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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume 2 - Policies and Practices In Canada

Chapter 15 - The Criminal Justice System


Correctional Service Canada (CSC) is responsible for offenders serving sentences over two years, including individuals convicted of serious drug offences. CSC estimates that:

··        nearly 70% of federal offenders have problems with alcohol and/or drugs;

··        more than half used drugs or alcohol when they committed their current offence; and

··        approximately 20% of incarcerated offenders have been convicted of drug-related offences.


With such numbers, it is obvious that substance abuse should be a high priority for CSC. This raises two issues: (1) how to address the supply of drugs in federal institutions; and (2) how best to provide treatment and rehabilitation for offenders with substance abuse problems.

With respect to security measures, CSC conducts searches, does urinalyses and works with police to share intelligence about drug issues. In addition, ion scanners have recently been set up in every institution to help detect the introduction of drugs. There are also plans to have a drug detection dog in every institution. Despite all these security measures, it would be difficult for CSC to argue that it is successfully keeping psychoactive substances out of prisons. The national results from a random urinalysis sample program in 2000-2001 found that 12% of samples tested positive for at least one intoxicant.[1][16] In addition, a recent study in Quebec penitentiaries shows that 29% of inmates admit to illicit drug use, the majority of them taking cannabis.  

Imprisonment does not necessarily address the problem. A study that we conducted recently in Canadian penitentiaries in Quebec showed that inmates are taking drugs there too. We asked inmates to tell us about their drug use habits over the past three months of imprisonment. All the inmates were men. Sixteen per cent of them told us that they had consumed alcohol, whereas 29 per cent said that they had taken illicit drugs. In the majority of cases, these inmates were taking cannabis, whereas on the outside, the same inmates used to take cocaine. This is a significant change. Why were these people consuming cannabis, which is more readily detectable by its smell and by the traces it leaves in urine? Cannabis is detectable for 15 days after it was consumed, whereas cocaine can only be detected for 48 hours afterwards. Inmates want to escape. Cocaine is a stimulant which brings the inmate back to reality and this is not the desired effect. These people want to escape. Tranquillizing substances are the favourite. Sometimes they take benzodiazepine. However, they are easily able to get their hands on cannabis. [2][17]


CSC provides substance abuse and treatment programs to offenders with drug problems. A range of programs is available to help offenders break the cycle of addiction and safely reintegrate back into the community. Programs include the Offender Substance Abuse Prevention Program, the CHOICES Program and the Substance Abuse Program for Long-Term Offenders. CSC has also introduced Intensive Support Units, which include added searching and testing to support offender efforts to change substance abuse behaviour. The Auditor General estimates that 53% of offenders participate in substance abuse programs while serving their sentences.[3][18]

With respect to harm reduction, CSC provides methadone treatment to some opiate-addicted injection drug users and also makes bleach available in prisons to sterilize needles. CSC also has other initiatives to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, such as immunization for Hepatitis B. In early 2002, CSC announced an expanded methadone treatment program for federal prisoners addicted to heroin and other opiates.

CSC’s Addictions Research Centre (ARC) opened in Montague, Prince Edward Island, in May 2001. The mandate of the ARC is to conduct applied research to assist the CSC in understanding issues surrounding substance abuse and to develop programs that assist offenders in breaking their drug dependency. It is the only research centre established by a correctional organization to specifically address the challenges of addictions. With a staff of 20, it currently focuses on four areas: program development – which is currently focused on culturally sensitive programs for women and Aboriginal offenders; program research – in areas such as community intervention, methadone maintenance, intensive support units and fetal alcohol syndrome; assessment and monitoring – to measure trends over time to evaluate the success of interventions; and knowledge dissemination.  

Obviously, CSC’s largest cost is related to incarceration. The Auditor General estimated that in 1999, CSC spent $169 million to deal with illicit drugs: $154 million to deal with offenders serving sentences in whole or in part for drug-related offences; $8 million on substance abuse programs (including alcohol); $4 million for treatment programs (e.g., methadone); $3 million on urinalysis testing.  The cost of other security measures to control supply in institutions were unknown.[4][19] Of the current population of approximately 13,000 federal inmates, roughly 7,000 participate in substance abuse programs while serving their sentences. About $1,150 is spent per participating offender on substance abuse programs.     

As of 31 December 2000, 5,779 convicted drug offenders were under federal jurisdiction (either serving their sentence: (1) in a federal institution or (2) on conditional release). Of these, 3,890 were serving sentences for trafficking, 621 for importation, 225 for cultivation and 2,221 for possession.[5][20] Inmates serving in federal institutions are those who have been sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more.

Of those same 5,779 convicted drug offenders serving their sentences as of 31 December 2000, 2,548 were in federal correctional institutions: 1,613 for trafficking, 113 for importation, 82 for cultivation and 1,318 for possession.[6][21] In addition, 3,231 were on conditional release: 2,312 for trafficking, 508 for importation, 145 for cultivation and 946 for possession.[7][22]

In the five-year period from 1995 to 2000, the total federal drug offender population increased by almost 9%. Most of the growth involved those on conditional release, as this population increased by 19% over this period. At the same time, the number of those serving their sentence in institutions decreased by 2%.[8][23]

At the end of 2000, the average time served by drug offenders in federal custody was 2.2 years. With respect to conditional release, the average time served was 3.7 years. While this figure is lower than the average for non-drug offences, it is interesting to note that the average time served in custody for possession offences was 2.52 years, while it was 1.89 years for trafficking, 1.48 years for importation and 0.88 years for cultivation. For those on conditional release, the average time served for importation was 4.6 years, while it was 3.6 years for possession, 3.5 years for trafficking and 2.2 years for cultivation.[9][24] CSC indicated the reason that offenders appeared to be serving longer sentences for possession offences than for other drug-related offences such as trafficking is that they may also be serving time for other more serious offences, a situation making comparisons extremely difficult.

The following figure provides details of the number of admissions by region in federal correctional institutions in relation to drug offences for the year 2000, and the number of inmates incarcerated in different regions of the country as of 31 December 2000.




[1][16] Paul E. Kennedy, Senior Assistant Deputy Solicitor General, Policing and Security Branch, Department of the Solicitor General, Proceedings of the Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, Senate of Canada, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, 2001-02, Issue no. 22, page 10.

[2][17] Serge Brochu, Professor, University of Montréal, Proceedings of the Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, Senate of Canada, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, 2001, Issue no. 12, pages 23-24.

[3][18] Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the House of Commons, 2001, Chapter 11, “Illicit Drugs: The Federal Government’s Role”, page 13.

[4][19] Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the House of Commons, 2001, Chapter 11, “Illicit Drugs: The Federal Government’s Role”, page 16.

[5][20] Correctional Service Canada, Forum on Corrections Research, Volume 13, no. 3, September 2001, page 25. Please note that possession for the purpose of trafficking is included in the trafficking numbers.

[6][21] Ibid. It should be noted that some offenders might be represented in more than one drug offence category.

[7][22] Ibid. It should be noted that some offenders might be represented in more than one drug offence category.

[8][23] Ibid.

[9][24] Correctional Service Canada, Forum on Corrections Research, Profiling the drug offender populations in Canadian federal corrections, September 2001, Volume 13, Number 3, page 26.

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