Program targets aboriginal issues in justice system

CalgaryHerald.com/news – Reports to adhere to ‘Gladue principles’
January 27, 2012.    By Douglas Quan, Postmedia News

The Correctional Service of Canada is developing a national training program to ensure staff are adhering to principles set out in a landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 1999 that called over-representation of aboriginals in the justice system a “crisis.”

In R v Gladue, the Supreme Court recognized that certain mitigating factors, including aboriginal peoples’ history of dislocation, disadvantage and discrimination, and a range of options should be considered when sentencing them.

Despite that ruling, aboriginal offenders today still account for 20 per cent of the federal offender population, even though aboriginal adults represent four per cent of the Canadian population.

In a call for tenders issued Thursday, Corrections Canada said it is seeking to develop a training workshop for all staff who are responsible for writing case management reports “to ensure their ability to apply the Gladue principles in all case management reports.”

A background sheet attached to the call for bids noted that the circumstances of crimes committed by aboriginal offenders are “often related to substance abuse, inter-generational abuse, residential schools, family issues and low levels of education, employment and income.”

It also noted that while the Supreme Court decision dealt primarily with the sentencing of aboriginal offenders, its principles can be applied at “any” stage of an aboriginal offenders’ movement through the justice system.

Howard Sapers, Canada’s corrections monitor, said Thursday he was encouraged by the development, noting that aboriginal offenders have tended not to fare as well when they come out of the traditional prison system compared to non-aboriginal offenders.

“A lot of disadvantage that characterizes the lives of aboriginal offenders before incarceration continues to be part of their lives postincarceration,” he said.

With the additional training, corrections staff will hopefully do a better job of taking into account the “unique social history” of aboriginal offenders when making decisions about where to place them, how to assess their risks, what programs to provide them, and when and under what conditions to release them, he said.

Sapers cited the example of how incarcerated offenders may be granted temporary releases to attend the funeral of an immediate family member. For aboriginal offenders, whose primary caregivers were aunts or grandmothers, that privilege is sometimes denied.

Reports from the corrections watchdog in recent years have said that while Corrections Canada has adopted Gladue principles into their policy documents, evidence of the application of those principles by corrections staff has been lacking.

“Gladue has not yet made the kind of impact one would hope for in the management of aboriginal sentences,” the corrections watchdog reported in its annual 2009-10 report.

Corrections Canada says it hopes to deliver the training across the country during the 2012-13 fiscal year.

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