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There are several annual reports that provide important data on the criminal justice system in Canada each year. One of these is the Corrections and Conditional Release Statistical Overview (CCRSO) produced by Public Safety Canada, which covers crime rates, court cases, and prisoners held, supervised or released by the federal prison system. The most recent edition is 2017. Another is the Annual performance report of the National Parole Board, the most recent being 2017-18. This report covers admissions and releases from the federal prison system including detailed data on parole. A third is the annual Statistics Canada report on Adult and Youth Court Statistics, which covers number of cases, time to decision and sentencing across Canada. A fourth, the subject of this post, is Statistics Canada report on Adult and Youth Correctional Statistics, the subject of this post.
This report by Statistics Canada covers mainly how many people are either being held in jail or supervised by the provincial and federal correctional system.
Here are a few highlights from the 2017-18 report. Facts are drawn from the report; opinions (in italics) are those of this blog. Unlike the report itself, this post uses rounded-off numbers in most cases, as they are easier for most people to understand and interpret. Typical of many national analyses in Canada, not all provinces are included in all of the areas reported.
Nearly 39,000 adults were being held in custody in Canada on an average day in 2017-18. This is a rate of 131 per 100,000 people in Canada, which is down 9% from 4 years earlier.
This number is made up of three groups: 1) about 14,000 sentenced to more than two years, so being held in a federal penitentiary; 2) fewer than 10,000 sentenced to less than two years, so being held in a provincial jail; and 3) about 15,000 people being held on remand pending a plea or trial, also being held in provincial jails.
This means that provincial jails in Canada continue to hold more people who are legally innocent than who are legally guilty. And this disproportion has been getting worse for many years. The entire problem of overcrowding in provincial jails could be solved in immediately if the numbers being held in remand went back to where they were 20 years ago – and this even though the crime rate has dropped a great deal in Canada over those 20 years. Even though the Supreme Court has made several rulings about the excessive use of pre-trial detention (e.g. R. vs Myers), the situation has not improved at all. This is clearly one of the biggest problems in the entire justice system.
On the positive side, the youth incarceration rate is much lower at 40 per 100,000, a drop of 12% from the year before.
Parole and probation
About 95,000 adults were being supervised on parole, probation or through other measures in Canada on any given day in 2017-18 (excluding Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Yukon). About 9,000 of these were on parole from the federal system.
The youth parole/probation rate is much lower, at about 36 per 100,000, and has dropped by 35% over the last five years. And yet the drop in youth imprisonment and supervision has not led to an increase in crime overall, which suggests that the adult rates could also safely decline.
The total rate of adults jailed or supervised by the system in Canada was close to 500 per 100,000, or 5 roughly people in a thousand.
Indigenous people continue to be vastly over-represented in the criminal justice system, and in fact that situation is getting worse rather than better.
About 30% of admissions to custody in that year were Indigenous, compared to 4% of the Canadian population. A decade ago, Indigenous people accounted for about 20% of admissions to custody, so there has been a dramatic deterioration over that time.
The situation with youth is just as bad. Indigenous youth account for nearly half of all youth admissions to custody compared to their 8% of the total youth population.
The Canadian jail and prison system has been getting steadily more expensive. Costs rose by 7% after inflation in 2017-18 from the prior year, to more than $5 billion. Costs to maintain a prisoner rose to $233 per day ($85,000 per year) in the provincial systems, and $330 per day, or more than $130,000 per year for a federal prisoner.
Given the very poor outcomes from incarceration in terms of both public safety and individual welfare, this must surely rank as one of the worst investments of public money that Canadians make.