Aboriginal youth locked up at higher rates than non-Aboriginal youth, new study finds
October 7, 2015
Vancouver, BC [October 7, 2015] A new study from the Urban Health Research Initiative (UHRI), a program of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE), is the first to show street-involved Aboriginal youth in Vancouver are significantly more likely to be imprisoned than their non-Aboriginal peers. Past studies have explored risk factors involving adult Aboriginal populations, however much less is known about incarceration among street-involved Aboriginal youth.
The study Aboriginal street-involved youth experience elevated risk of incarceration was recently published in the journal Public Health. It looked at data collected from 1050 youths over an eight-year period between September 2005 and May 2013 – one quarter identified as Aboriginal – through the At–Risk Youth Study (ARYS). To qualify, participants had to be between the ages of 14-26 at the time of enrolment. Over the study period, 36 per cent of participants reported having spent at least one night in detention, prison or jail in the last six months, with significantly higher rates for youth from an Aboriginal background.
Researchers took into account drug use, homelessness and other factors that might place youth at greater risk of imprisonment, but still found street-involved Aboriginal youth were more likely to end up incarcerated. Study senior author, Dr. Kora DeBeck, Research Scientist at UHRI and Assistant Professor in the School of Public Policy at Simon Fraser University notes, “One possible explanation is that policing practices disproportionately target Aboriginal youth resulting in higher rates of incarceration among this group, although further research is needed to confirm this.”
Aboriginal people make up four per cent of Canada’s population, yet a quarter of all inmates in federal and provincial correctional facilities are Aboriginal. The data confirm Aboriginal youth face disproportionate levels of incarceration and goes a step further in pointing to the need to investigate the possible role of discrimination in policing practice as a potential contributing factor.
“Given what we know about the destructive impacts of the imprisonment of youth, in the context of this study, preventing Aboriginal youth from becoming incarcerated is crucial,” added Dr. DeBeck. “It appears from our study addressing institutional discrimination may be a critical piece of the puzzle.”
Study authors also highlight the importance of involving Indigenous communities in addressing this complex issue. “We need solutions driven by the Aboriginal community to prevent incarceration and strengthen the health and wellness of young Aboriginal people,” said study lead author, Brittany Barker, researcher with UHRI and a doctoral student at the University of British Columbia.
Those working on the frontlines agree that more needs to be done to support Aboriginal youth. “The disproportionate incarceration of Aboriginal youth is not new to those of us working here in the Downtown Eastside,” said Michelle Fortin, Executive Director of Watari Counselling and Support Services. “It is just one of the many ways that the system is not responding effectively to Aboriginal youth and the broader community at large. For example, while Aboriginal adults are overrepresented in traditional streams of the criminal justice system, they are underrepresented in diversionary measures, like community courts and mental health and addiction treatment services.”
About The At-Risk Youth Study (ARYS)
The At Risk Youth Study (ARYS – pronounced ‘Arise’) is a multi-year study of street-involved youth being conducted by researchers at the Urban Health Research Initiative, which is a program of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul’s Hospital. The study was established in 2005 to explore the individual, social, economic, and environmental factors that influence health and well-being of street-involved youth in Vancouver. Through interviewer administered surveys and clinic visits, ARYS is currently following a group of over 800 youth.
About the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS
The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) is Canada’s largest HIV/AIDS research, treatment and education facility and is internationally recognized as an innovative world leader in combating HIV/AIDS and related diseases. BC-CfE is based at St. Paul’s Hospital, Providence Health Care, a teaching hospital of the University of British Columbia. The BC-CfE works in close collaboration with key provincial stakeholders, including government, health authorities, health care providers, academics from other institutions, and the community to decrease the health burden of HIV and AIDS. By developing, monitoring and disseminating comprehensive research and treatment programs for HIV and related illnesses, the BC-CfE helps improve the health of British Columbians.
For additional information or to request interviews, please contact:
Phone: 604-682-2344 ext. 63149