I came across an older news story about the Ombudsman looking into the 52% increase in black offenders in the federal system in the last decade. Black people comprise only 2.5 % of the Canadian population while black offenders make up 20 % of the federal prison population. Aboriginals represent a quarter of all inmates while comprising only four percent of the general population.
Why are these figures so illogical? Why is it that the colour of skin or heritage or ethnicity creates a greater chance that I will find myself imprisoned? What have we done and seem to be doing? Is poverty a factor? Does the colour of my skin influence the severity with which the law deals with me? Do we profile?
How long does it take for an attitude to change? Had I been allowed in a bar in my youth I would have walked in a different entrance and sat in a different area than aboriginals. That image would have seared my mind as to their value and despite our progress the scar would linger. When they started letting black people drink from any fountain they wanted, people didn’t stop lynching them. It takes some time for a belief to truly change. It has many images, words and experiences to which it is rooted. They were still throwing around nasty words when anyone could sit anywhere on the bus. To some extent there is an underlying attitude of less than in some minds still. Has it revealed itself in these statistics?
We are somehow failing two diverse and culturally significant populations. I know a little aboriginal spirituality, their simple wise beliefs and traditions, their beautiful culture. I have known several and have one as a friend. They have endured humiliation, segregation and general mistreatment from people they share their land with but few stand prouder. Let what I know of aboriginals into prisons and the men and women in them will absorb it. We need to include families and communities in our institutions. Social bonds lead to order and people can be shown how to be better citizens. If all I see is orange I can’t reflect much else. We need to give people the opportunity to be changed by imprisonment rather than simply being punished by it. While we’re waiting to change who ends up in prison lets change who comes out.