Female aboriginal inmates get bum rap

August 16, 2004

Aboriginal women offenders are often classified at a higher security level compared to other female prisoners by Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) - yet commit fewer infractions while incarcerated, say researchers.

"The rating system used by CSC produces a systemic bias against aboriginal women prisoners," says Anthony Doob, a University of Toronto criminologist and co-author of a paper in the July issue of the Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice. "Because of their higher classification, their lives, while in prison, are disadvantaged. Various privileges are not available to them and they are more likely to serve a greater portion of their sentence."

CSC uses the rating scale to assess the level of supervision and control required to safely detain inmates when they arrive in federal penitentiaries by assigning a classification of minimum, medium or maximum security to offenders. Doob and lead author Cheryl Webster of the University of Ottawa, who conducted the research while she was a postdoctoral fellow at U of T, examined the validity of the scale used to classify 68 aboriginal women and 266 other female prisoners in federal penitentiaries in 2003. For example, they found that 60 per cent of aboriginal women were classified as medium security risks compared to 42 per cent of non-aboriginal women, yet the aboriginal women committed fewer infractions in prison (30.6 per cent of the aboriginal women versus 53.6 per cent of other female inmates classified as medium security risks committed infractions).

"The goal is to classify women according to the risk they pose in the institution or outside if they were to escape," says Doob. "What the CSC doesn't seem to have is a classification system that works well for women in general and for aboriginal women in particular." The research was partially funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
CONTACT: Anthony Doob, Centre of Criminology, 416-978-6438 x230, anthony.doob@utoronto.ca or Sue Toye, U of T public affairs, 416-978-4289, sue.toye@utoronto.ca

University of Toronto

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