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Prison service trying to better understand the needs of black offenders

FILE - Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Bill Blair, speaks to media during the second day of the Liberal Cabinet Retreat at the Fairmont Hotel in Winnipeg, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mike Sudoma

OTTAWA — Canada’s prison service says it is working to better understand the needs of black offenders, whose overrepresentation in federal custody is second only to Indigenous people’s.

A newly released briefing note for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the Correctional Service of Canada has begun to study the black inmate population more closely and track the associated data.

The effort comes seven years after a study by the federal prison ombudsman found black inmates commonly reported discrimination and stereotyping as gang members while in custody.

Blacks made up 7.3 per cent of federal offenders in 2017-18, according to the government’s latest statistical profile of the correctional system.

That’s more than double the approximately 3.5 per cent of Canadians who identified as black in the 2016 census.

Lori Anne Thomas, a Toronto criminal defence lawyer, says over-policing of urban black communities can lead to young people’s being more likely to wind up in the criminal justice system for lesser offences such as marijuana possession.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2020.

The Canadian Press