This isn’t one of those ethereal questions like how many angels can sit on the head of a pin, one query posed centuries ago by philosophers musing in the abstract.  Correctional Service of Canada has signed on to federal government transparency and proactive disclosure measures that its website says, “strengthen public sector management by enhancing transparency and oversight of public resources in the federal government.”  What does that mean?  No matter, one would assume CSC would welcome media scrutiny.

Oh yes, nowhere though does transparency, oversight, or accountability mention inmate input.  That’s why Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger asked CSC Commissioner Anne Kelly to revise Commissioner’s Directive 022 (Media Relations) to bring it in line with the Charter and the law.  As we noted in “Inmates have no rights” on May 9 of this year, Commissioner Kelly agreed to do that without needing a written recommendation in the Office of the Correctional Investigator’s 2019-2020 Annual Report.

This commitment to update media relations at CSC had been before the commissioner for about a year at that time.  A May 6th letter to Commissioner Kelly was added as a postscript to our May 23rd posting, “Prison Security.  How Much?  Too Much?”  In part, it read:-

……“the Commissioner committed that the revised policy on media relations will acknowledge inmates right to freedom of expression, in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  It will also reaffirm that media interviews may proceed so long as they do not jeopardize the safety and security of the institution, other inmates, or any person.”

It has been at least a year since you undertook this review.  While there is much demanding your attention, this project is relatively minor on the one hand, but the changes will also eliminate any suspicion that the Service is trying to prevent inmate contact with the media on the other.

No response came from the commissioner’s office.  None was expected.  But, three and a half months later, with no revision in sight, “Prison – Media Relations revisited” on September 12 printed a follow-up letter to Correctional Investigator Zinger that was sent back on June 22.  Again, in part:-

I did write Commissioner Kelly in early May of this year to ask about this forthcoming change and questioned the delay in releasing the update since CSC NHQ had this in front of them for almost a year…….
..….with your usual due diligence, I do expect you have not let this matter ‘slip through the cracks.’ 
……and hope the work you have already done does not necessitate further encouragement.

An answer from Dr. Zinger’s office read in part: – The Office has been in contact with the Correctional Service of Canada regarding the Media Relations Commissioner’s Directive and as soon as we have more information to share regarding an update, we will provide you with additional information.

It is near the end of the year and there is now a new sheriff in town.  Well okay, there is a new public safety minister.

November 29, 2021

The Honourable Marco Mendicino, Minister of Community Safety,
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0A6

Re:       Correctional Service of Canada
            Commissioner’s Directive 022 – Media Relations

Dear Minister Mendicino:

An early priority in your new Ministry should be to grease the works of Correctional Service of Canada.  A part of it is stuck in neutral.

To catch you up, reference page 18 of the Office of the Correctional Investigator’s 2019-2020 Annual Report where Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger noted CD-022 Media Relations is not Charter-compliant with respect to inmate/media interactions.  The Commissioner committed to revisions and Dr. Zinger did not issue a Recommendation on the matter, satisfied with the Service’s intent.  As his report stated, “the wider public has a right to be informed of what goes on behind prison walls.”

A year on from this undertaking, and in the absence of a CD-022 update, I wrote Commissioner Kelly on May 6 encouraging her to avoid any suspicion that “the Service is trying to prevent inmate contact with the media.”  With no response, I further wrote Correctional Investigator Zinger on June 22 to question the revision’s delay.  According to an August 27 email from his Office, the OCI has been in contact with Correctional Service of Canada on this issue.

It is now the end of November.  ‘Nuff said.

Yours truly


Next, Justice Minister Lametti meets a commitment.


