John Howard Society of Canada - Our Mission: Effective, just and humane responses to the causes and consequences of crime.

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The John Howard Society of Canada

809 Blackburn Mews
Kingston, ON K7P 2N6

Tel: 613.384.6272
Fax: 613.384.1847

Executive Director:
Catherine Latimer

Improving the Corrections System:
John Howard Society’s 5-Point Plan

From Confinement to Contribution – Effective Corrections

The increasing numbers of prisoners in the federal and provincial correctional facilities have made it difficult for correctional authorities to meet essential needs of prisoners and provide rehabilitative programs.  Many prisons have become crowded and violent without opportunities for skills development and constructive activity.  Prisoners are facing longer periods of incarceration and less support and supervision through parole as they return to communities.  This approach makes communities less safe.  A safer and more effective approach could include: 

  1. Humane corrections -- Meet essential needs
    • Comply with Human Rights standards for prisoners (domestic and international)
    • Reduce crowding, limit solitary confinement, + protect prisoners from violence
    • Meet physical and mental health needs of prisoners
  2. From Warehousing to Skills – Effective prison programs
    • Provide effective educational opportunities
    • Provide life skills and job training (certification programs)
    • Employment opportunities and prisoner-based co-operatives
    • Reinstate prison farms
  3. Success in Communities – Graduated, Safe and Supported Reintegration
    • Effective pro-social approaches, including temporary releases for work, compassion, etc.
    • Comprehensive parole reform to encourage supervised and supported graduated release
    • End continued punishment/discrimination after debt paid to society – assess and rework ‘record suspension’ system – fees, eligibility, timelines; assess registries

(a) Objectives/standards

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, S. 12 provides protections against cruel and unusual punishment or treatment

Corrections and Conditional Release Act sets out the legal framework for federal corrections in Canada

The United Nations Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners sets out standards for corrections, including single cell occupancy 

 (b) Evidence/Statistics/Reports

Corrections and Conditional Release Statistical Overview, March 13, 2014 – This annual document produced by Public Safety Canada provides a statistical overview of corrections and conditional release within a context of trends in crime and criminal justice:  Read More

Office of the Correctional Investigator produces both annual and special reports on the federal corrections system.  These evidence based reports provide key insights into conditions in our prisons.  The link to his most recent Annual Report follows and the important findings and recommendations relating to a failing parole system and other issues are set out below in the options for reform section: Read More

CSC Community Corrections Research Results: Research shows that society is best protected when an offender is gradually reintegrated into the community under supervision, with appropriate monitoring and control:Read More

(c) Commentary

U.K. Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick in a June 29, 2014 article in the Observer, raises concerns that the rising prison population is jeopardizing safety: Read More

John Howard Society of Canada produced a Backgrounder on prison overcrowding (available on web site ) and asks if  “Overcrowding in Canadian Prisons Amount to Cruel and Unusual Punishment? Read More

The film, “Til the Cows Come Home” shows the Kingston community’s efforts to save the prison farms from being closed: Read More

Andrew Gregg’s documentary film “State of Incarceration” questions why Canada, despite record low crime rates, is investing in more prison cells, tougher mandatory minimum sentences and constraints on parole, approaches that have failed in the United States. His well-researched and insightful documentary can be seen on CBC’s Doc Zone: Read More

In My Brother’s Keeper, a June 2014, Blog by Ryan Shanahan  of United State’s Vera Institute of Justice advocates for the benefits of family visits to successful reintegration: Read More

Steve Sullivan, i politics – Jobs and Justice:  How the pardon crackdown made Canada less safe: Read More

(d) Promising programs / Approaches

Many countries have had success with prisoner-based cooperatives which often emerge during periods of fiscal restraint Read More

Fraser Valley Farm Project aims to give inmates a new stake in the community – repayment to victims and community, The Province April 9, 2014 Read More

California introduces Prison Farm-to-Table Program to teach sustainable agricultural practices Read More

(e) Options for reforms

The Annual Report of the Correctional Investigator 2013-14, makes the following findings and recommendations:

Special Focus on Safe and Timely Reintegration

Issues of Concern

Key indicators show that CSC is facing challenges in preparing offenders for safe and timely reintegration:

  • Over the past 5 years parole grants rates declined by 20%.
  • Proportion of sentence served incarcerated prior to first release highest since 2003.
  • 71% of all releases in 2013-14 were by statutory release; over 80% for Aboriginals.
  • Work releases decreasing; only 389 inmates involved in 2012-13.

