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How does Canada’s federal prison system work?

Region: Ontario Answer # 7771

Section 743.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada determines whether an offender is sent to a federal prison or to a provincial correctional institution. Offenders who receive a sentence of two years or more are sent to federal penitentiaries. Offenders who are sentenced to less than two years serve their time in provincial prisons.

Types of federal prisons

The federal correctional system in Canada is governed by the Corrections and Conditional Release Act(CCRA). Under the Act, Correctional Service Canada (CSC) is responsible for managing 43 institutions of various security levels. These institutions are comprised of:

  • six maximum security
  • nine medium security
  • five minimum security
  • twelve multi-level security
  • eleven clustered institutions

CSC also manages 14 community correctional centres and 92 parole offices and sub-parole offices.

Provincial/territorial correctional facilities

Any offender who receives a sentence of less than two years must serve their sentence in a provincial/territorial correctional facility. This also applies to offenders who are jailed while awaiting trial or sentencing. Depending on the jurisdiction, these facilities may include correctional centres, jails, detention centres and treatment centres, along with youth offender facilities. Visit your provincial/territorial ministry or department of justice for more information.

Intake Assessment

When an inmate first arrives at a federal facility, they are given a full intake assessment by CSC which involves gathering information about the inmate and the offence from police, courts, victims, family members and the inmate. This assessment helps determine the offender’s correctional needs. Factors considered include:

  • the severity of the offence,
  • offender’s physical and mental state, and
  • offender’s potential for violent behaviour

Security Classification

Inmates are assigned a security level classification which determines if they will be sent to a maximum security, medium security, or minimum security prison.

This classification is determined by information from the intake assessment along with the following three factors:

  1. Institutional adjustment (required degree of supervision and control within the institution).
  2. Escape risk.
  3. Risk to the public, in the event of an escape.

To receive a minimum security classification, inmates must be rated low in all three of these areas.

All offenders are regularly assessed by CSC to ensure that they are placed at the appropriate security level.

Correctional Plan

Information gathered from the intake assessment is also used by CSC to develop a Correctional Plan for the inmate. This plan outlines an offender’s treatment and recommendations for rehabilitation that include programs that address their risk of re-offending.

Men’s vs. women’s prisons

Men’s institutions are classified by security level: maximum security, medium security, or minimum security.

All women’s institutions are classified as multi-level, except for Indigenous healing lodges.

What happens in prison?

Daily life for an inmate can include work, recreational activities, counselling programs and other activities. The amount of freedom an inmate has and the programs and activities available depend on the facility. Generally, medium and minimum security prisons provide more freedom and programs than maximum security facilities. Visit CSC’s website on serving time for more information.

The Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) and its Regulations governs prison policies and practices. This includes:

  • the reception of inmates
  • temporary absences
  • work details and pay
  • work releases
  • transfer of inmates
  • discipline
  • search and seizure
  • general living conditions
  • programs for offenders
  • healthcare
  • complaints procedure
  • release of inmates

View the CCRA or visit Correctional Service Canada for more information on the federal prison system in Canada.

Get help

To erase your criminal record, call toll-free 1-888-808-3628 or learn more at Pardon Partners. It’s easier than you think.

If you have been charged with a criminal offence, it is important to hire an experienced criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible. Contact our preferred criminal defence expert, Calvin Barry Criminal Lawyers for a free consultation at 416-938-5858 .

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