Prisons & vocational training

“CORCAN is a special operating agency within the CSC that provides employment, vocational training and employability skills to all offenders in federal correctional institutions, to support rehabilitation and help lower rates of re-offending.”
Correctional Service of Canada web site

“Few CORCAN run industries provide training or teach skills that are job relevant or meet labour market demands.  The Service has continued to maintain obsolete infrastructure and technological platforms for such an extended period of time that these problems now appear insoluble.  Federal corrections maintains environments that are information-depriving, often using security concerns as a basis for maintaining the status quo.”
Office of the Correctional Investigator Annual Report 2019-2020

Note that CORCAN opportunities may be available to all offenders, as the CSC suggests, but the circumstances through which an inmate can in reality end up in a CORCAN program mean that only a small minority of prisoners are involved.  Further, the disparity between CSC’s description of CORCAN and how the correctional investigator sees the agency can be attributed to how much the prison industry prioritizes vocational training compared to the greater importance to which the correctional investigator attaches to it.  As Dr. Zinger wrote, “There appears to be little motivation to improve, evidenced by the lack of progress over the last two decades.”

This very brief overview won’t detail the range of barbs and laurels that can be hung on CORCAN, a lengthy task of interest only to those who are already aware of the contrasts and the shortcomings.  Rather, suffice it to record that on the one hand, even some CSC staff concede “that prison industries effectively fill an individual’s time rather than provide a usable skillset.”

But as counterpoint, there are CORCAN shops that do work to prepare participants for release to the community.  One is the welding program at Collins Bay in Kingston which is an accredited school that offers welding training and applies workers’ hours toward an apprenticeship.   Another is the construction program at Matsqui Institution in Abbotsford where workers “are registered with the provincial ministry as an apprentice and all hours are logged toward a construction apprenticeship.”

Except for the opening excerpt from the Correctional Service of Canada web site, all other quotations are from the 2019-2020 Annual Report of the correctional investigator.  This is from Dr. Zinger’s conclusion:  “While the Service offers a number of programs, including education and vocational skills training, the current complement of learning opportunities does not and cannot provide effective rehabilitation or reintegration, particularly given the current lack of focus, outmoded technological capacity and limited resource allocation.”


As an addendum to the November 21st posting, “Prisons & technology,” and referring to Jason Wang and his, the Canadian Truckers Associations has only recently sounded an alarm over the shortage of truck drivers in this country.  It claims there is a current demand for 18,000 drivers in Canada which is expected to grow over the next few years. 

Feedback to the provincial alliance was warranted:-

November 22, 2021

Board of Directors,
Ontario Trucking Association,
Toronto, ON  M9W 1H8

Re:       Shortage of truckers

Trucking Association Board of Directors:

Again, the shortage of truck drivers in Canada is attracting media attention.  The demand for drivers in the United States is equally problematic for shippers.  Our supply chains are constipated and that’s partly on you to resolve.

Check out

American prisons, just as with the Canadian prison industry, do a lousy job at returning criminals to the community as contributing, law-abiding citizens.  For one, most are woefully prepared to enter the job market; that is, if they can even find an employer to hire someone with a record.

“Joinfreeworld” is an initiative of Jason Wang, a young ex-con who along with his partners offer a program to train offenders as truck drivers.  They went where the need was.  Today it’s truckers.  Tomorrow it might be welders.  Giving these men and women an opportunity to earn a decent living wage is a strong incentive to stay out of prison.  Mr. Wang claims a 1% recidivism rate.

True, this is an American enterprise, but a Canadian counterpart would also put some qualified warm bodies behind the wheels of your trucks.

A radical suggestion, isn’t it.

Next….a new Minister of Public Safety, another push for the revised Media Relations directive.

Prisons & technology

“In Canada, those behind federal prison walls have long been deprived of most technological advancements in learning.  The current state of inmate access to information and technology is backward and obsolete.  Offenders have limited access to outdated stand-alone computers that still use floppy discs.  CSC runs Local-area Networks, which are equipped with software from the early 2000s, have no access to the internet, contain limited reference materials and have almost no technical capacity to support or facilitate eLearning of any kind.”
Office of the Correctional Investigator Annual Report 2019-2020

This is from Dr. Ivan Zinger’s introduction to his national investigation, “Learning Behind Bars”, that is included in that recent annual report.  He doesn’t limit his analysis of educational programming and vocational training in federal prisons to computers alone, but that is one primary example underscoring the difficulties offenders have with re-entry into the community.  These few paragraphs will focus on that basic technology.