Time spent in prison should be about addressing unmet needs that contribute to crime.

CSC spends less than 5% of its budget on correctional reintegration programs.

Investigation of Community Correctional Centres


  • CSC operates 16 CCCs with a total bed capacity of 474 and an annual budget of $30M (1.1% of CSC’s overall budget).
  • Over half (55%) of offenders residing in a CCC are on statutory release.
  • Nearly three-quarters transferred directly from either a medium or maximum security penitentiary.

Barriers to reintegration

  • Adequacy of pre-release services and supports for offenders transferring to CCCs.
  • Limited and inconsistent access to healthcare expertise, employment assistance and cultural services in some CCCs.
  • Limited community outreach and engagement.
  • CCCs deliver significant impact in terms of value for money, efficacy and contribution to public safety, yet receive very modest funding.


  • I recommend that CSC develop a comprehensive pre-release planning strategy that includes mandatory meetings between offenders and their institutional and community parole officer, a process to ensure an offender’s official documents (i.e. birth certificate and health card) are available prior to release, and a handbook identifying programs, services and supports available in the release community.
  • I recommend that every CCC have consistent access to the necessary resources, including nurses, social workers and psychologists, to ensure access to appropriate services and care.
  • I recommend that CSC develop a national training plan specific to employees working in CCCs.
  • I recommend that CSC develop a national partnership strategy for CCCs which includes creating an inventory of services and partners that are available, identifying gaps in partnerships (e.g. cultural groups), a communications plan that educates and informs community members, and a timetable for monitoring and reporting on these activities.
  • I recommend that CSC conduct an operational audit of resources allocated to community corrections and CCCs specifically. The outcome of this audit should help inform reallocation decisions and the development of renewed monitoring and reporting strategy for CCCs.
  • I recommend that CSC establish a working committee with the Parole Board of Canada to examine best practices and guidelines regarding the appropriate use of residency conditions for offenders released on statutory release and offenders on a long-term supervision order.

Access to Health Care

Issues of Concern

  • Increasingly complex physical and mental health care needs = rising costs of offender health care.
  • Lack of electronic offender health information.
  • Lack of an integrated model to treat offenders with concurrent substance abuse and mental health disorders.
  • In 2012, 18.5% of inmates were infected with Hepatitis C and 1.2% with HIV.
  • CSC has not responded to previous OCI recommendations it has linked to the government’s response to the Ashley Smith inquest:
    • Appoint a patient advocate for Regional Treatment Centres.
    • Transfer of the most complex mental health cases to external treatment facilities.
    • Prohibition of long-term segregation of seriously mentally disordered, suicidal and self-injurious offenders.


  • I recommend that CSC move forward the completion date of the electronic offender health information system. This may require new or reallocated funds.
  • I recommend that CSC’s review of chronic health conditions be integrated with and inform a comprehensive prevention strategy to reduce premature mortality.
  • I recommend that efforts to ensure identification, ongoing monitoring and treatment of HIV infection in CSC facilities be a priority and that relevant systems to ensure timely and effective diagnosis and treatment are put in place.
  • I recommend that CSC develop a comprehensive integrated model to treat offenders with concurrent substance abuse and mental health disorders.

Deaths in Custody

Issues of Concern

  • In any given year, about two-thirds of all in-custody deaths are attributed to natural causes (i.e. cancer, cardiovascular disease, infection).
  • Combination of aging inmate population (+50 years) and indeterminate sentences means that an increasing number will develop chronic health conditions. Some will live out their natural life behind bars.
  • System not well equipped to care and provide for the demographics of an aging and ailing inmate population.
  • Need to balance justice and humanitarian concerns in cases involving palliative and/or terminally ill offenders.


