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Over-Representation of Indigenous Persons in Adult Provincial Custody, 2019/2020 and 2020/2021

Released: 2023-07-12

In 2019/2020 and 2020/2021, Indigenous persons in Canada were incarcerated at a much higher rate than non-Indigenous persons. According to the new Over-Representation Index, the Indigenous incarceration rate was 8.9 times higher than the non-Indigenous incarceration rate in 2020/2021 in the five provinces participating in this Juristat (Nova Scotia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia).

The Over-Representation Index provides the relative difference between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous incarceration rates (expressed as the number of times higher the incarceration rate is for the Indigenous population, compared with the rate for the non-Indigenous population) after adjusting for age and sex differences between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Indigenous populations in Canada are younger than non-Indigenous populations, and research has shown that the highest rate of offending and incarceration is among young adults, in particular young men. To consider these factors, Statistics Canada has developed the Over-Representation Index, with the first results released today in the Juristat article titled "Over-representation of Indigenous persons in adult provincial custody, 2019/2020 and 2020/2021."

There are numerous circumstances and explanations as to why Indigenous persons are significantly over-represented in correctional facilities. Colonialism, displacement, socio-economic and cultural marginalization, and systemic discrimination are a few of the factors that have frequently been implicated in public discourse and research as possible explanations for the over-representation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system overall—as well as in the correctional system.

Incarceration rates for Indigenous persons in 2020/2021 for the five provinces was 42.6 persons in provincial custody on any given day per 10,000 Indigenous adults. For non-Indigenous persons, the incarceration rate was 4.0 persons per 10,000 non-Indigenous adults. Note that unlike the Over-Representation Index, these rates are unadjusted for age and sex differences.

Incarceration rate for Indigenous persons decreased in 2020/2021 from the previous year

The incarceration rate for Indigenous persons decreased by 18% in 2020/2021 from 2019/2020, largely because of factors associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. These factors include temporary or early release of persons in custody who are considered low-risk to re-offend, extended periods for parole appeals deadlines and access to medical leave privileges, and alternatives to custody while awaiting trials, sentencing and bail hearings. However, as the decline in the incarceration rate for non-Indigenous persons was even greater, at 27%, the over-representation of Indigenous persons increased by 14% from 2019/2020, when the Over-Representation Index was 7.8.

Over-representation is greatest in Saskatchewan and Alberta

In 2020/2021, the Over-Representation Index for Indigenous persons was highest in Saskatchewan, where it reached 17.7. This means the Indigenous incarceration rate was about 18 times higher than the non-Indigenous rate after adjusting for age and sex differences between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Saskatchewan was followed by Alberta (10.8 on the Over-Representation Index for Indigenous persons), British Columbia (7.9), Ontario (6.3) and Nova Scotia (1.9).

Chart 1  Chart 1: Over-Representation Index scores, selected provinces, 2020/2021
Over-Representation Index scores, selected provinces, 2020/2021

Indigenous women are more over-represented in provincial correctional facilities than Indigenous men

The over-representation in provincial correctional facilities was greater among women than among men. In 2020/2021, Indigenous women were incarcerated at a rate 15.4 times higher than non-Indigenous women, while Indigenous men were incarcerated at a rate 8.4 times higher than non-Indigenous men.

This pattern of over-representation in provincial correctional facilities was found in all five provincial correctional programs involved in this study. Over-representation of Indigenous women was highest in Saskatchewan (where the incarceration rate for Indigenous women was 28.5 times higher than for non-Indigenous women), followed by Alberta (15.5 times higher), Ontario (12.5), British Columbia (11.2) and Nova Scotia (3.3).

Although over-representation is greater for Indigenous women, incarceration rates are higher for Indigenous men (77.8 Indigenous men incarcerated per 10,000 Indigenous men on an average day in 2020/2021) than Indigenous women (9.4).

Indigenous young men are most likely to experience custody

Almost 1 in 10 (8.4%) Indigenous men aged 25 to 34 years (the age group with the highest incarceration rates in provincial custody) in the five provinces experienced incarceration during the period from April 1, 2019, to March 31, 2021. These findings are based on the new Custodial Involvement Rate (CIR), which measures the proportion of a population experiencing at least one night of incarceration in a provincial correctional centre on any given day. The CIR provides an indicator of the number of individuals who enter the correctional system and of the extent incarceration impacts specific populations. Unlike the Over-Representation Index, the CIR was not designed to be a measure of over-representation, as it does not control for population difference and does not incorporate the amount of time an individual spends in custody. By comparison, 1.1% of non-Indigenous young men experienced incarceration over the same period.