What does an ex-con do with a criminal record?  A person found guilty of an offence faces a penalty which may include incarceration, but once that price is paid, their obligation to society is satisfied.  While there are employer’s who will give people with records a second chance, most don’t hire ex-offenders; it’s doubtful someone looking for a job would find work at a McDonald’s or in corporate entry level positions, regardless of qualifications.

That’s why Jason Wang and from last time (November 7) recruits ex-cons to become truck drivers.  There’s a severe shortage in the United States and Canada, and employers are willing to hire ex-con graduates from the organization’s program if they have the proper papers.  The plan is to introduce training in other trades as shortages arise…..welders, tool-dye makers are possible examples.


Community initiatives don’t relieve Correctional Service of Canada of its responsibility to return inmates safely to the community.  That process must include adequate training to give these men and women a leg up in the job market considering the stigma of a criminal record.  Even so, CSC prohibited offenders coming into prison from including a personal computer in their property as of October in 2002.  Inmates who already had a computer were allowed to keep them, but at this point there are likely only a very few in the system.

Since the ban came into force, the correctional investigator maintains that “CSC has remained steadfast and impervious to expanding or updating inmate access to technology and information behind bars.”  And “in 2011/12 CSC outright rejected the Office’s (Correctional Investigator) recommendation to lift this ban and significantly expand the use of computers.  These decisions continue to be in effect today.” 

CSC does have a short supply of computers in prison libraries and other designated areas, but with limited access, obsolete and out-date software (i.e. floppy discs), and a network that is equally vintage.  There does not even seem to be a CSC policy for upgrading the hardware or software for technology in the institutions.


True, there are technology-based programs initiated by CSC.  Desire to Learn (D2L) is a digital learning setting used by inmates in the community where resources are computer accessed.  Bath Institution’s Autodesk 3D Design has certified thirty students (as of last year) in 3D computer aided design, three institutions have a computer literacy training program which includes operating systems, hardware, software and networks, and an Ontario region plan allows offenders to upgrade their computer skills.  These are essential first steps to enhance an individual’s skills and knowledge in a competitive labour market, but they enlist only a small number of men and women, projects that are in indeterminate pilot stages.  These must be implemented in all institutions and accessible to all who want education and vocational training.

Excluding willing participants is simply sabotaging a “correctional service” to favour a “prison industry.”

Prisons. What are we getting……

…..FOR OUR MONEY?  Conservative governments feed the prison industry; they see that as a vote-getter.  Liberal governments burp the prison industry.  Okay, the new Liberal government in Ottawa has committed to reintroduce Bill C-22 which died when the recent election was called.  It’s been described as “a huge step in the right direction” despite its shortcomings, but reforming, rebuilding, reimagining the justice system isn’t a high Liberal priority.  Doesn’t serve to yield to reason or to appear too progressive.  Same goes for provincial penal systems.

Community safety is politicized.

One school of thought seems to say that community safety means putting the bad guys away, and if that doesn’t straighten them out, then put them away again.  The flip side thinks that community safety makes prisons and jails responsible for helping offenders become law-abiding citizens.  We get a little bit of both.  Do penal systems feel forced to balance their response to political masters with conflicting preferences?

As things are, if the people we elect, appoint, and employ aren’t taking action to get better results, then it’s left to the public to force change and/or to take on the job for itself.


There can be three perspectives to approach the prison industry we now have.  One was addressed last time with the “Choosing Real Safety” declaration that argues the path forward is in doing what is necessary to keep people out of the justice system in the first place and further, to divert offenders to constructive alternatives when they come into conflict with the law.  Don’t keep people in jail.  Don’t put people in prison.  That’s a big step toward improving community safety but it doesn’t address what happens to the lives of the men and women whose crimes warrant incarceration.

