The Current

Conservative tough-on-crime policy collides with shifting prison demographics

Today The Current is taking stock of the ripple effects of a decade of tough-on-crime legislation. We look at the shifting demographics inside Canada's prison system, including the growing number of prisoners, growing old behind bars.
Overcrowding, lack of health and rehab services, aging prisoners and an explosion in aboriginal women prisoners are just some of the effects of tough on crime laws implemented in the last decade. (Sean Hobson/Flickr/Creative Commons)

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During its almost decade in power, Stephen Harper's Conservative government introduced one tough-on-crime bill after another. 

According to one estimate, the Conservatives brought in one new law-and-order bill for every month-and-a-half in power.

Many of those bills became law — despite objections at the time. 

In certain parts of the country — Ontario and Quebec especially — one of the starkest shifts in the prison population, is that it's getting older.  The shifting demographics inside the country's jails have consequences for policy makers, prisoners and society.

And while women only make up a small percentage of the federal prisoner population, there's been a huge spike in part of the female population. Between 2002 and 2012, the number of indigenous women in the prison system grew by 97 per cent. In fact, today, more than one in three women in federal institutions, is an indigenous woman.

The Current explored the shift as part of our project Ripple Effect. 

Guests in this segment:

  • Judy Thomson, 66 years old, released last year after nearly 40 years of incarceration in penitentiaries across the country, serving time for several convictions including murder.
  • Kate Johnson, former chaplain at the Joyceville minimum security institution in Kingston, Ontario, for five years.  
  • Kim Pate, executive director of Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies
  • Howard Sapers, Correctional Investigator of Canada

The Current did request an interview with the Public Safety Minister, Ralph Goodale; as well as the Commissioner of Corrections Canada, Don Head; the Minister of Justice, Jody Raybould-Wilson; and the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Caroyln Bennett.  No one was available to speak with The Current today. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Sujata Berry and Marc Apollonio.