Canada s Conservative Minister of Justice that giving self government to natives would cause similar requests from other groups such as Quebec and there would be a large amount of controversy. (Comeau and Santin 131) Many feel that given the modern lifestyle of Aboriginals, they would not be able to handle the complex administration of self government. These people must understand the history of native culture before they make any judgments in whether or not they could handle their own system of justice:

“…We have to understand that the process of self-government is one they (native people) are inherently familiar with. It has been part of their life for generations. What has not been part of the system is the respect for their history.” This respect for native ways is what must evolve before real change can take place, Sinclair argues. “Not merely respect for it…..but a trust in it and a faith in it and a willingness to divest and give up control where control now rests.” (Comeau and Santin 129)

Natives should be given the benefit of the doubt. They should be given the chance to implement their own systems because they have an extremely distinctive culture which is by no means addressed in the current Canadian system. With their own system and various community programs in place, the various Aboriginal societies would be able to handle crime using their own practices and if effective, the crime rate may start to decline. These concepts have been discussed, in detail for many years now but still nothing has been done. It is about time that the governments of Canada concentrate more on the serious problems that many communities are currently facing and do something to improve the living conditions and crime rates of Canada s first inhabitants.

The Aboriginal peoples of Canada were the first ones to occupy the land and establish lives for themselves and they were the sole inhabitants for many years before European contact. Aboriginal people are distinguished from others by their culture, language and legal status and there are over six hundred recognized bands in the country. Status Indians are registered under the Indian Act and belong to a band that has signed a treaty or other federal government document. Non-Status Indians identify themselves as Aboriginal but are not classified as so under the Indian Act. The Metis are a mixed group of both European and Indian ancestry. According to the 1991 census, about 3.7 percent of Canadians have Aboriginal origins of some sort. Considering their small percentage of the total population of Canada, Aboriginals tend to be over-represented in all stages of the criminal justice system. The census also showed that this group comprised twenty-four percent of those held in custody for conviction of a crime in 1991. (Jackson and Griffiths 236) There have been various inquiries conducted across Canada that have collected a wide range of data to help determine this phenomena. These studies have shown that since there is no proof that native are more “criminal” by nature, there are many other possible reasons for this large over-representation. These reasons include the social problems in many Aboriginal communities, alcohol and substance abuse, conflict with the “white society” and discrimination at the various levels of the justice system.

Background Information:

The society in which modern Canadian Aboriginals now live was created over time from the historical relations with European settlers. Before any contact with other countries, the natives lived in Canada, undisturbed, for a long period and developed successfully with their own beliefs, cultures and way of life. When the foreigners first came to Canada, they explored the new land and gathered resources such as fish, furs and metals. After first contact with the natives, the two groups established a long trading relationship in which the Europeans acquired furs to trade, back in their home countries. The relations remained friendly until these foreigners began to establish their new lives in Canada and essentially, control the country. This is when native society took a turn for the worst; “aboriginal life is marginalized, resulting from the historical processes of colonization, dislocation from homelands, and erosion of traditional activities” (LaPrairie 140) They were forced off their lands and were made to relocate on small reserves throughout the country. Their traditional patterns, such as hunting, fishing and gathering were lost and they were subjected to a wage economy which they knew nothing about. This loss of culture and way of life caused the community breakdown which is prevalent in aboriginal society today.

Potential Causes of Over Representation:

The society in which natives live is a major cause of the amount of crime that takes place in these communities. The majority of Canadians reside in the urban areas close the American border, while most Aboriginals live in the more northern, rural areas of Canada. The rural population and the western provinces of the country tend to experience the highest rates of Criminal Code offenses. In 1991, the crime rates in the Yukon, Northwest Territory and BC were the highest in the country.

There are many factors that contribute to the social disorganization of aboriginal communities and these pressures indirectly cause people to commit crime. These societies experience high rates of unemployment and even the few that do have jobs earn much less income than the rest of the population. In a survey conducted in Saskatchewan, the average income of those living on reserve is less than fifty percent of those who live off reserve. (Jackson and Griffiths 386) For many, federal assistance may be the only source of income. Lack of education is another serious problem that occurs often. In the same study, it is shown that fifty percent of the Natives on reserves had never been to high school and few had completed grade twelve. Family breakdown is another factor that many experience in native communities. In the Saskatchewan survey, single parent families comprised twenty-five percent of all the families on reserve and the birth rate outside of marriage was four to five times that of the national average. The men and women are obviously unable to abide by the “norms” of white, middle class society.

(Jackson and Griffiths 173) One of the communities largest problems is family violence. Of the women surveyed by the Ontario Native Women s Association in 1989, eighty-five percent admitted that they had personally experienced family violence and that eighty percent of the time, the abuse was a result of alcohol. (Jackson and Griffiths 389) All of the above factors contribute to high levels of conflict and this increases the likelihood of Natives becoming involved with the law. “For example, high levels of social disorganization caused by years of economic deprivation, cultural change and discrimination have been used by various researchers as an explanation for high rates of crime on some reserves in Canada.” ( Jackson and Griffiths 99)

The use of alcohol and other substances is prevalent in Aboriginal societies, especially in urban areas, and is one of the reasons why these people are so over represented in the Canadian justice system. Solvent abuse is common with younger generations, and involves inhaling substances such as gasoline, nail polish remover, paint thinner and varnish. In one such case in Shamattawa, Manitoba, eighty percent of children between the ages of three and eighteen took part in these activities. Many of these children were labeled as chronic users and suffer the possibility of brain damage. (Jackson and Griffiths 387) Unfortunately, this community does not have any treatment centers, so many of these abusers must go without help. Health and Welfare Canada does offer substance abuse programs but they are restricted to Status Indians that live on reserves only.