Another look centers on the failure of our prisons to give inmates the substantive means to turn their lives around after release and avoid ending up back behind bars.  There’s the half-way house system, the John Howard Society, CoSA for ex-sex offenders, and other resources in the community, too many underfunded with long waiting lists.  Significantly important is getting a job that pays a true living wage.  Criminal records close most doors. episode of August 10 this year, “Reimagine your future with Jason Wang” takes a look at a program through, “a tech enabled non-profit that aims to end generational poverty and recidivism by accelerating economic mobility for returning citizens.”  It offers a pathway to economic freedom.

Thirdly is the frontal assault on the prison industry to reform what it is into what it was always intended to be…..a correctional service.  Dozens of groups and organizations, along with at least hundreds of individuals, persist in a worthy labour that makes incremental inroads towards a goal that always seems so distant.  A novel proposal from FreeWorld’s Jason Wang is to make prisons success factories, rated and financed for their achievements and not their failures.  Imagine, getting paid and rated on how well an assigned task is accomplished!

Whatever the means, the work goes on.

Defund prisons? Another look.

WHY DON’T THINGS CHANGE?  In the face of an abundance of information before us framing the genesis of our social ills, why don’t things change?  Decade after decade, from generation to generation, we regurgitate and rehash the how’s and why’s the peace of our neighbourhoods is bothered.  Small steps forward are taken, or so it seems, and incremental successes show us what may be possible.  We applaud and are relieved.  But it’s never enough.  We’re still sick.  Why?

The status quo.  No, no.  The STATUS QUO!  There are forces, there are special interests, there is influence and clout that benefit from the existing ‘state of affairs.’  It’s not ideal, but its imperfections are the concessions made to the calls for change, messages to the masses that their petitions are heard.  There is no conspiracy, there is no collusion, no intrigue against society.  It is simply the worst in us satisfying vested passions.


While the unprecedented 2020 summer protests in support of Black lives have drifted away from the news cycle, the embers flicker briefly when yet another racial incident video linked to policing surfaces.  The word is out; it’s been heard.  Many are paying attention.  How do policing, jails and prisons impact racialized and marginalized men, women, and children in vulnerable communities?  And now, the COVID pandemic has magnified the inequities Black and Indigenous peoples know only too well in the criminal justice system.


Robyn Maynard is a PhD candidate and Vanier scholar at the University of Toronto, and the author of “Policing Black Lives.”  Associated with Abolition Coalition, she is one of over a dozen authors of “Choosing Real Safety:  A Historic Declaration to Divest from Policing and Prisons and Build Safer Communities for All,” co-written by prison rights advocates, and Indigenous and Black-led groups.  According to Ms. Maynard’s op-ed in the Toronto Star early this year, during a prior one-month period more than 250 organizations signed onto the statement.  Supporters “spanned the medical community, major labour and human rights organizations including UNIFOR, the Black Legal Action Centre and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Frey Societies.”

GOOGLE “Choosing Real Safety” to read the declaration and access related resources.

‘Defunding’ is not about starving the always hungry prison industry from meeting its authorized mandate.  It’s not about preventing our police from doing a job.  It’s about change that can make a real difference for our futures.

Prisons as success factories?  Next.



Prisons & Racism

About twenty years ago, a colleague stood on the south side of Queen Street in downtown Toronto after shopping at The Bay.  He flagged a cab; to be correct, he was trying to flag a cab.  Two or three passed by, ignoring his upraised arm.  Perhaps they were on their way to a call; perhaps they didn’t want to accommodate a Black man.  Born and raised in New York City, he was inured to potential racial inferences; annoyed, resigned, but undaunted, he settled into the back seat of the cab that eventually pulled over.  Just another day in the big city.


We continue to live with social inequalities and inequities despite grassroot initiatives from individual and community groups in marginalized neighbourhoods, along with charitable and non-profit associations, often supported by socially conscious corporate bodies.  Governments and related agencies voice concerns and legislate and finance programs to mitigate discrimination.  And then of course there is the Charter.

