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Saskatoon advocate calls for prisons to be abolished

Click to play video 'Saskatoon advocate calls for prisons to be abolished' Saskatoon advocate calls for prisons to be abolished
Erica Violet Lee, of the Indigenous Joint Action Coalition, says police and prisons should be abolished and replaced with a more equitable system.

Indigenous Joint Action Coalition spokesperson Erica Violet Lee said a more just society means abolishing more than just the police.

She told Global News prisons should also be abolished.

“The whole conception of prisons and police has to do with the idea that people are disposable, that we can lock someone away and somehow solve a problem,” she said.

Read more: Provincial government puts $6.3M towards Saskatchewan jail renovations

She specified IJAC is calling for the police and prison system to be abolished, and not just defunded, because “the whole structure, the whole way the system is set up” must be changed to ensure more equality and less police violence against people of colour.

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“It’s ultimately about whether or not we want a society where people are re-integrated and have a chance at having a full, fulfilling life.”

“I think when we look at investments into prisons I think we should be equally looking at investments into the community,” said Danielle Bird, who will begin a PhD examining the effects of the prison system on Indigenous men.

She told Global News the high incarceration rate of Indigenous people is a sign the system isn’t working how many people believe it should work — but that it is doing what it was designed to do.

Read more: Indigenous incarceration rates in Saskatchewan 65% federally, 75% provincially

“The reason why we don’t see things changing is we… see the prison system itself as a beneficial institution that functions in ways that supports community and it actually doesn’t do that,” she said.

“The prison system itself is inherently violent. It was founded on the erasure of Indigenous people within the Prairie provinces.”

In Saskatchewan, Indigenous comprise 65 per cent of the federal prison population and 75 per cent of the provincial prison population, according to reports from the federal and provincial governments.

Bird said governments should offer the programs held in prisons, like the various community reintegration programs, outside jail walls to connect with people before they interact with police and the prison system.

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Otherwise, she said, Canada and Saskatchewan will continue to see a “revolving door” of people who were previously incarcerated brought back into jail.

Read more: Cultural training, increased access to Elders recommended by Waylon Starr coroner’s jury

In a statement, Correctional Service Canada said the management and safe integration of offenders into the community is a priority.

It says its programs are “based on research of ‘what works’” and it is committed to ensuring ethnocultural offenders are afforded the same protections as others, consistent with the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The statement outlined several services dedicated to specifically helping Black and Indigenous people and said it is undertaking more research “to better understand the experience of ethnocultural offenders.”

Lee said the prison system should be replaced with measures like harm reduction and poverty alleviation strategies.

She said such programs would help people avoid the scenario where they need to commit a crime and to help the offender, their victims and society recover after a crime is committed.

“The reality is you can’t just lock someone away for years and years and expect them to be healed or expect society to be healed from those crimes.”

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