The corrupt society in which these people live also drives most to become dependent on alcohol to the extent that their lives actually revolve around drinking. In Saskatchewan, thirty to forty percent of natives are involved with alcohol abuse compared to only six percent of the general population. Drinking often occurs as a negative response to society or as a form of entertainment. People become frustrated by not being able to find work and the horrible conditions in which they must live and simply give up on trying to make things better. They have no self respect and don t care about anything. Considering the high unemployment rate, natives have a great deal of free time and few opportunities for recreational activities. They often drink because there is simply nothing better to do. There is no evidence that Aboriginals are less able to tolerate alcohol but they do behave distinctively when they are drunk:

Since they tend to be more actively in pursuit of the effects of alcohol, they are much more ready to behave like drunks. And behaving like a drunk is determined by how the drunk s behaviour is conceived. In our society there is a tendency to expect drinking to make social relations more fluent, and to allow conversation to flow. Among many Indians drink is expected to remove far more restraints than that.

(Brody 35)

Aboriginals do not consume alcohol moderately; instead they drink until they can no longer control themselves. Just short of unconsciousness, they become extremely angry and violent. The most popular forms of these outbursts are aggression against outsiders and violence against police. (Brody 39) The use of alcohol and other solvents have very negative effects because these substances alter the state of mind, causing natives to commit crime. Incidentally, the crimes that natives are arrested most for, are offenses relating to alcohol.

Both men and women are highly represented in the Canadian criminal system relative to the Native population but the case of women criminals is more extreme. From 1962 to 1984, thirty percent of women suspects were Native, although Natives only comprised three percent of the total population. They are much more likely to be charged for liquor offenses than non-aboriginal women and they are more than twice as likely to be charged and convicted of violent crimes. These women are usually characterized as being young, unmarried and uneducated which are all results of the social disorganization in their communities. They also suffer a great deal of violence at home and more than thirty percent of those convicted in Manitoba had been abused or sexually assaulted by their male partners. These women are also more involved in liquor offenses than non-native women because alcohol abuse is common in their society and is used as a way to escape from the many social problems. Aboriginal women are also usually unable to pay fines as an alternative sentence because of the high unemployment on and off reserves. When a fine payment is defaulted, a sentence of incarceration is given instead, thus making the representation of aboriginal women in jail even more predominant. Native women are even more disadvantaged than men and thus are over-represented in jails.

The large amount of conflict that exists between natives and the rest of Canada is another reason that they appear to be so greatly represented in prison. Before their lives were interfered with, the natives had their own distinct ways of dealing with crime and resolving conflict. When the Europeans began to implement law in Canada, they made little attempt to consider the culture and traditions that had been carried out by various bands for centuries. Aboriginal law was traditionally based on three important principles: resolving conflict, restoring order and harmony in the group or community and healing the offender, victim and community. (Jackson and Griffiths 390) The Canadian system however, focuses primarily on the behaviour of the individual offender and rarely addresses the causes of behaviour and the needs of the victim and community. Natives also disagree with the implementation of incarceration in Canada; “Imprisonment was and (continues to be) viewed as a destructive measure that harms not only the accused, but also the community.” (Comeau and Santin 132) These two systems differ greatly and cause a great deal of conflict between the way the law is made and administered. Since Canadian law does not consider natives, there is a greater incentive for them to be frustrated and disobey. Another problem is that many Aboriginals simply do not understand how the Canadian system works. They are unsure about the role of police, court procedures and what rights they are entitled to. This is exaggerated even more for those who do not understand the English language well. An example of this is the fact that aboriginal people plead guilty more due to misunderstanding. (LaPrairie 140)

Racism and discrimination, although hard to prove, are also considered to be the reasons that there are so many natives in the federal and provincial prisons across Canada. It is shown through studies however, that; “they are less likely to receive alternative sentencing, receive bail or get parole than non-Aboriginal Canadians. They are more likely to be incarcerated for a longer length of time than non-Aboriginal people.” (Royal Commission 86) There must be some reason why these factors continue to be true and the most common explanation for this is discrimination by all levels of the justice system. In the first stage of the system, many natives feel that they are treated unfairly by police officers because they tend to be arrested more often. They are also seen to be discriminated against because they receive legal representation rather than lawyers from the private bar. They usually spend no more than fifteen minutes with these lawyers before their case is represented in court. This could not possibly be enough time to gather the appropriate background information and details of the crime. Judges also tend to be harsh on native Canadians as a whole. It is shown through studies that judges are responsible for; “disproportionate sentenc

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