Changes in federal and provincial/territorial custodial populations during the COVID-19 pandemic, April 2019 to April 2020

Date: August 12, 2020
Classification: Unclassified
Fully releasable (ATIP): Yes
Branch / Agency: Portfolio Affairs and Communications

Issue: On August 12, 2020, the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, Statistics Canada, published a Juristat report entitled, “Changes in federal and provincial/territorial custodial populations during the COVID-19 pandemic, April 2019 to April 2020”.

Proposed Response:

Changes in custodial populations in adult corrections during COVID-19


During the COVID-19 pandemic, correctional institutions face unique challenges given the close-proximity living conditions and the lack of adequate self-isolation and physical distancing options for their custodial populations.

Beyond implementing measures to ensure the continued health, safety and well-being of employees and offenders (e.g. providing personal protective equipment, increasing access to hygiene and cleaning supplies, implementing assessment and testing protocols), the Canadian justice system has taken steps to reduce the size of the population living in correctional institutions since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. These steps include, temporary or early release of offenders, placing offenders on parole and giving courts discretion regarding detention decisions for individuals awaiting trial or sentencing.

In order to examine how these measures have impacted counts of adults in custody, Statistics Canada has drawn on monthly correctional population data from fiscal year 2019/2020 and data from April 2020, which provide information on how adult custodial populations across Canada changed after the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact Canada.

Key findings:

In February 2020, just prior to COVID-19, there was an average of 37,975 adults in federal and provincial/territorial (PT) custody on any given day. In April 2020, the average daily count had decreased to 31,895, marking a 16% decrease. This type of month-to-month decrease is unprecedented as average daily counts are usually relatively stable over time.

Federal custodial populations declined 2% in April 2020 compared to March 2020, with decreases being reported in each region and Ontario marking the largest change (-3%).

PT custodial populations began declining between February and March 2020, decreasing 5%. By April 2020, the average count of adult offenders in PT custody had declined 25% with Nova Scotia marking the largest decrease (-41%).

After being stable for most of 2019/2020, remand (-27%) and sentenced custody (-19%) populations in adult PT corrections decreased substantially in April 2020.

The PT custodial population marked a 40% decrease for women offenders, compared to 23% for males between February and April 2020.  

Prepared by: Patrick Savoie, Analyst, Portfolio Affairs and Communications Branch, 343-571-8885
Approved by: Jill Wherrett, ADM, Portfolio Affairs and Communications Branch, 613-949-6435

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