2000–Present: Taking Action

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A time of transformation

The world’s dynamics changed at the start of the new millennium. The September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 killed thousands of civilians including 24 Canadians—provoking a radical reconsideration of public safety. Canada dispatched troops to Afghanistan; the U.S. waged war in Iraq. Here at home, concerns about food safety and the prevalence of new viruses challenged the healthcare system. Throughout the decade, the waves of change persisted: in 2008 global markets crashed and the world’s economies foundered. At the same time, America began a new chapter in its history with the election of the first African-American President, Barack Obama.

The priority of public safety

Public Safety Canada was created in 2003 as a direct response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Its mandate: to enhance public safety and security and minimize risk to Canadians from a wide range of threats—everything from crime and natural disasters to terrorism. That same year, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) was established by the merge of border services activities and resources from the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, to manage the nation's borders, administering and enforcing approximately 75 domestic laws that govern trade, travel, and international agreements and conventions.

The creation of these agencies and the sharpened focus on public safety created a new operating context for CSC in the first decade of the 2000s.

The changing offender profile

Today, offenders present a broader range of risks and needs than in previous years. Many have extensive and violent criminal histories as youths and as adults. The number of offenders classified as maximum security at admission has increased by 50 percent since 1997. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of offenders serving short federal sentences (under three years)—providing less time for case management and program interventions. These trends apply both to men and women offenders.

Criminal organizations threaten the safe, secure, orderly and efficient management of CSC’s institutional and community operations. Offenders involved in criminal organizations pose a number of significant challenges for CSC, including intimidation, extortion, and violence within the incarcerated and supervised community populations; drug distribution within the institutions; recruitment of new members; and intimidation and corruption of staff. Increased convictions for serious crimes pose increased risks and affect maximum security capacity.

Most offenders continue to have unstable job histories, low levels of education, learning disabilities, poor problem-solving skills and difficulties with self-regulation. Inmates are generally in poorer health than other Canadians. Substance abuse continue to be significant in this respect, as do high rates of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. There is also an increasing need for chronic and palliative care, given the number of offenders serving life and indeterminate sentences.

Mental health presents further issues. Some 20 percent of offenders have been hospitalized in a mental health facility, while 11 percent have a current psychiatric diagnosis.

Aboriginal Offenders in Canada

Aboriginal Offenders are disproportionately represented in our institutions. They also tend to be younger than their non-Aboriginal counterparts, are more likely to be incarcerated for violent offences, and have more extensive involvement with the criminal justice system as youths.  Extremely high percentages of Aboriginal offenders report early drug or alcohol use, physical abuse, parental absence or neglect, and poverty. They also suffer from a higher incidence of mental and physical health problems due to substance and alcohol abuse. CSC’s strategic plan articulates a vision for Aboriginal corrections that enhances capacity to provide interventions for Aboriginal offenders within a continuum of care model that respects the diversity of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit offenders and their communities. It calls for greater integration of Aboriginal initiatives and considerations throughout the organization, with other levels of government, and with Aboriginal people. 

Health Services

The CSC report, Infectious Diseases Prevention and Control in Canadian Federal Penitentiaries 2000-2001, confirmed the prevalence of HIV/AIDS within prisons. Between 1989 and 2001, positive HIV test results for federal inmates rose from 24 to 223—an average of 15 cases per year. In 2000, CSC began educating inmates on how to reduce the risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV, and counselled inmates with HIV/AIDS on the meaning of their test results. By the end of 2003, more than half of all HIV-positive inmates sought voluntary HIV treatment. CSC's National Infectious Diseases Program introduced special measures to reduce the spread of infectious diseases among inmates in federal penitentiaries, for example by making condoms more easily available.

Mental Health

Offenders in federal penitentiaries are excluded from the Canada Health Act. CSC is therefore responsible for providing mental and physical health care services to them. Over the past decade there has been an increase in the number of offenders suffering from mental health disorders upon admission to federal penitentiaries and community residential facilities, and in those who return to custody within two years of their release. In response to this rising and unsettling trend, CSC has developed a mental health strategy that provides for a full-spectrum response to offender needs and outlines a national approach to mental health services within the corrections system.

Role of the community

Canada’s federal government created the National Volunteer Association (NVA) in 2001 to provide volunteer support to families of inmates and help released offenders re-adjust to community life. CSC’s chaplaincy program helps offenders access counseling, volunteer training, classroom and workshop training, community education opportunities and mentorship groups, building relationships between institutional chaplains, offenders and their parole officers. When offenders are reintegrated into society, public safety is always the foremost concern. In 2008, CSC strengthened its policy on tandem visits, requiring two parole officers to accompany offenders on visits to their residences; began an electronic offender-monitoring pilot; and completed a review of community-based residential facilities.

Volunteers have been essential contributors to public safety for many years by enhancing the work of CSC and creating a liaison between the community and the offender. CSC benefits from the contributions of over 8,100 volunteers active in institutions and in the community. CSC volunteers are involved in activities ranging from one-time events to providing ongoing services to offenders and communities, including tutoring, social and cultural events, faith-based services and substance abuse programming. CSC also engages a volunteer Citizen Advisory Committee at the local, regional and national level to provide citizen feedback on CSC policies and practices.

