New issue of the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons features articles demanding reforms to the Canadian federal penitentiary system and an end to all mandatory minimum sentences


August 8, 2020 (Algonquin Territory / Ottawa) – As people behind and beyond bars prepare to mark Prisoners’ Justice Day (PJD) for the forty-sixth time on Monday, August 10th the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons (JPP) launched Volume 28, Number 2 online. This special issue, titled “Prison (In)justice in Canada at the Crossroads”, features dozens of contributions written by federal prisoners on the many barriers and challenges they face in trying to better their lives and work towards their release from Correctional Service Canada (CSC) institutions. These JPP contributions were produced in a context where federal prisoners continue to feel the impact of a decade of regressive reforms initiated by successive governments led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and several years characterized by inadequate, timid reforms since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau entered office.

This issue, the third installment in the journal’s Dialogue on the Canadian Carceral State, makes several recommendations for changes to sentencing laws and the administration of the federal penitentiaries. These include:

  • Ending mandatory minimum sentences, including life sentences that often condemn people to death by incarceration.
  • Expanding vocational training and access to post-secondary education.
  • Increasing access to books, legal reference materials and computers to encourage self-directed educational pursuits.
  • Ensuring timely access to programming and other activities to promote prisoner well-being and betterment.
  • Ending sweat shop compensation levels for work by prisoners and ensuring appropriate compensation for overtime in keeping with Canadian labour standards.
  • Ensuring appropriate access to mental health, health, dental and optical care.
  • Improving the quality and variety of food and canteen items available to prisoners to promote their health.
  • Increasing the limit for personal effects in keeping with the rising cost of goods.
  • Promoting the safe re-entry of prisoners into society by: increasing the speed of written correspondence processing, providing access to free calling, and instituting broad-based access to online communications to keep incarcerated people in touch with their loved ones and community supports; housing prisoners closer to their communities while imprisoned; increasing access to personal family visits and ending the abusive treatment of prison visitors and volunteers; and ensuring fairness and continuity in the management of correctional plans.
  • Increasing opportunities for gradual release with reasonable conditions, while expanding the capacity of halfway houses;
  • Holding CSC staff members and officials to a higher standard and ensuring accountability when they engage in abusive conduct by instituting a grievance and oversight system with binding recommendations.
  • Enhancing CSC transparency through timely processing of Access to Information requests at a reasonable cost.

Recognizing that the modest reforms above can only limit the use and harms of incarceration, the JPP calls upon the Government of Canada to commit to working towards ending the costly and ineffective practice of human caging through building communities by making significant investments in social housing, universal income, employment and education, health and mental health care without coercion, harm reduction, and other supports alongside diversion and decarceration measures. Such investments in people are especially necessary in the context of this pandemic behind the walls where prisoners and prison staff are exposed to heightened risks of COVID-19 transmission, as well as in communities that are experiencing significant hardship and uncertainty. These measures would also go a long way in addressing anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism that is evident in the mass incarceration of racialized people by the Canadian carceral state, along with the need to end the economic disparities and violence that women pushed to brink face which lead to their criminalization and incarceration. The federal government’s commitment to end racism and gender inequality is empty if these pursuits do not include a transition away from carceral violence.   

This issue is dedicated to Josephine Pelletier, a contributor to the first issue of our dialogue on the Canadian federal penitentiary system – Volume 26(1&2). Josephine wrote for the JPP while incarcerated at Grand Valley Institution for Women in Ontario and was shot to death by Calgary Police in 2018. In her 2017 contribution, Josephine predicted her eventual death at the hands of the state, describing herself as a “walking target” due to the advocacy she engaged in. It mattered to Josephine that her death not be written off as natural or inevitable as is often the case when Indigenous people die prematurely. It mattered to Josephine that it be made clear that the carceral system would be responsible for her death if social change did not result from her recommendations. Josephine’s determination for change is echoed by contributors to the latest issue of the JPP who continue to demand a more just and compassionate future for all.

For media interviews in English or French contact:
Justin Piché, PhD | Co-editor, Journal of Prisoners on Prisons | | 613-793-1093