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BARBERSHOP TALK Series: Black men, prisons & reintegration in Canada

Definitions and Fact and Reports Sheet

by Dr. Tamari Kitossa
Sociology, Brock University
St. Catharines, Ontario

Recidivism: Though it has a variety of meanings, recidivism generally refers to an ex-prisoner or a prisoner on parole breaching their parole order or committing an offence that returns them to prison.

  1. The term is generally understood as a performance measure of:
    a) the deterrent effect of imprisonment and
    b) the quality of preparation (e.g., behavioural and substance treatment and programs such as education and skills training etc) provided by Correctional Service Canada and/or approved volunteers
  2. Generally refers to a prisoner on parole who:
    a) breaches one or more terms of the conditions of their release (e.g., late for curfew, not to drink alcohol etc)
    b) commits a criminal offence other than that for which they were initially incarcerated
  3. an ex-prisoner not on parole who commits an offence, is convicted and incarcerated
  4. an aggregate statistical measure of (1), (2) or (3) generally at the 1 year, 2 year, 3 year, 5 year, and 10 year marks

Parole: The Corrections and Conditional Release Act directs the Parole Board of Canada in setting out the terms and conditions for early release of prisoners prior to warrant expiry of the term of their punishment. Most prisoners can apply for early release at 1/3 into their term of imprisonment. For eligibility, the Parole Board uses a statistical risk survey instrument and considers the nature of the offence and the demeanor of applicant.

Prison: This term technically applies only to persons incarcerated for offences punishable by 2 years plus one day in a penitentiary.

Probation: Applies to sentences where incarceration is suspended in lieu of specific conditions (i.e., fines, restitution etc) and/or where the sentence is “split” between serving time in jail (municipal lockup) or detention centre (provincial carceral facility) where the conviction is less than 2 years.

Facts and reports

A Comprehensive Study of Recidivism Rates among Canadian Federal Offenders

Two year revocation rate:

32.1%23.4Any new offence
18.3%12.1%Violent offence

Using combined OMS and CPIC data, the two-year post-release reoffending rate for the entire 2011-2012:

Using combined OMS and CPIC data, the two-year post-release reoffending rate for the entire 2011-2012:
• Overall, 23.4%
• Men, 24.2%
• Women, 12%.

Rates of recidivism for Indigenous offenders
• Men, 37.7%
• Women, 19.7%

Note: No other racial disaggregation available

Office of the Correctional Investigator. 2014. A Case Study of Diversity in Corrections: The Black Inmate Experience in Federal Penitentiaries Final Report.
• Only 4% of Black inmates incarcerated in a Canadian federal penitentiary were women (55) in 2011/12; the majority, 96%, were men (1285).
• The Black inmate population is a young one. One-half of Black inmates are 30 years of age or younger while only 8% are over the age of 50. By comparison, only 31% of the general inmate population is 30 years of age and under. One in five are 50 years of age and over.
• The majority of Black inmates (51%) were incarcerated for Schedule I (violent) offences in 2011/12. 18% were incarcerated for Schedule II (drug) offences25.
• Approximately 18% of Black inmates were incarcerated for first degree murder or second degree murder. These proportions are consistent with those of the overall inmate population. The one group of offences where Black inmates differ substantially from the general inmate population is with respect to sex offences. Approximately 10% of Black inmates were incarcerated for sex offences in 2011/12, compared to 15.5% of all federal inmates.
• The 2011/12 Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator (OCI) identified Black inmates as one of the fastest growing sub-populations in federal corrections. It highlighted the increasing over-representation of this group relative to their proportion within the Canadian population. Over the last 10 years, the number of federally incarcerated Black inmates has increased by 75% (767 Black inmates in 2002/03 to 1340 Black inmates in 2011/12) with most of this increase occurring in the last 6 years (2006/07 to 2011/12)10. Black inmates now account for 9.3%11 of the total federal prison population (up from 6.1% in 2002/03) while representing approximately just 2.9%12 of the Canadian population (see diagram).
• Black male offenders in particular, is gang affiliation. As of April 14, 2013, Black inmates were nearly two times more likely than the general inmate population to have a gang affiliation (21.3% vs 12.3%)
• this review found that the cultural needs of Black inmates are not being adequately met or addressed in 3 key areas: correctional programs, availability of products and cultural food, and community support
• while many Black inmates reported interactions with inmates and CSC staff that were considerate and respectful, all reported experiencing discrimination by other inmates and correctional officials. Significantly, the investigation found that Black inmates were most concerned about their treatment by CSC staff
• Unlike the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System (1994) which found Ontario prisons to be very hostile environments for Black inmates in terms of the use of racist language, federal Black inmates reported that while they heard and/or experienced the use of racist language, it was not felt to be pervasive. More concerning to them were the behaviours exhibited by many CSC staff. Much of what inmates reported to the Office falls within what the literature describes as “covert discrimination”.
• Black inmates reported numerous examples of stereotyping. Judgments about their character and lifestyle were also common. Most of the Black men described being labeled a ‘gang member’, a ‘trouble maker, a ‘drug dealer, and/or a ‘womanizer’. Many CSC staff corroborated this and agreed that there were staff members that were biased and employed stereotypes, viewing everything Black inmates did through bias and prejudice, though they felt that most CSC staff were fair and professional.
• At all the men’s institutions, the label ‘gang member’ and ‘trouble maker’ were commonly applied, particularly when three or more Black inmates gathered together (The label ‘trouble maker’ was also prevalent at the women’s institution again when Black women congregated).
• Employment while in prison is important as it can aid in an inmate’s reintegration into society by offering an opportunity to learn skills and acquire experience that are required to work in trades such as construction and manufacturing. Black inmates consistently reported difficulties finding prison employment and the lack of Black inmates working in jobs of ‘trust’ or for CORCAN
• CSC commissioned a national consultation in 2011 with visible minority employees which resulted in a Visible Minority Action Plan containing 37 actions, though it is unclear what has been accomplished to date
• Between 2007/08 and 2011/12, the number of disciplinary charges incurred by Black inmates increased by 59% despite the fact that the number of disciplinary charges laid over the same time period decreased by 7%. Over the 5 year period, Black inmates were consistently over-represented in categories of charges that could be considered discretionary or requiring judgement on the part of correctional officer
• Between 2007/08 and 2011/12, Black inmates were consistently over-represented in involuntary/disciplinary segregation placements
• Surprisingly, while conditions and treatment seem to be more difficult or unfavourable for Black inmates, as a group they manage relatively well once released from prison. Over the last 5 years, (2007/08 – 2011/12), successful completion rates for both federal day and full parole were consistently higher for Black offenders.