Victims Services

In 2007, CSC added a section to its website for victims of federal offenders, providing them with easy-to-access, up-to-date information about the services offered by its National Victim Services Program.  This site is one of the tools available to assist victims who may wish to receive information about the offenders who harmed them.  The site provides them with contact information for CSC's regional Victim Services Unit where they can register to receive notification in accordance with the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.  Staff can also assist them to complete victim statements for consideration by CSC and NPB in their decision-making processes, identify community-based resources, and address other concerns related to their experience.  In addition, victims may obtain information about the option they have to attend NPB hearings.  This site also features links to enhance victims' understanding of the justice and correctional systems, as well as the role their voice can play in the Federal Government's ongoing response to the needs of victims of crime. 

New Uniforms

In 2005, CSC unveiled new uniforms for its correctional officers. The design of the garments embodies the respect for human rights and human law and commitment to protecting Canadian communities that characterizes the Service.

Smoking Ban

In January 2006, CSC imposed an indoor smoking ban at all federal penitentiaries and community correctional centres. Two years later, backed by further medical evidence of the significant health hazards associated with second-hand smoke, a total smoking ban was put in place.

Prison for Women

In 2000, after 66 years of sharing the grounds with male prisoners at the Kingston Penitentiary, women inmates were moved to a separate institution—a new Prison for Women. Although numerous non-heritage buildings and three stone security walls have since been demolished, remaining structures, designated as heritage buildings have been left intact.

In 2009, the minimum security facility, Isabel McNeill House, closed its doors.

CSC Transformation Agenda

In April 2007, the Honourable Stockwell Day, Minister of Public Safety, appointed an independent panel to review CSC's operational priorities, strategies and business plans as part of the Government's commitment to tackling crime.

The Panel made 109 recommendations, around five themes, including offender accountability, eliminating drugs from prison, offender employability to enhance reintegration, improving physical infrastructure, and moving to earned parole.

The Government officially responded to the Report in Budget 2008, committing $122M over two years to ensure CSC is on track to respond comprehensively to the Panel's recommendations.

In 2008, CSC adopted a new Transformation Agenda focused on public safety and on ensuing consistency, integration and accountability throughout Canada’s corrections system.

In February 2008, CSC established a Transformation Team to lead CSC's response to the recommendations, and is starting by focusing on "quick wins"-immediate achievements with lasting public safety results. The Transformation Agenda covers the following themes:

  • Enhancing offender accountability
  • Eliminating drugs
  • Enhancing correctional programs and interventions
  • Physical Infrastructure
  • Strengthening Community Corrections


CSC Drug Strategy

In 2002, CSC expanded its four-year-old Methadone Maintenance Treatment (MMT) program to include all offenders in federal penitentiaries who were addicted to heroin and cocaine and were willing to participate. (Previously, MMT was available only to special-case offenders.).

Drugs in correctional institutions undermine the goal of rehabilitation. In 2008, a new zero tolerance strategy was implemented to eliminate drugs in prisons. New technologies—including more x-ray machines and ion scanners—were adopted to search visitors. Additional staff was deployed in towers and at watch points. In June 2008, a national database was implemented to track visitors across all institutions, and a scheduling system was established to ensure the effective processing of all visitors.

CSC increased the number of detector dog teams to help cut off the flow of illicit drugs into institutions, improve the effectiveness of visitor searches, and enhance inspections of inmate accommodations, working and common areas. Over the next five years the number of detector dog teams will increase from 46 to 126. CSC’s new anti-drug policy established a zero tolerance stance with respect to drug searching at federal prisons, and instituted a policy to protect children from being used to traffic drugs in institutions.

Meaningful measures

The renewed Offender Management System (OMS) implemented in 2006 contributes to public safety by enabling efficient information sharing between CSC and other criminal justice organizations in Canada. Complying with the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, OMS ensures that CSC informs police services about offenders released under condition in their communities and those who are unlawfully at large. OMS also allows CSC to provide Passport Canada with electronic information on individuals who may not be eligible for Passport Canada's services.

An international role

The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) played a role on the world stage through its International Development Program, which aims to contribute to international peace and stability by promoting good governance, human rights and democratization. CSC helped establish Kosovo’s correctional system and the UNDP Judicial and Security Sector Reform Group; it also supported the Department of Justice’s assessment of justice and corrections in Afghanistan. In May and June 2003, CSC participated in a multinational assessment of the Iraqi justice system and made proposals for its future development. Three years later, at the request of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, CSC developed a plan for Canada to help strengthen the Afghan corrections system and facilities in Kandahar. Since 2007, CSC has worked as part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) to improve overall conditions in Kandahar’s Sarpoza prison. The Service also has a longstanding commitment to correctional operations in Haiti: in 2007 and 2008 CSC staff joined MINUSTAH (the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) to provide security-sector reform, training and mentoring to Haitian correctional services staff.