WINNIPEG- New data from Statistics Canada show Manitoba’s criminal justice system is locking up youth and adults at rates that far outstrip other provinces.
The figures for 2017-2018 also show Manitoba is imprisoning Indigenous men and women in increasing numbers at the same time national incarceration rates are falling.
The agency’s data indicate that of all the inmates serving time in Manitoba, whether it’s federal, provincial, or community-based sentences, 75 per cent were Indigenous.
Manitoba registered a youth incarceration rate of 19 per 10,000 children, higher than any other province.
By comparison, eight of 10 provinces had youth incarceration rates of less than five per 10,000 children.
A spokeswoman for Manitoba Justice tells the Winnipeg Free Press that the government recognizes the issues, but says improvements are being made through the criminal justice system modernization strategy launched by the province last year.
The data released Thursday is just the latest confirmation of the issues that have plagued Manitoba’s criminal justice system for decades, said human rights lawyer Corey Shefman.
“There’s nothing about Manitoba that makes it more likely to commit criminal offences. This isn’t a problem with the people of Manitoba. It’s not a problem with the Indigenous people of Manitoba.
It’s a problem with the government of Manitoba,” he said.
StatCan said the national incarceration rate for provinces and territories came in at 83 per 100,000 adults in 2017-18. Manitoba registered a rate of 231 per 100,000 adults.
From 2007 to 2018, the number of Indigenous men and women entering custody in Manitoba rose by 60 per cent and 139 per cent, respectively.
The management of correctional services is a responsibility divided between the federal and provincial or territorial governments.
While the federal government handles adult offenders serving sentences of two years or more, lesser sentences or cases involving youth offenders fall under the purview of the provinces and territories.
Manitoba Justice said in a written statement that the number of youth in custody has declined over the last year by about14 per cent, but further improvements can be made.
The department spokeswoman said the province’s modernization strategy will aim to reduce the justice system’s reliance on custody, increase the use of restorative justice and diversion programs and build stronger reintegration supports for offenders.
“We have also recognized that Indigenous people are over-represented in our justice system as offenders and as victims,” she said.
Shefman countered that while Manitoba has made positive strides by implementing drug and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder courts, the province’s current modernization strategy is big on promises and light on details.
“It’s a bunch of government speak that accomplishes a whole lot of nothing. The solutions aren’t rocket science and they’re not novel. Manitoba needs to address a problem that is quickly becoming the new residential school,” said Shefman. (Winnipeg Free Press)