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Retooling Black Anxiety

Retooling Black Anxiety


Last Updated on May 28, 2024

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Representation of Black youths in Canada’s criminal justice system (CJS) continues to trend upwards, from 8% in 2002, 19% in 2006 and reaching 29% in 2020. Indeed, one-half of Black inmates in the CJS are 30 years of age or younger2. Black youth are overrepresented in the criminal justice system 3,4, and Black boys are four times overrepresented relative to their white Canadian peers5,6. Also, Black boys are most likely to travel the school to prison pipeline7–9 - a trend wherein youth are funnelled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems-than their white Canadian peers. Factors such as discretionary policing tactics in Black and economically marginalized neighbourhoods, harsher arrest decisions, police reliance on child welfare agencies to resolve conflicts within Black families instead of support service provisions to sub-standard service delivery mechanisms, have been cited as major causes of these increases3,7.

These factors create anxiety for Black families who have children in or outside the CJS or the child welfare system (CWS). Black youth offenders face differential treatment in the correctional system as they are kept in racially inequal setting12. For instance, no provision is made for a culturally relevant correctional program for black offenders; black offenders have reported experiencing covert discrimination at the hands of Correction Service of Canada staff as they are disregarded and stereotyped as ‘gang members’ or ‘drug dealers’2,4. These experiences create a cumulative impact on Black youth increasing their feelings of marginalization, exclusion, isolation and higher levels of anxiety with other mental health challenges, which often induce high rates of recidivism, suicidal ideations, and suicidal attempts13–17. In addition, family members, may be traumatized by the experiences of their child or sibling who find themselves in the CJS or are taken away into the CWS18. The separation of siblings does create psychological distress and anxieties, which impact the health and mental well-being of these family members10,18.

Furthermore, Black youth who have contact with CWS in their early years have a higher likelihood of having contact with CJS later in life7  In more dire instances, these experiences have often been reported anecdotally; however, there is a dearth of scientific research that explores experiences of anxiety and mental health challenges in relation to Black Youth in CJS, most interventions have been generic and not tailor to mitigate and/or prevent these anxieties and mental health challenges. Therefore, the objectives of this study are to examine the effects/stories of anxiety, the strategies that families use to deal with anxiety and to pilot an intervention that will use tools created with families alongside standard anxiety tools.


Exploring and intervening for anxiety among Black families with children in the criminal justice and child welfare systems in Ontario (EIA) is a pilot action study of Black families’ experiences of anxiety induced by encounters with the criminal justice system (CJS) and the child welfare system (CWS). In this project, anxiety is used as an emotion characterised by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes1 likely to affect the health and mental well-being of families interacting with the CJS or CWS. Thus, this EIA aims to work with Black families to:

  1. identify the relationship between the family identity status/ and dealing with anxiety;
  2. identify family needs and resources to cope with anxiety (physical and virtual);
  3. implement an intervention to help families deal with anxiety; and
  4. develop resources and resource space for use by Black families experiencing anxiety. We will address three central questions:
    • What strategies and tools do Black families need to address the mental well-being of their children who have gone through the ‘prison pipeline’ or who have been part of the welfare system?
    • How can parents and children work together to address the challenges of family community integration and acceptance?
    • How can parents manage the anxieties associated with having their children in or becoming potential residents of Canada’s CJS and CWS?

Community Partners

We have established partnership with two community-based organizations: the Ghana Union of Canada and Gashanti Unity. Both organizations will lead community-based research activities and interventions. Our partnership is explicitly collaborative; thus, it will be governed by practices of “shared authority”, principles that include shared training and knowledge, as well as promoting and developing collaborative relationships and shared decision-making.


1.         Encyclopedia of Psychology: 8-Volume Set. (American Psychological Association, 2000).

2.         Government of Canada, O. of the C. I. A Case Study of Diversity in Corrections: The Black Inmate Experience in Federal Penitentiaries - Office of the Correctional Investigator. (2020).

3.         Samuels-Wortley, K. Youthful Discretion: Police Selection Bias in Access to Pre-Charge Diversion Programs in Canada. Race and Justice 12, 387–410 (2022).

4.         Government of Canada, S. C. Youth correctional statistics in Canada, 2013/2014. (2015).

5.         Goroya, J. The Overrepresentation of Minority Youth in Canada’s Criminal Justice System – PP+G REVIEW. (2015).

6.         Rovner, J. Black Disparities in Youth Incarceration. The Sentencing Project (2021).

7.         Government of Canada, D. of J. Black Youth and the Criminal Justice System: Summary Report of an Engagement Process in Canada. (2022).

8.         Kim, C. Y., Losen, D. J. & Hewitt, D. T. The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Structuring Legal Reform. (NYU Press, 2010).

9.         Maynard, R. Policing Black lives: state violence in Canada from slavery to the present. (Fernwood Publishing, 2017).

10. Ontario Human Rights Commission. Interrupted Childhoods: over-representation of Indigenous and Black children in Ontario Child Welfare. 73 (2018).

11. Dlamini, S. N., Anucha, U. & Lovell, A. Defining and analyzing community violence in their community: Jane-Finch youth perception of violence in their Toronto community. Youth Voice Journal 5, (2015).

12. Tetrault, J. E., Bucerius, S. M. & Haggerty, K. D. Multiculturalism Under Confinement: Prisoner Race Relations Inside Western Canadian Prisons. Sociology 54, 534–555 (2020).

13. Walker, M. Race and Prison. THE SOCIETY: Sociology and Criminology Undergraduate Review 7, (2022).

14. Kafele, K. Racial discrimination and mental health in racialized and Aboriginal communities | Ontario Human Rights Commission. (2004).

15. Assari, S., Moghani Lankarani, M. & Caldwell, C. H. Discrimination Increases Suicidal Ideation in Black Adolescents Regardless of Ethnicity and Gender. Behav Sci (Basel) 7, 75 (2017).

16. Coimbra, B. M. et al. Meta-analysis of the effect of racial discrimination on suicidality. SSM - Population Health 20, 101283 (2022).

17. White, J. Working with Specific Groups of Children and Youth at Risk for Suicide. 34 (2021).

18. Government of Canada, D. of J. Chapter 1 - Background - Making the Links in Family Violence Cases: Collaboration among the Family, Child Protection and Criminal Justice Systems. (2014).


Global Health Foresighting



Related Work




Godfred Boateng, Faculty Fellow, Faculty of Health Active
Salwa Regragui, Global and Environmental Health Lab, Global Health Intern [WI23; SU23] Alum
Ann Kwarteng, Retooling Black Anxiety, Global Health Intern Active

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