Canada’s federal prisons house an average of 14,310 inmates and the number is  soaring high every year. It has been estimated that in 2015-2016, Correction Service Canada’s expenditures totaled approximately to $2.4 billion, which is far more than the education and housing budget combined.

Even though Canada’s incarceration of people of color seem limited in comparison to the US, a recent report has tabled that the police bias against blacks in Toronto is far worse than in Los Angeles. From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, many unarmed black Canadians in Toronto were shot or killed by Toronto police officers. In response, the Black Action Defense Committee (BADC) executive director, Dudley Laws, claimed that Toronto had the ‘most murderous’ police force in North America.

Despite this visible atrocity in black Canadians, the afflictions they have faced are far worse. Other than the expenditures of incarcerations, criminal justice enforcement imposes costs on the convicted, their family members and also their communities. Some of these social costs are direct and premeditated, while others are indirect or unpremeditated.

Families of convicted individuals have to pay both the masked and evident costs while their loved ones are in jail. It becomes extremely difficult for black women and families of high poverty to continue their livelihood or even survive while trying their best to give their loved ones at jail even a bit comfort.

Black inmates yet have to endure the agony as their maximum daily payment is $6.9 which has been set more than 35 years ago. Most of that is deducted, while the rest goes towards basic items such as soaps, stamps and stationery.

Incarceration affects both physical and mental health of family members while inmates have to pay the price financially, physically, emotionally, psychologically and mentally.

 

Recent reports have revealed that along with the cost of bail, other underlying costs are endured by the family members such as, cost of attorney, court and fine fees, and phone and visitation charges. Such charges have basically rendered them towards a point to where the had to sell their homes or were forced into severe debt or both. 40% of black Canadians now live below the poverty line. Moreover, black families are seven times more likely than white families to stay in homeless shelters.

The rise in incarceration if people of color has often been a result of police bias. Between 2009 and 2010, black people were on average 3.2 times more likely to be carded by officials. More disheartening is the fact that while African- Canadians make up 3.4% of the general population, they account for 8.6% of the federal prison population, which can mean that 1 in 10 federal prisoners being black.

The table shows the frequency of High-poverty census tracts in the year 2000

No. Poor CTS Minority in poor CT (%)

Montreal   108   19.3
Ottowa     10  20.5
Toronto 23 38.8
Edmonton 4 12.8
Vancouver 9 22.7
All 27 CMAs 234 17.8

CT= Census Tract

Canadian Figures from Heisz and McLead (2004)

Most families of black inmates are living below the poverty line and are estimated as close to 40%. Families do not only fall under acute debt but also face collateral damage such as loss of children sent to foster care or extended family, diminished income, loss of opportunities regarding both education and employment.

Some of the visible consequences if incarceration are:-

  • Loss of income: Families have had problem meeting basic needs such as food after at most times the sole bread maker has been incarcerated. Nearly two – thirds of black families have been plunged under debt because of paying court fees and trying to sustain the family.
  • Hardships of women: Wives and other family members on the outside had to pay for costs of incarceration. They had to face both financial and emotional stress and even more hardships because of being black.
  • Debt: More than 80% of families have fallen under debt since most of the respondents earn less than $15,000 per year while the average costs of court fines and fees are around $14,000 leaving almost nothing to survive on.
  • Housing and Employment: Even after incarceration, black families gave been evicted and denied housing. The widespread practice of employers requiring prospective employees to disclose their criminal record, even when their job does not involve engaging with vulnerable populations have caused most black individuals jobless or extremely underpaid.
  • Isolation and trauma in family: Almost three-fourth of family members of convicted individuals have faced isolation, depression and extreme marginalization. Children are traumatized, families and the convicted individuals face Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder and other forms of stress.

Sadly, and unsurprisingly, the voices of black convicted citizens from racialized communities have been largely unsolicited, sidelined or silenced until now. This March, a group of reporters have managed to dig out the secrets about conviction that had been buried by the government for years. Most families of prisoners, especially people of color have repeatedly complained that discrimination had been supported by court decisions and disparate arrests are still increasing. We’ve seen other issues such as carding, racial policing and police (un) accountability. Moreover, the police, politicians and mainstream media have played constructively in imaging black people as the default consumers of illegal substances, especially cannabis even though there is no scientific research evidence that African-Canadians are in possession of, consume or distribute more cannabis than any other racial group.

A concerted effort by the government is required to create strategies that would help implement community-based initiatives, like offering restorative justice and diversion programs, and offering alternative sentencing. If the federal and local government would allocate some of the money from funding prison to work with black communities, the people would actually start doing well and crime would actually go down.