Corrections in Canada: An Interactive Timeline

Corrections in Canada

An era of innovation
1960–1979

New organizations, new approaches

In 1960, the Correctional Planning Committee came into existence within the Federal Department of the Justice. Its purpose was to fortify new attitudes toward rehabilitation. To help offenders become productive citizens, it was increasingly accepted that individual behaviour and experiences had to be addressed; corrections was no longer merely about the offence committed.

The 1960s and 1970s saw major changes in terms of restructuring within the correctional system. In 1965, the Canadian Penitentiary Service was developed on a regional basis to address differences in population, geography, communication and ethnicity. A year later, the Department of the Solicitor General was created, placing national police, penitentiaries, and parole under the direction of a single Minister separate from the Department of Justice. In 1976, the Canadian Penitentiary Service amalgamated with the National Parole Service. In 1979, the organisation was formally renamed the Correctional Service of Canada.

Beyond prison walls

In the 1960s, new approaches to rehabilitation and reintegration were adopted to ease prisoners back into society. At Collins Bay near Kingston, a first-ever gradual release program allowed inmates to work outside the prison and return to the facility in the evening. In 1969, an experimental living unit was opened at a medium-security institution in Springhill, Nova Scotia as part of a pilot community program to help prepare inmates for life "outside".

In 1977, Collins Bay Institution Offender, George Marcotte, with the support of CSC staff, launched the Exceptional People's Olympiad - a track and field day hosted by federal offenders for developmentally challenged athletes.

Federal offenders, with the help of CSC staff and Citizens' Advisory Committee members, plan and organize this event every year. Each participant is paired with an offender who acts as a coach by offering encouragement and advice.

This event has been growing in size and has spread across the country. Springhill Institution (Nova Scotia), Collins Bay Institution (Ontario), Leclerc Institution (Quebec), and Mission Institution (British Columbia) currently all participate in the Exceptional People's Olympiad.

The Exceptional People's Olympiad is an opportunity for offenders to contribute positively to society and to see the impact of their goodwill firsthand, which is important learning in terms of social responsibility.

The right to life

In 1971, to bring attention to human rights issues within Kingston Penitentiary, five hundred inmates started a riot—resulting in two deaths and causing major damage to the facility. The Kingston riot was the beginning of a decade of unrest and significant tension in Canadian penitentiaries.

Rights of offenders were eventually recognized in the 1970s giving prison life a more human face. Prisoners' actual names replaced the impersonal "number" system. Inmates could write as many letters as they wished—increasing their connection with the outside world. Long-time forms of punishment, such as whipping and lashing of prisoners, were eliminated. The abolition of the death penalty in 1976 marked a significant development in the advancement of human rights—the right to life as enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Unbiased, impartial, representative

In 1972, Professor Michael Jackson— a human rights advocate specializing in prisoner and aboriginal rights—completed a four-month review of the disciplinary process at a medium-security federal penitentiary in British Columbia. At the time, it was common for Wardens and Deputy Wardens to adjudicate serious matters involving the discipline of offenders. After his survey, Jackson proposed an alternative.

Specifically, Jackson suggested that the corrections system would be better served by impartial disciplinary tribunals, which could approach cases free from bias. The tribunals would consist of independent chairpersons appointed to conduct hearings, and those chairpersons would be trained in law—making them familiar with the essential elements of a fair hearing.

In its 1977 Report to Parliament, the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on the Penitentiary System in Canada endorsed Jackson's concept, requiring independent chairpersons "immediately as a basic demand of justice at all Penitentiary institutions in Canada." The Correctional Service of Canada began appointing independent chairpersons for disciplinary boards at maximum-security institutions and later implemented at medium-security institutions by 1980.

As well, Citizens' Advisory Committees (CACs) were made mandatory for every federal penitentiary in Canada. These are autonomous committees that reflect the interest of citizens in contributing to the quality of Canada's federal correctional services and programs. Close to 600 citizens participate in 105 CACs across Canada. CAC members were representing various social, cultural, and demographic backgrounds and occupations and usually appointed for a period of two years.

The evolution of management

Throughout the history of corrections in Canada, the bodies responsible for supervising the operation and management of Canadian penitentiaries have continually evolved. In 1978, the first Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada assumed his post. Previously, there had been a Commissioner of Penitentiaries, a position that replaced the Superintendent of Penitentiaries in 1947. Earlier responsibility rested with the Inspector of Penitentiaries (1874-1919); a Board of Directors (1868-1874); and a Board of Inspectors of Penitentiaries (1834-1868).

