Audit at a Glance—Chapter 4—Expanding the Capacity of Penitentiaries—Correctional Service Canada

Audit at a Glance

Chapter 4—Expanding the Capacity of Penitentiaries—Correctional Service Canada

What we examined (see Focus of the audit)

The objective of the audit was to determine whether Correctional Service Canada (CSC) had increased the capacity of its correctional facilities in a manner that met its needs and was cost-effective.

What we found

Overall, short-term accommodation needs are being met (see paragraphs 4.9-4.13)

We found that the number of unoccupied cells has decreased significantly over the past three years. By early 2013, there were more offenders in custody than the number of available single cells. At the time of the audit, CSC expected to have 2,120 new cells completed by March 2014 and the remaining construction finished the following fiscal year. However, we found that CSC’s updated population projection shows that it will again be at or over capacity within a few years of completing construction.

This finding is important because a surplus of unoccupied cells allows for repairs and maintenance and enables the separation of incompatible groups, for the safety and security of both offenders and staff.

Some regional overcrowding remains (see paragraphs 4.14-4.18)

This finding is important because CSC officials informed us that the primary factor for determining which penitentiaries to expand was the availability of land within the secure perimeters of existing institutions, where new accommodations could be built quickly. As a result, we found that the expansions were not proportionate to the expected regional increases in offender populations. Even after the construction is completed, CSC officials expect double bunking to continue.

About half of CSC’s institutions operated at or above their rated capacities (see paragraphs 4.19-4.22)

In the 2012-13 fiscal year and over the three years examined, we found that about half of CSC’s institutions were consistently running at or exceeding their rated capacities. For example, medium security institutions for men operated at an average of 102 percent of rated capacity, which is above the recommended operating limit of 95 percent, while capacity pressures in women’s institutions were highest at the maximum security levels, which averaged 108 percent of rated capacity.

This finding is important because CSC identified increased safety and security concerns for staff and offenders, especially at maximum and medium security penitentiaries.

Expansions did not include space for segregation or health care (see paragraphs 4.23-4.27)

This finding is important because in addition to single cells, several types of spaces are required to support the normal operations of penitentiaries and effective rehabilitation of offenders.

Recommendation. Correctional Service Canada should update its accommodations guidelines to define the requirements for specialized spaces that support the operation of its penitentiaries based on their rated capacities.

Institutions were expanded without complete planning information (see paragraphs 4.28-4.34)

This finding is important because the infrastructure of about one quarter of the penitentiaries being expanded was assessed as being in poor operational and physical condition. CSC has determined that these facilities must now be upgraded.

Cost savings by closing penitentiaries are less than announced (see paragraphs 4.35-4.37)

This finding is important because in April 2012, the government announced the closure of Kingston Penitentiary and the Regional Treatment Centre in Ontario, and Leclerc Institution in Quebec, stating that this would save about $120 million per year. CSC has estimated that direct savings with the closure will not be more than $86 million annually.

Recommendation. Correctional Service Canada should define its accommodation needs to guide future investment, replacement, or closure decisions for its penitentiaries, based on updated assessments of the condition of its facilities and offender population estimates.

Capacity pressures limit the movement of offenders (see paragraphs 4.38-4.44)

We found that CSC has not assessed whether there is sufficient capacity at minimum security institutions to allow offenders to transition down when they are ready.

This finding is important because capacity pressures at minimum security institutions can limit the ability of offenders at higher security levels to transfer down. Offenders are less likely to be granted conditional release (parole) directly from higher levels of security.

Recommendation. Correctional Service Canada should determine why offenders are staying longer in custody in order to take appropriate action on managing accommodation needs and to take advantage of opportunities to lower costs.


Correctional Service Canada agrees with our recommendations, and has responded (see List of recommendations).

Why this audit is important

Correctional Service Canada (CSC) must ensure that it has enough cells available for all the offenders in its custody. The number of cells in operation can vary as new cells are brought into service and others undergo repairs or maintenance. The number of offenders can also fluctuate depending upon how many are admitted into custody after sentencing or revocation of release, transferred between penitentiaries, or released into the community.

In 2009, CSC anticipated that changes in criminal justice legislation would result in longer sentences for many offenders, leading to an increased offender population. In October 2009, CSC received approval to spend $751 million over five years to expand existing institutions by installing 2,594 double bunks and adding 2,752 new cells. CSC also received approval in principle to construct five new penitentiaries at a cost of $960 million, pending the development of a long-term accommodation plan.

In April 2012, the government announced the closure of three institutions to save operating costs as part of its deficit reduction action plan, and that it did not intend to build new ones. In July of that year, the government also announced that planned new institutions would not be built because CSC had recognized that its offender population had not grown as much as expected.

Details of the audit

Report of the

Auditor General of Canada

Type of product

Performance audit


  • Justice and Law Enforcement
  • Real Property
  • Safety and Security

Audited entities

Correctional Service Canada

Completion date

29 November 2013

Tabling date

6 May 2014

Related audits

For more information, please click here.