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Closing Indigenous education gap would impact number of future arrests in Sask., StatsCan study says

A pilot study by Statistics Canada projects that by 2036, Saskatchewan will see a 27 per cent increase in the number of people who have brushes with the law — but the increase could be limited to 17 per cent if the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous education outcomes is eliminated by then.

A Statistics Canada study projects that the number of Saskatchewan residents who have contact with the justice system will increase by 27 per cent by 2036. Closing the gap in education outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, though, would hold that increase to 17 per cent, the study says. (Ben Nelms/Reuters)

A new “microsimulation” study concludes that eliminating the education gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Saskatchewan would reduce a projected increase in the number of people who come into contact with the law.

The pilot study, published Thursday, is a collaboration of the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics and Statistics Canada’s demography division.

It says that by 2036, the number of Saskatchewan residents age 12 and over who come into contact with the justice system will increase by 27 per cent over 2011 levels.

Closing the education gap, though, would keep that increase to 17 per cent.

The agency said the statistical model, called Demosim, can project a large number of demographic characteristics of the population from census data — including age, sex, ethnicity, place of birth, place of residence, marital status and level of education — and produce population projections based on hypothetical scenarios.

Simon Enoch, the Saskatchewan director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the study’s findings fall in line with what other studies have shown.

“We’ve seen that where we did reduce that gap, Indigenous peoples would have increased lifetime earnings.… That, in turn, would contribute to better health outcomes. Things like that,” he said.

“So this, to me, just shows that one policy piece could have tremendous benefits for the province in the future.”

Crime ‘a major challenge’ in Sask.: study

Crime “remains a major challenge in Saskatchewan,” the study’s authors said, noting the police-reported crime rate in 2018 was more than double the national rate, and that 74 per cent of adult admissions to custody in 2017-2018 were Indigenous offenders.

According to the study, Saskatchewan’s population is projected to increase 16 per cent between 2011 and 2036 (in a medium-growth scenario), including 46 per cent growth in the Indigenous population.

It said, in relative terms, it is expected that the number of people who have contact with the criminal justice system will “greatly exceed” population growth in the province, if the difference in Indigenous and non-Indigenous educational outcomes remains unchanged.

For years, education outcomes for First Nations and Métis students in Saskatchewan have lagged behind those for non-Indigenous students. 

In the 2016-17 school year, the grad rate for self-declared Indigenous students was 43.2 per cent — up from 41.9 per cent from the year before — compared to 85.4 per cent for non-Indigenous students.

The Statistics Canada study concluded the projected 27 per cent increase in the number of Saskatchewan people who have brushes with the law by 2036 would be limited to 25 per cent with a 25 per cent progressive reduction in the education gap.

A 50 per cent progressive reduction would limit it to a 22 per cent increase.

However, the study found the increase could be limited to 17 per cent with a 100 per cent reduction in the education gap — meaning education outcomes for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people become equal.

It also looked at various scenarios featuring “instant reductions” in the educational attainment gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

For example, it said if there had been a 100 per cent instant reduction in the educational attainment gap at the beginning of the projection period in 2011, the number of people who come into contact with police would increase only seven per cent by 2036.

Potential for ‘dramatic benefits’

The CCPA’s Enoch said the research confirms the impact investment in Indigenous education can make.

“Adopting good public policy today can prevent social crises in the future,” he said.

“In this case, if we were to make the social investments required in order to diminish the Indigenous education gap, we would see dramatic benefits in the future.”

The study authors said the statistical approach used does have some limitations, and that contact with the criminal justice system — regardless of Indigenous identity — is a complex and multidimensional issue.

They said, normally, access to other types of background information — such as mental health status and substance use history — would inform the likelihood of coming into contact with police as persons accused of committing crime.

The authors said while this pilot study does not identify methods for improving the educational attainment of Indigenous people, it is an initial attempt by the agency to take advantage of the large-scale integration of data from various areas to simulate the impact of different social integration scenarios.

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