1940–1959: Times of Change

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Conflict abroad

At the end of the 1930s, Canada's corrections system was on the brink of reform. The Archambault Commission had made its recommendations and a new Penitentiary Act had been drafted. With the outbreak of war in Europe, all was put on hold. Corrections officers and offenders alike were given leave to enlist. Penitentiary farms cultivated millions of pounds of vegetables to feed the armed forces, while offenders on work duty manufactured millions of necessary articles.

Improving conditions

After the war, the effort to change Canada's prisons resumed. As the country's first Prison Commissioner, Major-General R.B Gibson instituted more than 100 of the Archambault Report's recommendations. New penitentiaries were built, including separate facilities for young adult male offenders, and formal training of penitentiary officers became the norm. Although prison life was difficult, offenders were given permission to take up hobbies and play selected sports, to listen to radio and subscribe to newspapers. At Kingston Penitentiary, in fact, inmates ran their own radio station.

Struggles and solutions

As the troops returned home, crime rates rose—due to poverty and an increase in population. Problems of overcrowding intensified as the number of inmates climbed steadily over time. Between 1947 and 1960 alone, the national offender population almost doubled from 3,362 to 6,344. On August 15, 1954, 200 of the almost 1,000 inmates in Kingston Penitentiary rioted and set fire to the old prison. The fires burnt the central dome, which later had to be replaced by a flat roof. While some concerned observers called to retract offenders' liberties, the commitment to ongoing reform prevailed. In 1959, the National Parole Board was founded to support and supervise parolees re-entering the community.

The riot at Kingston and unrest at other correctional institutions led to the creation of the Commission of Inquiry into Certain Disturbances at Kingston Penitentiary. The resulting report identified the need for an independent body that could respond to inmates' complaints. The Office of the Correctional Investigator was established on June 7, 1973, with a mandate to investigate complaints from or on behalf of inmates, and to report on the problems of inmates to the Solicitor General.

WWII Ends! Troops Come Back from the Front!

After six long years of war—in which 37,000 Canadian soldiers lost their lives—the troops returned home in 1945 ready to start again.

It was a changed country they came back to. With industry working full-tilt to support the war effort, employment was up and the economy was growing. Technology had made some great leaps forward-allowing companies to manufacture products faster and more cheaply than ever before. The future was looking much brighter than it had in the days of the Great Depression one decade earlier.

In a spirit of optimism and hope, large-scale projects got underway, including construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway—a shipping corridor into the Great Lakes and the heart of the North American economy. The Seaway was finished in 1959 and dedicated by Queen Elizabeth II and U.S. President Eisenhower.

Peace, prosperity and promise

Big projects were also underway in the world at large. Things were changing—and Canada was a direct participant. The United Nations was founded to help prevent another devastating conflict like that of World War II from happening again, and to help with the rebuilding of Europe. NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was also formed, with Canada as a member.

In 1952, the first Canadian-born Governor-General was appointed, the Right Honourable Vincent Massey, signalling a new era of independence for the country. And the country itself was growing: Newfoundland joined the Canadian Confederation in 1949.

The National Parole Board of Canada

Many Canadians interested in prison reform had high hopes when the Archambault Commission released its report in the 1930s and the government drafted its new Penitentiary Act. It seemed that attitudes were shifting, and that new approaches to corrections might finally be put into action.

The war was a terrible interruption, but it did not obliterate the work that had been done: the new Act became law in 1947, and the Penitentiaries Branch of the federal government received a new Commissioner, Major General Ralph B. Gibson.

Gibson was committed to prison reform. As the National Parole Board website puts it: "The Archambault report became his bible, and he honestly tried to put it into practice. There was a perceptible lightening of the atmosphere in Canadian prisons. Rules and regulations were softened, and there was new hope for rehabilitative treatment."

The Idea of Rehabilitation

It is a key objective of Canada's corrections system that every effort should be made to rehabilitate offenders, to give them the understanding, skills and opportunities they need to reintegrate themselves into society and make a safe, law-abiding life for themselves. The Archambault report strongly advocated for this approach, suggesting that it was the best way to prevent offenders from lapsing back into lives of crime once their sentences were served.

The Archambault report's criticisms of past and present approaches to corrections were supported by a new report in 1956: the Fauteux Report. For too long, the prospect of parole had been used inside institutions to encourage good behaviour, instead of being used as a tool outside institutions—after an inmate's release—to ensure his or her successful re-entry into society.

A key recommendation of the report was to create a national board of parole—one whose reach would extend to all federal offenders.

The notion was put into action almost at once. Old legislation such as the Ticket of Leave Act was scrapped; and the Remission Service (a precursor, in some ways, to the parole board) was closed down.

A new Parole Act was passed in 1959, and the National Parole Board was created. It had the power and authority to make decisions about inmates' entitlement to release on a case-by-case basis, giving each individual inmate his or her due.

In its first year, Canada's National Parole Board granted 994 paroles—an increase of 42 per cent.