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Census 2011: Prison population rose 17.3% as population in shelters rose by only 2.8% (updated 25/09/2012)

With the release today of its 2011 Census families and living arrangements report, media, and doubtless reader, attention was likely diverted by the news that Statistics Canada had mistakenly counted same-sex roommates as gay couples.  What did not receive much attention today was the  2011 Census collective dwelling type release.  The release figures indicated a rise in the prison population of 17.3% as the population in shelters rose by only 2.8% (relative to the figures provided in the 2006 Census collective dwelling type release).  Yet between 2006 and 2011, crime decreased dramatically and the country went through a severe economic downturn.  Given these facts, the opposite outcome would have been anticipated.

For context, both crime incidents and crime severity had dramatically declined between 2007 and 2011, by 11.3% and 17.6%, respectively.  Over the same period, the Canadian general population increased by 5.9% as the country went through its “worst recession since the Great Depression“.  Given the circumstances, sound public policy would focus on less prison expansion and more on adequate shelter capacity (as well as other dwelling types that serve vulnerable groups).  At least it would if the policy objective was to keep those who were falling behind from having to resort to more socially harmful conduct, possibly even crime, to get by.

A few interesting facts related to the 2011 Census collective dwellings data: In 2011, there were more Canadians residing in prisons (21,855) than in shelters (20,170).  The total number of individuals living in collective dwellings rose between 2006 (533,935) and 2011 (613,110), an increase of 14.8%, three times the rate of population growth.  That is about 80 thousand more people that would have been excluded from long-form (20% sample) Census, had it not been cancelled.  They would have been excluded from the National Household Survey as well, but the NHS has far greater problems re potential exclusion of vulnerable minority groups beyond collective dwellings (“Smaller domains of interest are particularly at risk…“).

UPDATE 24/09/2012

The count of the population in correctional facilities provided in the 2006 and 2011 Census  collective dwelling type releases do not seem to match up with Statistics Canada’s estimates of the same population in its other data series:

2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Adult* 22499.8 23114.6 23824.9 24121.6 24460.5
Youth 2018 2015.4 1905 1816.2 1715.7**
Total 24517.8 25130 25729.9 25937.8 26176.2

Sources: CANSIM Tables 251-0004 Adult correctional services, average counts of offenders in provincial, territorial and federal programs, annual, 251-0008 Youth correctional services, average counts of young persons in provincial and territorial correctional services, annual (persons) Statistics Canada.

*Totals provided above differ from the ‘Total actual-in’: ‘Total actual in’ exceeds sum of subcomponents (Sentenced, Remand, Other) in the tables without explanation

**Replicated 2009 for missing 2010 Quebec youth data

That the estimates differ between series is one thing.  That could be methodological  (showing up at a certain time on Census day vs. average of repeated counts over the course  of a year).  More disturbing is the possibility youth are increasingly being diverted from the young offender system into the adult criminal system due to federal government policy initiatives to toughen up laws against young offenders.  According to the tables, the number in youth detention declined 15% as the number in adult detention rose 8.7% between 2006 and 2010 (latest year available in both series).  Whether and by which means this may have occurred is impossible to tell from the limited publicly available descriptive statistics.

Another possibility pointed out by a good friend of this blog: federal government policy initiatives to toughen immigration law may have led to increased detention of immigration/refugee applicants.  For example, Bill C-50 in 2008 changed the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) to give the Minister greater discretion – to propose laws such as Bill C-43, the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act, introduced today in the House of Commons.

Update (25/09/2012)
Apparently The Canadian Press picked (and screwed) up the story – without attribution.

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