Indigenous women aged 25 to 34 years also experienced incarceration at a higher rate than non-Indigenous women. During the two-year period, 2.3% of Indigenous young women experienced incarceration, compared with 0.2% of non-Indigenous young women.

During this two-year period, 2.9% of the total adult Indigenous population experienced incarceration in a provincial adult correctional centre, compared with 0.4% of non-Indigenous adults.

Bail is used more frequently than remand for non-Indigenous persons than for Indigenous persons

Most of those in the custodial population under provincial correctional supervision are not convicted of any offence but are being held in remand while they are awaiting a process or decision by the courts. In 2020/2021, over two-thirds (67%) of the average daily custody count for adult provincial correctional programs were in remand. As an alternative to remand, individuals awaiting trial can be supervised in the community under a bail order, subject to certain conditions.

In the three correctional services programs for which data are available (Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia), bail was used more frequently than remand in 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 for non-Indigenous persons. For Indigenous persons, the ratio between average daily counts (ADCs) for bail and remand was 2.6 (in other words, for every person in remand, there were 2.6 persons on bail). For non-Indigenous persons, the ratio was 4.9 (for one person in remand there were 4.9 persons on bail).

Greater use of bail with non-Indigenous persons than Indigenous persons at the start of the pandemic

Before the start of the pandemic, the use of bail, relative to remand, was stable in the three reporting provinces (Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia) with almost no month-to-month change. With the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, the bail-to-remand ADC quickly increased, peaking in June 2020, as custodial populations were reduced to protect against the spread of COVID-19. During this time, the bail-to-remand ADC increased more for non-Indigenous persons. From March 2020 to June 2020, the bail-to-remand ADC ratio increased by 60% for non-Indigenous persons. In contrast, for Indigenous persons, the bail-to-remand ADC ratio rose by 53%, a slower rate of increase than for non-Indigenous persons. The early difference in the use of bail relative to remand, however, diminished throughout the rest of the year. By March 2021, the bail-to-remand ADC ratios for the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations were nearly identical to the ratios of March 2020.

Chart 2  Chart 2: Monthly ratio of bail to remand average daily counts, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, April 2019 to March 2021
Monthly ratio of bail to remand average daily counts, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, April 2019 to March 2021

  Note to readers

Statistics Canada is releasing data from five adult provincial correctional service programs: Nova Scotia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. The provincial and territorial correctional system supervises adults serving custodial sentences of less than two years, as well as those being held in pre-trial custody (remand) or serving community sentences such as probation.

The incarceration rate measures the proportion of a population in custody on an average day in the year. It is calculated by taking the average daily count of the correctional population, dividing it by the general population estimate for that same year, then multiplying by 10,000. For the Canadian Correctional Services Survey (CCSS), the rate is expressed as the number of incarcerated persons per 10,000 population.

The Over-Representation Index calculates the relative difference between Indigenous and non-Indigenous rates by controlling for age and sex differences between populations, indexing both populations to an age and sex profile identical to the national population distribution of the 2021 Census of Population. These adjusted rates address the impact of demographic differences the underlying population may have on measuring over-representation.

The Custodial Involvement Rate is the measure of the proportion of a specific population experiencing custody over a reference period. The measure identifies the number of unique persons spending at least one day in custody during the reference period for a defined population (Indigenous, Black, young males, etc.), then calculates the percentage of the population experiencing incarceration. Individuals are counted equally, regardless of the number of nights spent in custody.

This report is based on data from the CCSS, which is an administrative microdata survey that collects data from correctional services programs in Canada. The survey collects data on the characteristics of persons being supervised, their legal hold status while in correctional services, offences and conditions related to the various court orders, events related to the person that occur during the period of supervision, and results of any needs assessments done on persons while in correctional services. The Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics is working with other programs to improve national coverage of the survey in the next few years.

For the purposes of the correctional services surveys, the term "Indigenous identity" refers to persons under correctional supervision who identified with the Indigenous peoples of Canada. This includes those who are First Nations (North American Indian), Métis or Inuk (Inuit). This information is self-reported by persons supervised on intake to correctional services. The terminology within the concept was updated by Statistics Canada from "Aboriginal" to "Indigenous" in English, as of April 1, 2021.

Population counts are based on July 1, 2019, and July 1, 2020, estimates provided by the Centre for Demography at Statistics Canada.

Statistics Canada would like to acknowledge the collaboration with correctional services programs in the development of the CCSS. Representatives from participating programs have worked closely with Statistics Canada over the last few years and have greatly assisted Statistics Canada in developing data collection and production methods for the CCSS.


The article "Over-representation of Indigenous persons in adult provincial custody, 2019/2020 and 2020/2021" is now available as part of the publication Juristat (Catalogue number85-002-X).

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; or Media Relations (

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