Happy birthday Canada: A nation turns 100

The 1960s ushered in an era of change for Canada in which issues of language, multiculturalism and politics entered the national spotlight.

Canada raised its international profile by playing host to the world at two major events. Expo '67 opened its doors during Canada's 100th birthday and remains the most financially successful world exposition to date. The 1976 Summer Olympic games attracted thousands of visitors and garnered worldwide attention as athletes gathered in Montreal to compete for gold.

Of course, the games were not Canada's first sporting event of international profile: in 1972, Canada defeated the Soviet Union in the first and most memorable hockey challenge in history.

Language and culture

1968 marked a major milestone in Canadian history with the passing of Official Languages Act, which recognized both English and French as official languages and guaranteed a bilingual civil service. At the same time, Canada became increasingly aware of its distinctness as a cultural mosaic—a term that perfectly captured its richness of ethnic and cultural diversity. In 1971 the federal government officially adopted a policy of multiculturalism.

Focus on the environment

The 1960s and 1970s also marked the beginning of a period of conservation and environmental awareness in Canada. Air and water pollution and endangered species became major national issues. Canada became an international leader in the establishment of ministries, organizations and legislation to protect the environment.

From confinement to community

To better rehabilitate offenders, the Correctional Planning Committee identified a number of issues to be addressed by the corrections system. These included the classification of offenders and the establishment of distinctions between medium and maximum security. The particular needs of female inmates received greater attention, as did considerations of mental illness, addictions, inmate after-care, and selection of employees—all to ensure that appropriate punishments, treatments and rehabilitative approaches could be administered.

One example of the government's response to providing unique treatment to a special segment of the inmate population was the establishment of Matsqui, a drug rehab institution, in 1965.

The 1960s also brought a greater focus on reintegration and need to transition ex-offenders from prison back into society. Offenders were interviewed upon entering the prison system to determine their history and to collect personal data. During incarceration, preliminary and pre-release reports were written, and counselling sessions took place—with the overall goal of preparing individuals for their eventual release.

To reflect changing times and establish new reforms within the correctional system, the 2nd Penitentiary Act came into force in 1961. At the forefront of this progressive act were new sections related to "Statutory Remission" and "Earned Remission"—both related to inmates receiving time off their sentences for good behaviour. Although some forms of remission, had been in practice for almost 100 years in Canada, the new Penitentiary Act was the first legislation to include the combination and differentiation of statutory and earned remission. In some cases, combining the two types of remission could reduce prisoners' jail terms by as much as one-third of their original sentence—a powerful incentive for "good behaviour." However, offenders released into the community early would still be under the supervision of parole officers and CSC.

In 1992, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) replaced the Penitentiary Act. It includes revised responsibilities of the CSC, the National Parole Board, and the Correctional Investigator and introduced the notion of least restrictive measures for offenders, which shaped CSC`s approach to their rehabilitation and their reintegration into society.

Giving shelter

Religious groups such as the Catholic Church and the Salvation Army became the first organizations to provide hostel accommodations for ex-convicts. In 1962, Reverend Neil Libby established a halfway house in Windsor, called St. Leonard's House after the patron saint of prisoners. The St. Leonard's Society went on to set up halfway houses across Canada. By 1971, there were 10 homes nationwide.

Throughout the 1970s, the number of halfway houses continued to grow. Governments and community groups got involved, providing basic necessities of food and shelter and, in many cases, offering assistance in securing employment, education and counselling services. A community correctional centre is a halfway house that serves as a transition facility between prison and full release into the community. Community Correctional Centres (CCC) are owned and operated by the Correctional Service of Canada. Community Residential Facilities (CRF) are more plentiful than CCCs and are operated under contract with agencies such as The John Howard Society. The presence of these community-based facilities also allow for the expansion of day parole programs.

Community by day

In 1969, allowances for day parole were made. This offered prisoners relief from prison life and the opportunity to participate in community-related activities on a limited basis. Offenders were required to return to the institution, though not necessarily every day. Day parole allowed inmates to attend school, take training not available in the institution, or to continue employment if it was beneficial to their career and or dependents. Today, both incarcerated offenders and offenders on conditional release are encouraged to volunteer many hours for worthwhile community causes. Volunteering is an opportunity for offenders to give back to the community and to engage with community members before being released from prison. How offenders perform in the community while volunteering can help determine their suitability for full-time parole and reintegration back into society.