Prisons in Canada

By The Termite Collective

cw: racism, prison industrial complex, incarceration, state brutality, capitalism, settler-colonialism, anti-blackness, settler-colonialism, mental and bodily wellness, transmisogyny, LGBTQIA2S+ phobia

In Laval, a suburb of Montréal, there are two federal prisons, one provincial prison, and one migrant detention centre. On the island itself, there are two provincial prisons and a handful of other sites the state uses to lock people up (cop shops, cells at the courthouse, etc). These prisons and jails are sites of violence, whether it’s the violence of a bureaucracy that delays release dates, the violence of the strip search that folks are subjected to after visiting their loved ones, the violence of forced labour, or the violence of the isolation units.

Prisons magnify systems of colonialism, white supremacy, and gender-based oppression. Nearly 85% of Indigenous people in federal prisons are imprisoned until they have served two thirds of their sentences, which is the time when most prisoners are entitled to statutory release. This is compared to 69% for non-Indigenous people in prison. Imprisoned Black people are unemployed inside prison at a rate of 7%, while the rate for all prisoners is 1.5%. Generally, Indigenous and Black prisoners face longer sentences, are more likely to land in maximum security prisons, and are more likely to be classified as “dangerous offenders,” making the possibility of being released on parole even harder.

Prisoners with life sentences in Canada actually serve more time on average than prisoners with life sentences in the United States. Lifers (the term used inside for folks with life sentences) generally have a harder time accessing programming needed for release on parole. Prison policies that were put in place during the Harper era have made it harder to access family visits, compassionate release passes, and work release programs. In 2013, the government raised the rate of “room and board” that prisoners are required to pay, even though their initial pay rate, set and unchanged since the 1980s, already included room and boarding fees. These days, the most money one can make while working full time in prison
is about $35 every two weeks. Many people are going without family visits and needed amenities from the canteen due to a lack of funds.

Contrary to job descriptions, the role of parole officers isn’t to support people on parole in finding jobs, housing, or a solid support system. In fact, their role is to scrutinize those newly released from prison to make sure they don’t break any of their parole conditions. These conditions leave people vulnerable to punishment at any sign of perceived “lack of transparency”, such as failure to disclose to a parole officer every single purchase, phone call, or intimate detail of a partner or ex-partner’s life. Parole conditions can also include mandatory urinalysis, complete lack of association with anyone who has a criminal record, and mandatory participation in life skills programs. Any perceived failure to adhere perfectly to the Correctional Service of Canada’s release plan can result in an automatic return to prison – for as long as five years.

We live in a time when the Canadian government has built new prisons and expanded existing facilities. The Conservatives were elected on a tough-on-crime platform and took over Parliament with the rest of the parties toeing the same line. Despite promises to the contrary, Trudeau hasn’t done much to change this. Some federal prisoners and supporters wrote him an open letter in 2016 detailing what they would like to see changed.

You can check out their demands at

It’s always been important to fight against prisons and what they represent, and that’s still true today. While this piece has mostly focused on specific violence happening within the prison system, it is also important to vision (and fight for) a world without prisons.