Nonetheless, the scourge of racism persists, and like an iceberg, much of it is disguised and masked below the surface.  Meanwhile, COVID’s impact on minority communities spotlights our failure to remedy the causes of social disparity, while Donald Trump’s “license to hate” emboldens the irrational and often dangerous fringe in the United States and elsewhere.


Racism and discrimination are endemic in all areas of society.  Relevant to our purpose here, it infects our criminal justice system too, from policing to the courts and through to our prison industry.  For the last 25 years, the Criminal Code [section 718.2(e)] makes it clear that incarceration is a last resort for Indigenous offenders.  Gladue reports, which are a type of pre-sentencing and bail hearing report for Aboriginal offenders, assists the courts when considering sentencing.  All the same, this hasn’t slowed the increase in the number of Indigenous peoples in the prison population, now at 31.5 per cent of all offenders, while our First Nations represent only about 5 per cent of Canada’s population.

Black offenders are caught in this same web.  While section 718.2(e) sets out incarceration as a last resort for Indigenous offenders and does not reference any other racialized group, it does say that judges must consider all available reasonable sentences other than imprisonment for all offenders, given the circumstances and consistent with the harm done.  Nova Scotia’s highest court ruled in August that considerations made specifically for Indigenous offenders must apply to Black offenders.  The reports on Black offenders are known there as an Impact of Race and Culture Assessment (IRCA).  This will soon be copied elsewhere in Canada.  As it is now, 9.5 per cent of federal prisoners are Black, although Black people make up roughly 3.5 per cent of the population.

So, here we are with the best intentions on paper to make the justice system more attuned to realities in the world while in practice we appear to be going backward.  A look at a potential pathway forward next time out.


Correctional Service of Canada must accept whomever the courts send to it.  Racialized minorities in federal prisons are subject to the same hostility and discriminatory practices they experience in the community.  Worse, a Black or Indigenous inmate is more helpless to respond in the prison environment when they’re up against it.  CSC may have the tools to investigate and reprimand staff and inmates where warranted, but most incidents never come to the attention of any level of CSC management that could intervene if motivated.

There’s a missed opportunity here for Correctional Service of Canada to combat systemic racism, an opportunity it would argue is not available to it.  While CSC is the final repository for the overrepresentation of Black and Indigenous men and women in our criminal justice system, it doesn’t use its voice to stress the posturing of a government that claims leadership for righting society’s wrongs and which are so apparent behind the walls. 

Activism may not be a part of Correctional Service of Canada’s mandate, although the consciences of the people who fill its offices are certainly under assault by social injustices.  CSC is not the only silent public agency of course but its high profile would lend authority in addressing the blight of racism if it chose to speak out.

As noted, a progressive perspective next time.

Prisons – COVID – Protests

How can a person protest that their social responsibility is an unacceptable impingement on their freedoms?  Where does that illusionary concept even germinate? 

Why would anyone vociferously reject their commonality with the rest of humankind on the one hand, but demand acceptance by the whole on the other?  How could logic become so corrupted?

We’ve all been impacted by COVID.  We’re all tired of having to accommodate restrictions.  To boot, we’re now coming to a place where “living with COVID” is likely to be our norm until a response to eliminate the menace is available.  Even then, success is dependent upon acceptance.

In the meantime, our health care system and all who work within or along side it is frequently overwhelmed by the “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”  Some of us are unable to access the health care we should have or could have otherwise, despite the warnings from our hospitals not to ignore potential emergencies.  All the same, many routine and elective procedures and services are often delayed or unavailable.

Protestors, antivaxxers, anti-maskers, and the angry apostles of disinformation and misinformation are costing us all and unnecessarily prolonging this crisis.


This brief aside from the continuing prison commentary cites harm this canker is inflicting upon the community mirrors the injury it exacts on inmates in our federal prisons.  For all the criticism due Correctional Service of Canada elsewhere, its response to the COVID pandemic is appropriate and reasonable. 

