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Data gap: Governments don’t track how many inmates have been in care

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WATCH: Community leaders are questioning a data gap that could show the connection between the child welfare and justice systems – Sep 9, 2020

Community leaders in Saskatchewan are questioning a data gap that could determine how many children in government care end up behind bars.

The Correctional Service of Canada and Saskatchewan’s corrections and policing ministry don’t track that information, but the province’s children’s advocate says they should.

“We certainly know in this province, that… if children have been in the child welfare system, the segue into the justice system is just right there,” Lisa Broda told Global News in a recent interview.

“Why wouldn’t we want to know what that number actually looks like?”

Read more: Saskatchewan on trend to surpass 2019 child welfare deaths

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Researchers have dubbed the trend the “care-to-prison pipeline,” said Michelle Stewart, an associate professor with the University of Regina’s justice studies department.

“It’s really emblematic of a system that needs to address systemic racism, the impacts of colonialism and the ongoing impacts of residential schools and intergenerational trauma,” she said.

In his years as a Yorkton Tribal Council child and family services worker, Richard Aisaican said he saw many youths turn to criminal activity.

“They tend to gravitate towards a connection of some type, and that connection usually involves gangs and survival mode,” said Aisaican, now a councillor for Cowessess First Nation.

“They don’t feel wanted. They feel as though they’re getting passed around. And it becomes a punishment, so of course they’re going to react and overreact.”

Quantifying that trend could help put a stop to it, Aisaican said. The data could be obtained through a survey of incarcerated people, who could offer new insight about why they ended up in jail, he said.

“That number and that survey could inform programs and services,” Aisaican said.

‘Significant technical, legal and privacy work’

Obtaining that number wouldn’t be as simple as cross-referencing names in government databases, according to Saskatchewan’s corrections and policing ministry.

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“Tracking this information would require linking the systems that Corrections and Social Services use to record interactions with clients and offenders,” spokesperson Noel Busse said in a statement to Global News.

“Doing this would require significant technical, legal and privacy work to ensure that the sharing of information would be secure and sensitive to any potential privacy concerns.”

Stewart said collecting the data would also have to be done in consultation with Indigenous communities, which are disproportionately represented in the child welfare and criminal justice systems.

About 86 per cent of children in Saskatchewan’s care are Indigenous, according to the social services ministry. Meanwhile, Statistics Canada data from 2018 shows 98 per cent of girls and 92 per cent of boys in Saskatchewan correctional facilities are Indigenous.

Read more: Stats Canada — Indigenous youth overrepresented in Saskatchewan prisons

Quantifying the care-to-prison pipeline would likely require asking inmates if they’ve been in government care — a potentially triggering question, Stewart said.

“There needs to be a lot of thought that goes into collecting that statistic, the need for that statistic, who is asking for that information and why,” she said.

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“The federal government, provincial and territorial governments are slow to act, and so if we’re asking (that question), there needs to be action behind it.”

Ultimately, she said there’s already plenty of information pointing to the problems in the child welfare and criminal justice systems.

“What we need to do is look at the statistics that we already have,” she said, “and ask why things haven’t changed already.”