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Twenty years ago it was very rare that an Indian spent time in jail. Indian people were isolated and stayed pretty much close to home on the reserve. Now social problems have spread on reserves and affected every home and family either directly or indirectly.
We make up only 3% of the population but make up 50% of the penitentiary population. 75% of the provincial jails and close to 100% of the women's jail.
The majority of the crimes involve alcohol, violence and petty theft. It is very rare that indians get involved in really serious premeditated crimes such as bank robberies, etc.
There is a very deep undercurrent of violence on most reserves. This surfaces with young men serving time for crimes of violence. In fact the majority of Indian people in jail arc young men under 30.
What then accounts for this reserve violence? Abuse of liquor is merely a symptom. The poverty frustration and a lack of a future has driven our people to prey on one another and create a generation of convicts. This creates an endless cycle with people coming out and back in again within the same month. It's called doing a life sentence on the installment plan.
How do we attack this problem? It breaks down into three parts before, after and during.
During - most Canadian institutions are little more than holding pens where the inmates do little more than their time. Rehabilitation is an afterthought and officers at the penitentiary freely admit that this institution is maximum security and security is the most important function to be performed. The entire Canadian penal system must be brought under review so that they become more meaningful than merely turning out more advanced Criminals than went in.
After - more often than not a released prisoner is simply dropped on the street and the police are informed that he has been released. Then begins game of cat and mouse and the mouse usually doesn't have a chance. The inmates at the Prince Albert penitentiary and the Regina provincial jail are planning halfway houses to help ease them back into the community. These are good projects and deserve the support of all Indian people.
Indian inmates also have a much harder time getting paroles. The excuse being that there are no parole officers on reserves but excuses like that are seriously questioned when a non-native who was a convicted wife murderer gets a week-end pass to get married a year after he went in.
Even in jail there is a law for the whites and a law for the Indians.
Before - reforming prisons and planning halfway houses are tackling the problem at one end and looked upon by many as closing the corral gate after the horse has run away. It is necessary to eliminate the problem entirely rather than making it easier to take. The very roots must be attacked with large scale programs on the reserve level. This involves recreation development, cultural revitalization, economic growth and political involvement. Youth must become involved in the affairs of the band, people must work for each other and attempt to reduce the size of the social problems on the reserves.
For years governments have looked at reserves as something that would fade away and all the Indians would move to the city and be assimilated into the white society. No more Indians, no more Indian problem. The result was that government monies were soaked up like a sponge in the Indian Affairs bureaucracy and just a trickle would reach the reserves.
This process must be reversed with Indian Affairs responsible to the people, reduced in size and function and decentralized to the reserve level.
The social problems must be eliminated by attacking the very base and new and daring methods must be used. Government agencies must stop trying to solve tomorrow's problems with yesterday's tools.