Correctional Service of Canada exists……



Consider this:
Thousands of men and women, dozens of organizations and groups, many of note like the John Howard Society, Elizabeth Fry Society, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Correctional Investigator of Canada, and a particularly important entity we know as the Supreme Court of Canada, have laboured for decades to persuade, cajole, convince, and even force Correctional Service of Canada’s compliance with it’s Mission Statement on the one hand, and to proactively adopt and initiate progressive correctional practices on the other.

Yes, there’s progress, recalling Margaret Mead’s:  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  But progress in our prisons is slow, limited, sometimes moving under protest, and often confronted by clever sabotage.  There’s this sense that CSC pays lip service to what it sees as unwelcome interference while devising circumventions behind closed doors.  It gives no inkling that the prison industry is being dragged screaming and howling into a future where it sees no benefit to its viability.  That should be concerning.  It is howling and screaming, but we don’t see that.  This is an agency that has become practiced at keeping prying eyes out, and accountability and transparency at bay.


Why?  What’s going on?

 Canada established this office as a correctional portal for people who come into conflict with the law, and assessed as meriting confinement, and subject to programming and guidance to permit a safe return to society.  It’s purposely named the Correctional Service of Canada, functions under federal legislation that is complemented by dozens of Commissioner’s Directives to define, flesh out, and detail policy and practice.  Further, there’s even limited allowances for institutional management to fine tune for local conditions.

The terrain is landscaped to meet the challenges for which Correctional Service of Canada is purposed.  Billions goes into operations.  CSC has the resources to aggressively lead in the field and be ahead of its critics.  No doubt, there are some earnest efforts to mimic a correcting system, and personnel who take their work seriously.  Despite this, where is the commitment to stay attuned to best practices, to meet the needs of the incarcerated, and prioritize positive outcomes?  All the while, how much is spent on legal fees to defend claims against CSC?  How much is spent to settle actions?  How much is spent on spin doctors to convince the public that CSC is doing what it is intended to do?  The groups and associations and courts and women and men who argue the delinquency of the system have good cause.


“When we remember that we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.”  Adapt this Mark Twain quote to our premise here that Correctional Service of Canada exists to deliver employment and benefits to 18,000 plus federal civil servants, then “the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.”  How could it be otherwise?

What’s next?  Simply put, another round is what’s next, followed by another round, followed by……..  There are objectives worth the pursuit.  No, this is a cause demanding the pursuit.  As one cycle follows another, there are always new people, new groups, new forces ready to take up the torch from flagging veterans.

And so, we begin.  We are always beginning.


(Note:  Correctional Service of Canada is only one small piece of government.  Just how much smoke and mirrors might there be elsewhere in Ottawa?)


Part II: How do prisoners get a life……


“Canada does have promising programs in its federal prisons, and Walls to Bridges is a great example,” noted the March 28 entry.  Yet, its availability is extremely limited and restricted to few inmates, and as the Correctional Investigator points out: “The Walls to Bridges program is funded entirely by the university/college offering the course and only requires CSC to provide classroom space and screen community students coming into the institution.”


Two points:  Prison programming with few exceptions is suspended during COVID which leaves men and women with too much time on their hands during the best of times as it is with even less to do.  As well, this will report on the latest viewpoints and findings of Dr. Ivan Zinger and his Office of the Correctional Investigator.

But first, referencing the Correctional Service of Canada website, we read:  “CORCAN is a key rehabilitation program of the Correctional Service of Canada.  It contributes to safe communities by providing offenders with employment and employability skills training while incarcerated in federal penitentiaries, and for brief periods of time, after they are released in the community.”

Now, turning to the latest available correctional investigator annual report:  “…many prison shops visited for this investigation require offenders to work on obsolete machines no longer used in the community.  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 maintain environments that are information-depriving, often using security concerns as a basis for maintaining the status quo.  There appears to be little motivation to improve, evidenced by the lack of progress over the last two decades.”

Further:  “It is equally difficult to obtain a job-ready or marketable vocational skills, even for those working in COCAN.  While we saw some CORCAN shops that were indeed providing workers with relevant, sought-after skills, it was also evident that too many workers were toiling day after day gaining very few skills that would assist them in obtaining a job.”  Some CSC staffers discussed how every CORCAN job taught dependability, working with others, problem-solving and conflict resolution, “many also confided that prison industries effectively fill an individual’s time rather than provide a useable skillset.”

The elimination of incentive pay by a previous federal government (changes that also reduced inmate pay from a base that hasn’t changed since about 1980) “made it difficult to recruit workers in CORCAN industries.  Few wanted to work all day in CORCAN jobs that were physically demanding, provided limited skills and were paid the same amount that a range cleaner makes, a position that requires far less investment in time or motivation.”

“Research and experience tell us that prison education and vocational training offer an important opportunity to intervene in the lives of individuals and a chance to provide them with the skills and knowledge required to succeed in today’s economy.  The reality is that the vast majority of individuals who are incarcerated will eventually be released back into the community; therefore, it is in the best interest of not only those who are incarcerated, but to all Canadians, that they be offered the basic tools in order to eventually contribute to the Canadian workforce and economy in law-abiding ways.”

The Correctional Investigator’s latest annual report cited ten of the recommendations it’s made for learning and vocational training behind bars to Correctional Service of Canada over the last ten years.  They range from computer and internet access to teaching computer skills, to meaningful work opportunities, to modernizing CORCAN, to action plans on relevant jobs, to studies on inmate work, to how to meet the needs of vulnerable populations.

What’s been going on at Correctional Service of Canada all these years?  A studied observation next time.