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Incarceration of Aboriginal Offenders: Trends From 1978 to 2001

NCJ Number
Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice Volume: 45 Issue: 2 Dated: April 2003 Pages: 211-242
Julian V. Roberts; Ronald Melchers
Julian V. Roberts
Date Published
April 2003
This study examined the use of imprisonment for Aboriginal offenders in Canada from 1978 to 2001 with special attention given to the change in volume of Aboriginal admissions to custody and the decline in the rate of admissions between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal admissions.
In 2000-2001, Aboriginal Canadians represented 19 percent of provincial admissions to custody and 17 percent of admissions to Federal penitentiaries. The over-representation of Aboriginal Canadians in Canada’s correctional system has been documented for years. Recognition of the problem has led to a number of policy innovations in recent years. Even though statistics on the ethnicity of offenders admitted to custody has been recorded and reported annually for some time, no analysis of historical trends has been conducted. This paper addresses these historical trends in the use of imprisonment for Aboriginal offenders. It examines provincial custodial sentenced admissions for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal offenders since 1978. Results indicate: (1) the number of Aboriginal offenders sent to prison is higher now than in 1978; (2) the number of Aboriginal admissions has declined at a slower rate than non-Aboriginal admissions; (3) the sentencing reforms of 1996 may have accelerated, but do not seem to have caused the declining rates of custodial admissions in the 1990's across Canada; and (4) the provinces and territories that had high rates of Aboriginal incarceration in 1978 also had high rates in 2001. The findings suggest that little progress has been made in reducing the number of Aboriginal sentenced admissions over the past few decades and the reforms of 1996 have failed to generate a lower volume of sentenced admissions for Aboriginal offenders. The results of this research should stimulate efforts to identify and address the causes of Aboriginal admissions to the criminal justice system. Tables, notes, references