  • I recommend that CSC reconsider its response to the Office’s report on the mortality review process to more specifically address the concerns about the lack of rigour, independence, credibility and timeliness in how the Service currently investigates natural cause fatalities.
  • I recommend that CSC issue a Request for Proposal to secure palliative community services and accommodations to allow terminally ill offenders to die with dignity in the community.

Conditions of Confinement

Issues of Concern

  • Safe custody indicators continue to deteriorate.
  • Past 5 years:
    • Double bunking (+93%).
    • Use of segregation (+6.4%).
    • Inmate assaults (+17%).
    • Use of force (+6.7%).
    • Involuntary transfers (+33%).
    • Self-injury (+56%).
  • For the first time, Conditions of Confinement surpassed Health Care as the number one category of offender complaint to my Office.
  • Significant reduction in the number and scope of use of force incidents subject to national review.
  • Limited programs and services specific to younger offenders (18-25 ).


  • I recommend that the Correctional Service develop and implement a National Strategy for Younger Offenders in collaboration with external stakeholders with expertise in service delivery to young adults. The Strategy should address the need for policies, programs and services tailored specifically to meet the unique needs of offenders aged 25 and under.

Aboriginal Issues

Issues of Concern

  • Since March 2005, the Aboriginal inmate population has increased by 47.4%. Aboriginal people now comprise 24% of the incarcerated population while representing just 4% of the Canadian population.
  • The gap in many correctional outcome measures between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal offenders continues to widen.
  • Inconsistent consideration of Aboriginal Social History factors (i.e. effects of residential schools, family histories of substance abuse, negative experience in the child welfare or adoption system) in managing the sentence of an Aboriginal offender.


  • I recommend that CSC conduct an audit to assess whether Aboriginal Social History factors are being adequately considered in case management records and decisions.

Federally Sentenced Women

Issues of Concern

  • Since 2004-05, the number of women in custody has increased by two-thirds . 1 in 3 female inmates is Aboriginal.
  • 62.6% of incarcerated women were prescribed some form of psychotropic medication to manage mental health symptoms.
  • Increase in use of force interventions to manage women who self-injure.
  • 3 in 4 female inmates are also mothers of children under 18 years of age.
  • Inadequate Double Bunking Assessments in the Maximum Security Units.


  • I recommend that CSC implement CHILD LINK at all regional women’s facilities.
  • I recommend that CSC conduct a review of double-bunking assessments and assignments in the Secure Units.

Outlook for 2014-15

Issues to Watch

  • Impact of budgetary reductions on inmate programs and service delivery (e.g. inmate pay, food services, case management, health care).
  • Completion/opening of new cells and units across the country.
  • Government response to the Ashley Smith inquest and recommendations.
  • Regional Treatment Centre (Ontario) developments.
  • Offender employment and employability within institutions and CORCAN industries.
  • Impact of court decisions on federal corrections.
  • Full, timely and constructive response to systemic concerns raised by my Office.

Recommendations made by the inquiry into the death of Edward Snowshoe (Suicide in Segregation):

  • Set up a formalized system that details health and mental health issues for transferred inmates.
  • All staff be immediately reminded they have access to electronic logs about inmates.
  • That staff with responsibility for certain prisoners brief and hand off their work before going on vacation.
  • Set up guidelines for keeping track of the time a prisoner is in segregation and ensure that segregation review occurs.
  • That psychology departments review procedures and make sure that those with mental health issues receive help.
  • That psychologists and parole officers keep detailed notes of their interactions with inmates, including recommendations for future checks.
  • Security standards in prisons should be reviewed.
  • Full observation cells should be used for those with suicidal history.
  • Staff in segregation units should record which inmate they visited.
  • Allow family access to prisoners during the transfer process and a communication system formalized.
  • Aboriginal elders have access to prisoners when there are mental health and cultural concerns.
  • When necessary, prisoners in segregation be sent to special handling units for mental health or other health issues.

Ashley Smith: Coroner’s Verdict and Recommendations, December 19, 2013: Read More

(f) Recommendations

At it's Annual General Meeting on October 25, 2014, the John Howard Society unanimously passed New Brunswick's proposed resolution to restrict the use of solitary confinement:Read More