This post is about 700 words and takes 3 minutes to read.
About a year ago, a website called intersectionalanalyst.com published a piece on Canada’s prison system. The website describes itself as “Making sense of complex social problems through information visualizations and data-driven discussions”, and this piece does so very skillfully, using some fascinating graphs and also many, many links to the studies and sources on which the analysis is based. It’s an outstanding introduction to Canada’s prison system, all in less than 4000 words and about 10 pages.
Among the key points made in this analysis:
- Although crime rates have fallen sharply in Canada for many years, the number of people being jailed has actually gone up, to nearly 40,000 (about 1 in 1000 adults)
- Most of those held in jail – and this proportion has been growing steadily for years – are on remand. They have been charged with a crime but not convicted. (see earlier post).
- Black and Indigenous people are hugely overrepresented in the jail population, and this situation has been getting worse, not better, in recent years (see earlier post on this issue).
- Although providing education to prisoners is known to be an effective crime prevention tool, such opportunities are non-existent to very limited in the Canadian system. The amount spent by the Correctional Service of Canada on education per student prisoner per year is under $3000, compared to $10-12,000 or more per student pear year spent by Canada’s public schools and compared to more than $100,000 per year to keep someone in a federal prison for a year.
- Federal prisoners ‘earn’ around $6 per day for their work while in jail, an amount that has not changed in more than 30 years. However about half of this is deducted for ‘room and board’, telephone, and other costs. The telephone deduction is in addition to the very high rates federal prisoners pay for each phone call.
- There is a lot of use of force in prisons against prisoners, many of whom have identified mental health problems, and this situation appears to be getting worse.
- The use of solitary confinement continues to be a problem.
- In provincial jails prisoners, most of whom have not been convicted, are often ‘locked down’, meaning they cannot leave their cells even for a shower or a phone call, sometimes for many days at a time.
- Prisons are full of people with mental health problems and have a much higher rate of suicide than in the general population (see earlier post).
The report also makes the important point that public information about Canada’s jails and prisons is very difficult to obtain. Even basic data for families of prisoners on such things as visits and communication is not readily available publicly.
A few things have, inevitably, changed in the year since this report was issued. The jail and prison population in Canada has actually decreased in the last couple of years, though it is still very high by historical standards and especially in comparison to the decline in crime and arrests. A BC court has ruled against the federal government’s use of solitary confinement, in a suit brought by John Howard Canada and the BC Civil Liberties Association, but this ruling is being appealed by the federal government. Several provinces have recently made commitments to reduce the use of remand, although it’s too soon to know if the measures taken will work.
The report makes several suggestions as to actions readers could take to try to influence the situation. Most of these remain pertinent, but a few are now out of date and there are a number of other organizations not mentioned that are worthy of support working in this field. We hope that readers will find this blog to be one of the better sources of information about criminal justice and imprisonment in Canada.
The full report can be found here. The authors are Jody Chan, Lorraine Chuen, and Marsha McLeod. The Twitter handles given in the report for the writers do not appear to be accurate, but there are websites for Jody Chan and Marsha McLeod, who also has a Twitter account (@Marshamcleod_ny).