Vaccinated and unvaccinated inmates mingle in the congregate settings of prison populations and calls for strict vigilance to prevent outbreaks.  In the process though, offenders we expect to be prepared for an eventual safe re-entry into society are in a partial limbo because protestors are contributing to higher infection rates in the community, which in turn warrants the continuing restrictions inside the walls. 

CSC programs are running, but all “extra-curricular” initiatives that depend on community volunteer participation are suspended.  With limited substantive rehabilitative options, every opportunity inmates have for some constructive occupation is good for them in the instant and for the community in the long run.

What about in-person visits from family and friends?   Mask mandates are in place for both visitors and inmates in the visiting room of course, and ‘social distancing’ is reinforced by barriers.  No physical contact is possible.  The three-day Private Family Visit (PFV) program resumed for qualified inmates and approved guests, but even there, inmates are required to isolate for 14 days following a PFV.  Unvaccinated inmates are required to isolate for 28 days, perhaps a CSC nod to encourage vaccine compliance.  No matter.  Getting close to the people who are important to the lives of offenders, and are an assumed part of the rehabilitation process, is COVID inhibited.

This strange anomaly where a few people are intentionally denying established COVID -19 science and protesting in support of “alternative facts” without any credible foundation, is affecting the best interests even of our prison inmates.  Compassion for criminals is not in the equation here, but community safety should be a concern when offenders are released with less preparation than we expect.


Prison – Media Relations revisited

“Inmates have no rights”, published May 9 of this year was an apt title to spotlight media relations in federal prisons as governed by Correctional Service of Canada’s Commissioner’s Directive 022.  This CD provides “guidance on media relations activities, including media interviews, to staff and to offenders under the jurisdiction of the Correctional Service of Canada.”


Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger’s 2019-2020 Annual Report addressed the legal challenges CSC risks with this directive’s procedures for inmate/media contacts, citing measures that are “unreasonable, irrelevant or not founded in law,” arguing there is no legal basis for CSC “to muzzle, deny or justify restricting citizen access to the media, including those deprived of liberty,” insisting “the wider public has a right to be informed of what goes on behind prison walls,” and warning the current policy does not comply with the Charter.

Correctional Service of Canada Commissioner Anne Kelly committed to revise policy on media relations to “acknowledge inmates’ right to freedom of expression.”  With no revision after more than a year, a May 9 letter to the commissioner this spring, and published as a postscript to the May 23 posting, questioned the delay.   No response was expected.  No response came.  After all, CSC does its best to ignore its political masters, so it would have no reservations in ignoring the people to whom it is accountable.

As a follow-up, a letter went out to Ivan Zinger on June 22:-

Dr. Ivan Zinger, Correctional Investigator,
The Office of the Correctional Investigator,
Ottawa, ON  K1P 6L4

Re: Commissioner’s Directive 022 – Media Relations

Dear Dr. Zinger:

On page 18 of your 2019-2020 Annual Report, “Inmate Access to the Media”, you note the Commissioner’s commitment to revise CD-022.  Given that intention, there was no reason for you to include that in your list of Recommendations.

I did write Commissioner Kelly in early May of this year to ask about this forthcoming change and questioned the delay in releasing the update since CSC NHQ had this in front of them for almost a year.  To this point, no revision has been released.

No doubt your 2020-2021 Annual Report has long-ago gone to press, and with your usual due diligence, I do expect you have not let this matter ‘slip through the cracks.’ 

I continue to await a satisfactory resolution that brings CSC Media practice into compliance with the Charter and hope the work you have already done does not necessitate further encouragement.

To that, a response dated Friday, August 27 did come from Stacie Ogg, Deputy Director of the Office of the Correctional Investigator:-

Thank you for your correspondence of June 2021.  I apologize for the delay in responding.  I am responding on behalf of Dr. Zinger.  The Office has been in contact with the Correctional Service of Canada regarding the Media Relations Commissioner’s Directive and as soon as we have more information to share regarding an update, we will provide you with additional information.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing for Correctional Service of Canada to do what’s right without legal action?


