Aging and Dying in Canadian Prisons

In a new report titled Aging and Dying in Prison: An Investigation into the Experiences of Older Individuals in Federal Custody the Office of the Correctional Investigator (OCI) and the Canadian Human Rights Commission address the key issue of how to ensure public safety while respecting and protecting the unique needs, dignity and rights of older persons in the country’s federal prisons.  

The investigation behind the Aging and Dying report was motivated by the concern that the health, safety and dignity-related needs of older persons are not adequately protected in prison and that the Canadian prison service has made little progress in addressing such issues despite the constant and continued growth in the aged prison population as well as the numerous related recommendations issued by the OCI over more than a decade. 

At the present time Canada’s federal prison estate comprises some 43 federally-run prisons and 15 federally-run community correctional centres. According to the new Aging and Dying in Prison report, around 25% of persons currently held in federal prisons are aged 50 and over.

As per the joint press release accompanying the report, Chief Commissioner Marie-Claude Landry commented:

“Every person in Canada, including those in federal custody, has a right to live their final moments with dignity and safety. Prisons are not equipped to provide end of life care. Correctional Service Canada must do more to ensure inmates can return to the community and so that end-of-life care is humane and dignified. This starts with encouraging and facilitating inmates to maintain meaningful connections within their community.”

Aging and Dying

Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger is also quoted in the press release of the Aging and Dying in Prison report as stating:

“Conditions of confinement of older individuals in federal custody are lacking in terms of personal safety and dignity. Some older, long-serving inmates are being warehoused behind bars. Their prospects for release are often overlooked or neglected … Older offenders are one of the most costly cohorts to incarcerate, yet they pose the least risk. More responsive and humane models of care exist in the community that would better support the reintegration needs of older offenders at a significantly lower cost. These alternatives could be funded through savings generated by unnecessary incarceration.”

The report makes 16 joint recommendations, several of which are aimed at the de-institutionalization and release of older prisoners (who do not pose an undue risk to the public) and their placement in a community-care focused environment.

The creation of an immediate prison service-led comprehensive National Older Offender Strategy to address the care and needs of older individuals in federal custody (as reflected in the recommendations of the report), was also highlighted as a key recommendation.

Other recommendations encompassed the additional training needs for federal prison staff in addressing age-related needs (physical, social and psychological) as well as the allocation of tailored age- and disability-appropriate space and services for such categories of persons.  

As the report itself underlines in its conclusion:

“It seems surprising to have to actually say or note, but a few modest measures would go a long way to recognizing and addressing the needs of older individuals in federal custody and improving the quality, purpose and meaning of their lives behind bars. Rules, routines, conditions of confinement and environments that were originally put in place to manage more active, healthier and younger people are not necessarily responsive to the life trajectories, circumstances or needs of aging persons.”

Read the new Aging and Dying report in English.

Read the backgrounder on the report.

Lire le nouveau rapport en français.

Lire le document d’information.

Read what the Canadian Human Rights Commission has to say about prisoners’ rights and follow the institution on Twitter.

Visit and explore the OCI website. Examine the Correctional Investigator’s recently expressed views on the importance of Canada ratifying the OPCAT in English and French.

Posted by mp in Oversight bodies, Prisons