Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

A guard walks along a catwalk at Kingston Penitentiary in Kingston, Ont., on April 19, 2012.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Canada is pouring money into an outdated prison model that provides questionable value for dollars spent, according to an internal analysis by the federal corrections ombudsman.

The 33-page document, obtained by Access to Information legislation, shows that recently announced spending will give Canada approximately one staff member for every inmate, an employee-to-prisoner ratio that would lead the world.

For all that investment, however, the ombudsman states Canada is earning dubious returns, with the country posting inmate outcomes that are regressing in important areas.

Story continues below advertisement

“We are spending an inordinate amount of money – $2.5-billion – and the performance is just not there,” Ivan Zinger told The Globe and Mail in an interview about the report. “If we were talking electricity bills, this would be the equivalent of telling Canadians they are paying the highest hydro rates in the world and getting tons of blackouts.”

Dr. Zinger’s analysis emerged the same day the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) issued a brief report on the government’s plans to spend $300-million over six years to replace the incarceration practice known as administrative segregation with new housing units, called Structured Intervention Units (SIUs), designed to provide inmates more time outside cells.

The new units are prescribed in a government bill currently sitting with the Senate that professes to eliminate the Correctional Service’s controversial use of segregation, also called solitary confinement.

Correctional Service Canada (CSC) is planning to build 27 of the new units for men, and five for women, with annual staffing costs of $58-million.

“We believe this is an appropriate level of funding for CSC’s expected number of SIUs and associated staffing,” the PBO report states.

Dr. Zinger warns that the new investment further commits Ottawa to funding a correctional system based out of penitentiaries when the need is greatest within community corrections, a category that includes oversight of prisoners on parole, work release and long-term supervision orders.

Scott Bardsley, spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, said the government investments are aimed at mental health and rehabilitation, helping to compensate for a decade of punishment-oriented policies under the previous government.

Story continues below advertisement

“Better supports for mental health and other risk factors ultimately reduce the likelihood of reoffending when people are eventually released into the community, making us all safer,” he said.

The number of inmates in prisons has declined from 15,340 since 2013 and currently stands at around 14,050. Over that same period, the number of offenders under community supervision has risen from roughly 7,860 to 9,310.

Despite that population shift, CSC has added 2,000 institutional staff since 2007-08, according to the analysis. Roughly 37 per cent of federal prisons now have more full-time employees than inmates and roughly 2,000 cells are vacant.

“This, in my view, represents maladministration,” Dr. Zinger said.

Dr. Zinger said that the SIU initiative along with recent funding dedicated to prison health care will add another 1,000 staff to CSC’s total complement, pushing the staff-to-inmate ratio from 1.2 to 1 down to 1 to 1. In his analysis of worldwide prisons stats, the ombudsman found that only Norway and Northern Ireland come close to dedicating that many employees to inmates, both posting a 1.2-to-1 ratio. Europe dedicates an average of one staff member to every 3.5 inmates, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons employs one person for every 4.4 inmates.

“The money is beyond what any other country is willing to pay,” he said.

Story continues below advertisement

The ultimate performance indicator for prison systems is recidivism, a measure of inmates who are reconvicted after two years.

While other big spenders such as Norway have recidivism rates of 20 per cent, Canada’s reconviction rate is unknown, according to Dr. Zinger, largely because of the country’s complicated interplay of provincial, territorial and federal prison systems. The last time CSC fully measured its two-year reconviction rate was 1995 and it stood at 41 per cent, he said.

In a statement, CSC insisted it has a more recent recidivism figure of 23.4 per cent for 2011-12.

“The Correctional Investigator’s study underlines the need for better Canadian data on recidivism, which is notoriously difficult to track and compare,” said Mr. Bardsley, adding that Ottawa is now working on new recidivism stats with the provinces and territories.

Other indicators suggest the prison service’s performance is sagging in key areas despite budget increases, Dr. Zinger said. Inmate-on-inmate assaults, attempted suicides, self-injuries and use of chemical sprays on inmates have all surged by more than 100 per cent since 2006-07.

CSC spokeswoman Véronique Vallée said that, based on other stats, the agency is meeting its mandate of successfully rehabilitating and reintegrating offenders into the community. “Offenders are being released earlier in their sentences, are upgrading their education, and are more successful in returning to and staying in the community as law-abiding citizens.”

Story continues below advertisement

The union representing correctional officers has blamed recent increases in violence on new Correctional Service directives that have drawn down segregation numbers and stated that the pending legislation would only make penitentiaries more dangerous. “We are entering a time in corrections when I think violence will be unbelievably bad,” union president Jason Godin said. “People will get hurt.”

Dr. Zinger would rather see CSC funding shift away from prisons and into community corrections, particularly toward mentally ill, Indigenous and elderly people.

“With our current level of spending,” he said, “we should be outstanding in every aspect of corrections.”

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies