2. Typologies and Patterns of Crime

2.1 A Note on Indigenous Peoples and Criminal Justice: Overrepresentation and Criminalisation

Dr. Jon Heidt

It is no secret that Indigenous peoples are overrepresented in the criminal justice system as both victims and offenders (Monchalin, 2016); in fact, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada includes several calls to action to work toward eliminating this overrepresentation and to provide proper funding for alternatives to incarceration for Indigenous offenders. Research also indicates that Indigenous youth receive longer sentences compared to non-Indigenous youth, even when criminal history and offence history are considered. Unfortunately, many of the measures meant to divert youth away from the criminal justice system have not been effective for Indigenous youth (Corrado & Cohen, 2011; Corrado et al., 2014).

When reviewing these statistics, it is important to think critically, and consider the context and experiences of Indigenous peoples. If one considers the horrors of colonisation legislated under the Indian Act (e.g., loss of land, forced displacement, residential schools, forced assimilation repetitive human rights violations including genocide and cultural genocide, the general criminalisation of a wide range of cultural activities, and institutionaliszed racism), the reasons why Indigenous peoples are overrepresented as both offenders and victims become apparent. Residential schools caused a breakdown in the family that affected all generations. It is difficult to have a healthy family life if the children are taken from the home and abused by those who are supposed to care for them (Monchalin, 2016). These family factors are central to the control theories that are some of the most well-supported explanations of criminal behaviour (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990) (see 10 Critical Criminology).These situations cause stress and strain that might drive a person to commit crime. For example, there is a clear connection between trauma and both drug use and associated offending behaviour (Maté, 2008). Also, exposure to noxious stimuli or negative situations (e.g., sexual abuse, poverty, or a lack of opportunity) or a loss of positive stimuli (e.g., family, culture, sense of self) may exacerbate strain and raise the likelihood of involvement with a variety of crimes (Agnew, 1992).

It is also important to understand that the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in criminal justice statistics is connected to a history of criminalising Indigenous culture. For example, in 1867 under the Indian Act, the federal government of Canada criminalised mobility over traditional territories and the use of language and cultural activities, including the ceremony of potlatch. This ceremony consisted of feasting and gift-giving. Still, the Canadian government viewed it as a challenge to assimilating Indigenous peoples and were suspicious of it because it went against capitalist values that emphasised wealth accumulation and property ownership (Monchalin, 2016). Learn more about potlatches.

Now that some of the basics have been covered, it is time for a discussion of how criminologists structure their thinking about crime. The next section will explore some ways of thinking about and classifying crime that are helpful to criminologists when they are attempting to understand and explain patterns of crime.



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Introduction to Criminology Copyright © 2023 by Dr. Jon Heidt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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