Probation: Bias behind bars: A Globe investigation finds a prison system stacked against Black and Indigenous inmates

Race: Prison population vs general population

 Prison popGen pop

• Risk assessments are the high prophets of the prison system, used to divine an inmate’s true nature through a mix of numerical scores on standardized tests and parole officers’ raw judgments
• They’re steeped in decades of research – and they are also fundamentally, powerfully biased against Indigenous and Black inmates, placing them in higher security classifications and assigning them worse odds of successfully re-entering society
• Indigenous and Black inmates aren’t at the same starting line as everyone else – a conclusion featured in a host of government reports, academic studies and legal challenges going back years
• In 2018, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed, ruling that the CSC had failed to ensure their psychological risk assessments were not culturally biased
• The following year, a Senate report noted the security classification tools may be resulting in harsher incarceration terms for racialized people
• As a Federal Court judge wrote in 2015, risk assessment scores are “like a branding – hard to overcome”
• “There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that there is systemic racism in federal corrections,” says Dr. Ivan Zinger, Canada’s Correctional Investigator. A psychologist by training, Dr. Zinger says the difference in Indigenous and Black inmates’ scores amounts to “a question of opportunity.” By putting certain groups in higher security levels and focusing on risk, he says, the CSC limits their opportunities for programming, making it harder for inmates to receive treatment and learn the skills they need to get out of prison. “If the tools actually overclassify people, and the programs aren’t as available or effective at higher security, then of course it perpetuates systemic discrimination,” he says. “Absolutely.”
• The idea of forecasting inmates’ criminal behaviour stretches back nearly a century. In 1928, Canadian-born University of Chicago sociologist Ernest Burgess built a statistical tool, later adopted by the Illinois Board of Paroles, that predicted whether an inmate would go on to reoffend
• Two assessments are particularly crucial:
1) Custody Rating Scale, meant to measure what kind of security risk an inmate poses inside. The 12 multiple-choice questions – focused on the severity of the current offence, any history of drug or alcohol use, and so on
2) Reintegration Potential Score, which gains in importance toward the end of an inmate’s sentence. The Parole Board of Canada uses that score – low, medium or high – to estimate how prepared an inmate is to reenter society and whether they pose a public safety risk if released.
• Static Factors Assessment focuses on an inmate’s past convictions and behaviour
• Dynamic Factors Identification and Analysis test measure the alterable aspects of an inmate’s life, including education, employment history, relationships, family ties, history of substance abuse, community attachments, and emotional and mental state. (Though all inmates have a Dynamic score, it only factors into the reintegration potential rating for Indigenous and female inmates.) For everyone else, there’s the Statistical Information on Recidivism scale, which has never been used on Indigenous inmates or women because of decades-old concerns about cultural bias.

Best and worst security level scores by race per 100

There are two scores that matter most. The first is an inmate’s security level, which measures the risk inmates pose in custody. Prisons use a purely math-based, or actuarial, form to calculate this score.

At the start of their sentence, 13 and 14 out of 100 Indigenous and Black inmates, respectively, will get the worst score.

 Inmates who are white or “other,” meanwhile, are far less likely to get bad security scores, and more likely to get good ones. The Globe’s analysis found a deeper disparity: after accounting for several variables, Black men are nearly 24 per cent more likely to end up with the worst score, a “maximum,” than white men.The second score we focused on, an inmate’s “reintegration potential,” combines actuarial and non-actuarial scores and requires more subjective judgments from prison officers about how likely inmates are to successfully re-enter society. Near the end of their sentence, more than twice as many Indigenous men got the worst possible scores than the best ones.

Best and worst reintegration scores by race out of 100:

The second score we focused on, an inmate’s “reintegration potential,” combines actuarial and non-actuarial scores and requires more subjective judgments from prison officers about how likely inmates are to successfully re-enter society.

 Near the end of their sentence, more than twice as many Indigenous men got the worst possible scores than the best ones. After accounting for the same variables we did earlier, The Globe’s analysis found Indigenous men are roughly 30 per cent more likely than white men to get the worst possible reintegration score. This is a disadvantage in their efforts to get paroled.  Black inmates end up doing better on reintegration scores than Indigenous inmates, though not quite as well as white ones.

INTERIM REPORT – Study on the human rights of federally-sentenced persons: the most basic human right is to be treated as a human being (1 February 2017-26 March 2018)

• The Pipeline to Prison: Witnesses told the committee that experience with the child welfare system and experiences, both in childhood and later life, of poverty, homelessness, trauma and abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, coupled with a lack of access to adequate social support and related services in the community, are pervasive amongst federally-sentenced persons.
• Inter-generational trauma, systemic racism and discrimination multiply the disadvantages experienced by Indigenous, Black Canadians and other racialized persons before and after they are criminalized.

Join Dr. Kitossa at our next Barbershop Talk Series

More to come!

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