Is ethnicity or foreign-born status relevant?

Key Words

ethnicity, country of birth, marital status, education, language, risk, need


Examining data by socio-demographic characteristics can help the Correctional Service of Canada identify offender subgroups with unique needs. As examples, Aboriginal and women offenders have long been identified as requiring more intensive and/or tailored interventions. This research examines whether ethnicity and foreign-born status are useful for identifying offender needs. Since ethnicity and foreign-born status may actually interact, a classification that combines the two concepts was used.

What we did

All incarcerated non-Aboriginal men under federal jurisdiction as of November 21, 2010 were categorized by ethnicity and foreign-born status as follows: Canadian-born white, Canadian-born non-white, foreign-born white, and foreign-born non-white. Aboriginal men were excluded because they are already recognized as a distinct subgroup, and women were excluded due to their small overall size. The defined subgroups were then compared with respect to demographics, and risk and need scores. The risk score captures an offender’s criminal history (i.e., number, type, and severity of offences); it is useful for assessing the risk an offender poses to society. The need score captures the extent of an offender’s need for intervention in various domains, such as employment and substance abuse.

What we found

Both Canadian and foreign-born non-white men are more likely to be younger and married compared to their white counterparts suggesting the potential for greater family support (see Table). Foreign-born white men are the most educated. Speaking a language other than English or French at home is most common among foreign-born inmates indicating a greater potential for language-barriers in the correctional environment. Finally, compared to Canadian-born white men, non-white or foreign-born men do not have greater risk or need scores at the initiation of their current sentence.

  Canadian- Born Foreign-Born
  White Non- White White Non- White
N 7878 875 440 1295
Mean Age at Admission (years) 35 28 41 33
% Married/ Common-law 37 59 37 53
% Completed High SchoolFootnotea 27 22 42 28
% Home LanguageFootnoteb Not English/ French 1 5 21 33
low 7 11 14 14
medium 32 35 29 36
high 61 54 57 50
low 4 6 11 10
medium 25 30 34 33
high 71 63 55 57

Note. Percentages may not total to 100 due to rounding. Non-whites include Arab/West Asian, Asiatic, Black, Chinese, East Indian, Filipino, Hispanic, Japanese, Korean, Latin American, South Asian, South East Asian, and other.


Footnote a

Earliest estimates for the current sentence.

Return to footnote a referrer

Footnote b

Language spoken at home.

Return to first footnote b referrer

What it means

Both ethnicity and foreign-born status need to be acknowledged simultaneously. Non-white men may have an advantage with respect to family support while foreign-born white men are academically advantaged. The foreign-born, however, may experience language barrier issues in the correctional environment. Although non-white or foreign-born men, as a whole, are not a higher risk or need sub-population compared to Canadian-born white men, future research may find differences among more specific subpopulations.

Prepared by:

Dianne Zakaria Ph.D.

For more information

Research Branch
(613) 996-3287