Study of the Legal Services Needs of Prisoners in Federal Penitentiaries in Canada


In consultation with our contact persons at the Department of Justice Canada and CSC, an approach was developed to facilitate our access to the institutions. A memo was sent out to all the Wardens of selected institutions by our CSC contact person, explaining the purpose of the research and introducing ourselves as the researchers. There are a total of 52 federal institutions in the country including five regional facilities for Federally Sentenced Women, although women in maximum security are housed in separate Units within male facilities. The selection of institutions was based both on the location of Team members and the need to include a good sample of Aboriginal peoples, visible minorities and Federally Sentenced Women, as well as the general male population. Two institutions were selected for its inmate population that is referred for mental incapacities. We have also included a cross section of maximum, medium and minimum security institutions. Institutions included:

  • Matsqui Institution, B.C.;
  • Elbow Lake, B.C.;
  • Edmonton Institution for Women;
  • Regional Psychiatric Centre, Saskatoon;
  • Saskatchewan Penitentiary, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan;
  • Stony Mountain Penitentiary, Manitoba;
  • Kingston Penitentiary, Ontario.;
  • Regional Treatment Centre, Kingston, Ontario.;
  • Montée St. Francois, Laval, Québec;
  • Special Handling Unit, Ste Anne des Plaines, Québec.;
  • Springhill Penitentiary, Nova Scotia; and
  • Nova Institution for Women, Nova Scotia.

In addition to this list, during site visits, we visited the Women's Unit at Saskatchewan Penitentiary and also included the minimum facility and Women's Unit at Ste Anne des Plaines.

In general, as for inmates, we approached inmates groups such as the Inmate Welfare Committees, Lifers Groups and Brotherhoods and also enlisted any other inmates who wanted to be included in the study. This approach varied by institution, depending on the amount of ability Team Members were able to circulate and approach other inmates. In one of the Treatment Centres we were only able to interview one inmate, as the others were too low functioning to be able to participate. Similarly, in one of the maximum institutions, a lower number of inmates was interviewed due to the low functioning of some of the inmates in that environment. In the same vein, many inmates were not able to totally complete the interview due to a variety of reasons including, going into detail about their own situations, but we used all the relevant information as much as possible. Despite this, we obtained 100 interviews, including 26 Federally Sentenced Women and a good proportion of Aboriginal and other inmates belonging to visible minorities. As we did not include a question on racial origin due to proven difficulties with individuals self-identifying, observations made by Team members indicate that a good proportion of Aboriginal and visible minorities were included in our sample. In institutions such as Elbow Lake and Saskatchewan Penitentiary, the Aboriginal population was well represented. In some institutions, interview numbers were lower because there were lockdowns during our assigned days.

As for CSC staff interviews, participation varied by institution. Team members observed a general reluctance to be interviewed on this topic although this also varied. In one institution, all staff members declined despite repeated attempts made to different individuals by the researcher. The reason cited by all those approached was that discussions regarding legal aid should remain between lawyers and their clients. Some CSC respondents were however happy to be included but they formed the minority of respondents. Unfortunately, due to these difficulties, our staff sample is somewhat smaller than we had hoped. We were, however, able to complete 49 interviews.

In terms of Stakeholders, the following representatives were interviewed:

  • Kim Pate, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies;
  • Charles Haskell, Legal Counsel, CSC;
  • Ed McIsaac, Executive Director, Office of the correctional Investigator;
  • Joanne Connelly, Office of the Correctional Investigator;
  • Todd Sloane, Legal Counsel, Office of the Correctional Investigator;
  • Bill Staubi, Director General, Rights, Redress and Resolution, CSC;
  • Graham Stewart, John Howard Society Canada; and
  • Barb Hill, John Howard Society of Canada.

In addition, five prison law lawyers were interviewed in Kingston, and Montréal.

Table 1 summarizes the number of interviews completed for this research study.

Table 1: Interview Sample Size
Inmates 100
CSC Staff Members 49
Lawyers 5
Stakeholders 8
Total 162

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