What Are Prison Facilities Like in Canada?

by tylercook on November 9, 2013

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The prison system in Canada is quite different than others around the world, for a few reasons. For instance, Canada had been criticized for its low incarceration rates in comparison to other countries, particularly the United States: according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Canadian prisons only have about 1/7th of the incarceration rate of American prisons.

U.S. Vs Canada

One of the major criticisms of the U.S. prison system is that many of the people in the system are incarcerated for non-violent crimes, particularly petty drug offences. This is not the case in the Canadian system. The vast majority of prisoners in Canada are locked up for violent crimes, such as homicide. Also, there has been some privatization of certain aspects of the prison system in the U.S., which some have argued makes it more of a business, encouraging incarceration. Canadian prisons, on the other hand, are entirely funded by the government, (which has recently been a problem, as the prisons are a bit underfunded at the moment). Additionally, prisons in the U.S. are quite frequently updated and state of the art whereas some Canadian prisons date back to the nineteenth century.

Prison Conditions

The living conditions for inmates in Canadian prisons are very similar in many ways to that of American prisons. Inmates are allowed reasonable contact with family members and others from outside the prison via visits or general correspondence. The inmates are also allowed time to peacefully assemble in order to socialize with one another, as long as these gatherings reasonably adhere to prison safety standards. And of course, there is no tolerance for any form of cruel treatment towards prisoners while they are incarcerated, regardless of the severity of their crime. The number one complaint among prison inmates in Canada, according to a recent survey, is the health care system within the prison.

The Numbers

In 2009, around 5,000 people were sentenced into a Canadian prison. Prisoners are kept at the provincial corrections level for any crimes that require sentences for anything two years or less, and at the federal level for anything longer than two years. Though the number of women incarcerated in Canadian prisons has gone up recently, it is still significantly less than the number of men, with only 307 women being admitted from 2007-2008. The total incarceration rate has been on the rise as well, with reportedly 140 people per 100,000 thousand citizens being incarcerated from 2010/2011, up 1 percent from the year before.


No system is perfect, and Canada does things differently than other countries around the world. The Canadian prison system, though mirroring certain elements of other prison systems, is unique in the sense that it does not imprison very many people in comparison to other countries, including the United States. Whether Canada or the U.S. is the anomaly is an open question with few concrete answers. Most would agree, however, that Canada’s relative lack of inmates is not inherently problematic.


Paul Gregory is a freelance writer concentrating on complicated legal topics such as Personal Injury, Criminal Defense, Bankruptcy Law, Banking Law and others as well.




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