Violence in prison increasing, correctional officers in some prisons exceed number of inmates

By Lisa Joy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter 

Violence in Canadian prisons reached an all time high in 2018-19, according to Dr. Ivan Zinger, Correctional Investigator of Canada in his Annual Report released Feb. 18. 

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Canada’s prison system recorded five prison homicides in 2018-19, the highest since 2010-11. The prison system also had the highest number of inmate-on-inmate assaults as well as inmate-on-staff assaults in 2018-19. 

“The number of homicides in 2018-19 is concerning,” said Zinger. 

Violence in prison is on the rise but the number of inmates in prison is declining. 

Zinger said there were about 14,000 people incarcerated in Canada in 2018-19, down from a high of 15,340 in 2013. 

In fact, four in 10 prisons have more full-time employees, than inmates, said Zinger. 

“Since 2007-08, CSC added approximately, 1,200 correctional officer positions to its roster. Its total staff complement has increased by over 2,500 employees - 80 per cent of which were front-line security staff.

“In some institutions, the numbers of correctional officers alone exceeds the number of inmates,” he added. “There are approximately 2,000 prison cells now sitting vacant across the country, which represents the difference between a total rated capacity of 16,382 and a current inmate population of 14,081.”

Correctional Service Canada chart.
Correctional Service Canada chart.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2017-18, it cost $330 per day, or $120,571 per year to keep a federal inmate behind bars.

“With current spending, investment and staffing levels, Canada should be outstanding in every aspect of correctional performance,” said Zinger. “As my report indicates, there is room for considerable improvement.” 

Some of Zinger’s other recommendations include CSC revisiting its Prison Needle Exchange Program, ending the organizational culture of impunity at some maximum security prisons, reviewing use of force incidents, having an external review of CSC food services and have it delivered by the health services sector, updating its policies working with aging offenders, and immediately ending the random strip search routine in women’s prisons.

Bill Blair, Federal Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness welcomed the correctional investigator’s report that made 16 recommendations.

“The issues raised by the Correctional Investigator are extremely important as we strive to meet the highest standards when it comes to protecting the public and maintaining public safety,” he said in a statement Feb. 18. “Federal corrections is currently in a period of rapid transformation – over the coming months and years, I expect the CSC and the OCI to continue to work together to resolve correctional matters and ensure that we are serving all Canadians to the very best of our ability.”

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