What’s the big deal about inmate access to the media?  Think about “the wider public has a right to be informed of what goes on behind prison walls.”  The wider public is ill-informed now and doesn’t grasp the impact prison environments have on the community.  It’s no fault of the media, but present coverage can be limited by a lack of public interest.  Easier access to prisoners by the media, and for prisoners to the media is a portal for reform through an increased awareness.

Psst!  Wanna know a secret?  Well, in truth, it isn’t much of a secret.  Inmates can reach out to media and easily circumvent prison protocols.  However, cloak-and-dagger contacts lack corroboration and a means of verification and don’t get the same attention as information coming by way of an open process under the auspices of authorized protocols.


A relevant reflection:  Many years ago, perhaps twenty years or more, this writer was made aware of a disturbance at Kingston Penitentiary.  The passage of time has dimmed specifics, but recollections say this was more a protest than a riot, but it was a significant event.  Resources were brought in to manage the situation, and no information escaped those high walls.  This writer spoke with a friend, an editor of a major Canadian newspaper, and the information was passed on to one of the papers investigative reporters.  In a call to the prison, the reporter was told all was well, and there had been no incident. 

There is a real need to let in the light.

Prison ‘dry cells’

“In Canada, we don’t send people to prison to be held in demeaning, undignified and painful confinement.  You’re sent to prison to serve a sentence and to be prepared for release.  And you can’t do that while you’re isolated in a dry cell under 24-hour surveillance.”
Howard Sapers, Correctional Investigator of Canada (2004 to 2016)


Dry cells don’t have running water or a flushing toilet, lights are always on, and occupants are watched by guards and security cameras 24 hours a day, even when using the toilet.  A dry cell is a search procedure authorized when an institutional head (warden) has reasonable information to believe an inmate has ingested or is hiding contraband in a body cavity.  If an inmate has ingested or hidden contraband inside their bodies, the expectation is that it will eventually be expelled.

Bill C-83 eliminated the use of administrative segregation (solitary confinement) and established structured intervention units.  It also made changes to the use of dry cells.  The bill removed x-rays as a search option for contraband and left dry cell confinement as the only recourse.  The bill did add a provision that an inmate under such scrutiny “shall be visited by a registered health care professional at least once a day.”

Howard Sapers accepts that dry cells can play a role in keeping institutions safe but insists their use should only be a last resort, and then only with strict oversight.  In his 2011-2012 annual report, he recommended an “absolute prohibition on dry cell placements exceeding 72 hours,” after compiling evidence from the overseen and the overseers, reviewing CSC policy, and studying international practices.  Correctional Service of Canada wouldn’t put a time limit on dry cell placements but agreed to more guidance and input from senior staff members.

Current Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger calls dry cell conditions “by far the most restrictive imaginable, even more so than the conditions of administrative segregation.”  The procedures CSC introduced upon Mr. Sapers recommendations don’t satisfy Dr. Zinger and he again called on the agency to place a 72-hour limit on dry celling in his 2019-2020 annual report.  Again, CSC rejected a time limit, “as it is more than feasible to delay bowel movement beyond 72 hours.”

Women have a greater risk of maltreatment in dry cell placements under the law as it stands now.  A court challenge was set in motion in Nova Scotia last November on behalf of a Nova Institution for Women inmate who was confined in a dry cell for 16 days in May of last year after guards accused her of hiding contraband in her vagina.  A subsequent doctor’s examination found no foreign objects in her body.

The woman’s lawyers claim she was subject to extreme stress that exacerbated existing mental illnesses and described her experience as torture.  Further, the law discriminates since objects are not expelled from the vagina.  What’s more, back in 2011 a warden at an Alberta women’s institution testified before the federal Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security that dry cell interventions are less effective with women.  That was in 2011!

