PROFESSOR DANNY O’ROURKE-DICARLO
February 5, 2014
TRENDS IN IMPRISONMENT
CANADA Trends in Imprisonment in Canada
SUMMARY OF ARTICLE
Prison is seen as a societal stabilizer
The article explains the reasons for Canada’s stability in the use of imprisonment. It has
established what happens when someone goes to prison but not who should be imprisoned. It
looks at historical, structural, and cultural factors which may explain the stability of imprisonment
in Canada. All three factors show restraint as a mechanism in the moral and legal norms of
Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Prison and Reformatories Act states what is to
be done with people once they are imprisoned it does not explain who should be imprisoned.
Canada has had at least until recently, a very relatively consistent approach to imprisonment
that can be described and discussed
o Trends in imprison rates in Canada in regards to those in the United Kingdom
and United States
o Explanations for Canada’s stability focusing on historical, structural, and cultural
factors that contributes to Canada’s pattern in imprisonment rate.
o Recent rise in incarceration means there is a break with tradition of stability
o Imprisonment used as a tool to curtail crime
o Canada always seen imprisonment as a last resort, however, this trend is
• Span of 100 years – Canada has experienced relative stability in incarceration since the
late nineteenth century
• Canada has not been immune to wider pressures to adopt more punitive imprisonment
• A glance at several of the changes introduced in Canadian policy and legislation over the
past 25 years suggests that many of those same forces contributing to higher incarceration rates in countries like the United States and England have also affected
• We have seen the expansion of mandatory minimum penalties, increased maximum
sentences and more restrictive parole criteria. But when these changes – which have led
to increased incarceration elsewhere – are compared with our continued stability in
imprisonment rates, we are faced with an intriguing puzzle.
• Canadian politicians have introduced the mandatory minimum sentences to appear to be
“tough on crime”. The assumption is that ‘tough’ frontal attacks on any problem
automatically solve it.
• Even though mandatory minimum sentences have been part of the Canadian criminal
law, there use has been limited.
• After 1996, this limitation was overcome when the Canadian parliament introduced a
dozen mandatory minimum sentences of four years in prison for serious crimes with
• Applied to more serious crimes such as; robbery, assaults, sexual assaults,
• On the surface this new legislation constituted a significant break with the past.
• Mandatory minimum sentences have often been criticized, mainly because they have
had almost no effect on imprisonment rates. They have been criticized on the basis of
their rationale, their effectiveness, their appropriateness and for being politicized.
Why has Canada been so lenient with coercive punishments?
• Canada has consistently shown deep skepticism about imprisonment as appropriate
response to crime.
• All available sanctions that are available other than imprisonment should be
considered for all offenders.
• The Canadian Committee of Corrections wishes to emphasize the danger of
overestimating the necessity for and the essence of long terms of imprisonment
except in special circumstances.
• Limit the use of prisons to a last resort and increase the use of positive penalties like
restitution and community service.
• 1977 – House of Commons subcommittee minister of Justice Mark MacGuigan:
“Society has spent millions of dollars over the years to create and maintain the
proven failure of prisons…thus, before entering into a multi-million dollar construction
program, less costly, and more productive alternatives should be introduced”. • After presenting comparative imprisonment rates showing that the United States
imprisonment rate was, then, about four times higher than that of Canada, the
committee stated, “if locking up those who disobey the law contributed to safer
societies then the United States should be the safest country in the world” - The
Canadian Committee of Corrections.
• Imprisonment has been seen as a necessary but unproductive part of society to be
minimized as much as possible.
THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES ON IMPRISONMENT
We live in a society that is categorized as a WESTERN LIBERAL CAPITALIST DEMOCRACY.
Western in the sense that we live in the western hemisphere as located on the globe
Liberal A political theory founded on the natural goodness of humans and the autonomy of the
individual and favoring civil and political liberties, government by law with the consent of the
governed, and protection from arbitrary authority.
Capitalist an economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately or
corporately owned and development is proportionate to the accumulation and reinvestment of
profits gained in a free market.
Democracy – Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected
Under this category as a society we are free individuals with free markets and in that sense we
focus on the rehabilitative needs of the individual in order for them to become more productive
in our society when that individual has committed a crime and is incarcerated for it That was the
main intention of our prison system as it meant that in a capitalist society the more people that
work means more profit for the existing market. Liberalism focused on protecting individual
freedom and equality. In the 1930s the prison rate went down at a time when everyone
expected it to go up as a result of the great depression however the explanation for this was at
the time Keynesian economics was at play and this meant that welfare or government
assistance was for the first time being used to help out the mass amount of the population that
were unemployed so people were able to keep a roof over their heads and some food in their
stomachs without resorting to unlawful acts which would have seen them being sent to jail.
Today we live in a time that has come to be regarded as the neoliberalism age. In our society
today governments intervene less and privatization of institutions and competition has become
more dominant. As the free market expands and governments give up more control and
responsibility of our institutions corporations are focusing on maximizing profits much of the work that was prevalent in the boom period of the industrial age has now decreased as we
move from a manufacturing society to a more service oriented society. This is good as we will
create a lot more educated individuals which in the long run will reduce crime because it has
been statistically proven that educated individuals in society means less work on crime
prevention. However, at this present moment we have to deal with what neoliberalism has left
us. A sense of family and togetherness has diminished because more people are choosing to
relocate to cities in search of jobs, stranger relations becomes more prevalent as within cities
we are less likely to know our neighbors. Manufacturing jobs have diminished quite
considerably in Canada and this has meant that a lot more people who are living at the margins
such as aboriginals and blacks has lost their jobs and are more inclined to do unlawful acts in
order to support their families and themselves. Prisons have moved away from rehabilitating
individuals to a more warehousing mechanism for those that upset the social fabric of our
society. In focusing more on class structure neoliberalism has meant that even though
everyone is still equal under the law some groups because they live at the poverty margin are
also more inclined to end up in prison because they cannot afford proper representation in
court. Today our governments do not want to take on a welfarian role as they feel that it is too
costly on the institution of government this has meant that more people are living at the poverty
margin and has less ways of removing themselves from these situations. Media Review
“Canada’s prison population at all-time high” - Maureen Brosnahan National reporter with
-annual report of Correctional Investigator of Canada Howard Sapers.
-Number of visible minority inmates increased by 75% in past decade
-the number and proportion of inmates who are Caucasian has declined significantly
-Canada’s prison population is now at its highest level ever, even though the crime rate has
been decreasing over the past two decades.
-Ten years ago, the number of inmates in federal prisons was close to 12,000. It’s now more
-close to a quarter of all inmates are aboriginal even though they make up only 4% of the
-The rate of incarceration of aboriginal women increased by 80 per cent in the past decade.
-Black and Aboriginal Individuals are over-represented in maximum security institutions and
segregation placements. They are more likely to be subject to use of force interventions and
incur a disproportionate number of institutional disciplinary charges. They are released later in
their sentences and less likely to be granted day or full parole
-It now costs an average of $110,000 a year to house a male inmate, nearly twice as much to
imprison a female inmate.
“The growth in the custody population appears to be policy, not crime driven. After all, crime
rates are down while incarceration rates grow,” Sapers said, adding that crime across Canada
has been declining for more than a decade, long before the current government’s “tough on
-the United States, with one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, has changed course,
having realized that more people in prison d