One of the five focus areas of The Journey Together is “creating a more cultural responsive and relevant justice system.” Reform of correctional facilities are central towards this goal. In 2015, Indigenous peoples made up 25% of the incarcerated population in Canada, well above the population of Indigenous peoples outside prisons.
Chiefs in Assembly Resolution 04/31 (First Nations Peoples and the Criminal Justice System in Ontario) concluded that there is a need to examine the justice system in Ontario and improve relations, policies and procedures, and Resolution 10/13 (Establishment of the Justice and Corrections Leadership Roundtable) called for a justice forum to discuss correctional facilities and services. Finally, Resolution 13/47 (A Strategy to Work Towards the Reconciliation of Overrepresentation of First Nations Peoples in the Justice and Correctional Systems) directly addressed the problems of overrepresentation in prisons, calling for access to justice for First Nations peoples, and declarations of responsibility of First Nation leadership to ensure that justice is provided in a culturally appropriate way. It also designated overrepresentation of First Nations people in prisons as a priority area for the Justice Forum.
Correctional Transformation was addressed in The Journey Together with the following commitment:
“Ontario continues to engage with Indigenous partners to develop options to address Indigenous overrepresentation in the correctional system, guided by the Correctional Services Transformation Strategy, which includes providing more culturally responsive programming to those in the system.”
Problematically, there is no publicly facing documentation concerning the Strategy, so while this strategy is guiding the province’s actions, there is little to no clarity concerning the contents of the strategy.
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services has been working to engage with First Nations to provide cultural supports and healing services for incarcerated First Nation peoples. Engagement sessions with 125 First Nation participants in Ontario led to 80 recommendations and next steps concerning the correctional system.
Some of the key results from these engagement sessions include the establishment of a policy framework for working within First Nations corrections, embedding Indigenous spiritual and cultural services into correctional plans, working with First Nation communities to develop plans moving forwards, expanding services, and exploring dedicated healing unites for Indigenous prisoners.
More recently the province has undertaken a review of the use of segregation in prisons, as well as a more fulsome review of the entire system. For more details on that review, see this post .