Source:  Shaina Luck, “Federal prison investigators press for changes in use of ‘dry cells’.”  CBC News – posted November 10, 2020


Addendum – “Dry celling” is a contentious issue, just as is any form of close custody.  Conditions of confinement figure prominently in the number of complaints to the correctional investigator’s office, and the appeals to prisoner advocates. 

Note the earlier quote from CSC in rejecting a limit to the use of dry cells, “as it is more than feasible to delay bowel movement beyond 72 hours.”  To the degree that the point is valid, and it’s a stretch, it has more to do with rejecting outside interventions than it does with a person’s bowel habits.

In general, credible and lawful placements in restrictive detentions and/or loss of privileges aren’t in dispute when supported by policy, like it or not.  But practice is often in conflict with policy, resulting in arbitrary actions that are retaliatory, punitive, and reactionary.  All the while, the absence of an effective grievance process only serves to charge the tension.

As always, more to come……

Prison isolation.


December 10, 2020

The Honourable Bill Blair,
Minister of Public Safety,

Is Correctional Service of Canada a rogue agency?

CSC knew its solitary confinement policies would not survive scrutiny but left it to your government to legislate C-83 and has since worked to find a path around the bill’s intent.

Some time ago, you had to intervene on behalf of Professor Anthony Doob and his panel to get information on the implementation of C-83’s provisions that Correctional Service of Canada had failed to deliver in a timely manner.

Now, with two reports in hand that are critical of CSC’s isolation techniques, the Globe and Mail said on November 16 that, “Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the findings raised ‘serious concerns’ and vowed to address them.”

The only option to make a “correctional service” out of a “prison industry” is to knock down what we have now and start over.  CSC knows though that you can huff and putt the day long, but you will soon move on, thankful to be rid of the file, and the agency will be left to indoctrinate your successor.

So much for good governance.


Bill C-83 is an Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, under which Correctional Service of Canada is governed.  C-83’s primary obligation, although not its only aim, is to eliminate “administrative segregation” (solitary confinement) in Canada’s federal prisons and to establish “structured intervention units” as the alternative.  (Note that nowhere does Correctional Service of Canada ever use the words “solitary confinement.”) 
C-83 received Royal Assent on June 21, 2019.

The legislation was a response to rulings by Courts of Appeal in British Columbia and Ontario that rendered the use of administrative segregation unlawful.  The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Mandela Rules, adjudged Canada’s practice of solitary confinement as torture.  Intentionally then, the policy around C-83’s structured intervention units exceed the minimum Mandela Rules standards.  Canada considers itself a champion of human rights, as it should be, and takes pains to criticize human rights abuses in other countries, as it must.  But what is that adage about throwing stones while living in a glass house?


So, where are we now?

Patrick White’s “Federal prisons still use solitary confinement, report says,” in the Wednesday, February 23 edition of the Globe and Mail earlier this year, and Murray Fallis’ “Canada’s prisons consistently violate Mandela Rules,” in the Thursday, February 25 Toronto Star say we’re not doing well.  As criminologist Dr. Anthony Doob put it, “We think that the time has come for Canada to acknowledge that it still has solitary confinement and torture by another name.”

To be fair, Correctional Service of Canada has made efforts to implement the provisions of C-83 and wants to be seen and heard to be making an effort.  The agency can’t claim genuine support for the bill’s intrusion into its monopoly though, and there’s no doubt it hasn’t found favour in the trenches.  In any case, CSC must identify the roadblocks to successfully meeting the bill’s mandate, and proactively work to resolve what it finds.  As a suggestion, additional mental health and mediation resources are certainly a part of the solution.

Bill Blair announced the creation of a two-year advisory panel in late July to look into prisoner isolation practices and assess and report on issues with implementing new policies.  Former correctional investigator Howard Sapers (2004 to 2016) will chair the panel which will include a range of experts, including Anthony Doob.  There are plans to provide a secretariat function to support the panel and work with CSC when necessary.

A good move, but the final paragraph of the above December 10 letter is always relevant.

Bill C-83 and ‘dry cells’……next time.