Ministerial Direction to the Correctional Service of Canada: Use of dry cells

August 29, 2022


The Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) mandates the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) to provide a safe and secure environment for staff and inmates at federal correctional institutions, which is conducive to the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders. It also reduces the risk of reoffending and keeps Canadian communities safe. The Government of Canada and Canadians expect that CSC fulfills its mandate in accordance with the rule of law and respect for the rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The introduction of contraband into federal correctional institutions, such as drugs and weapons, represents a significant and pervasive security threat that places the safety of staff and offenders at risk. It can also have serious impacts on the health and safety of the individual introducing the contraband into an institution. The maintenance of safety and security in the federal correctional system must be balanced with safeguarding human rights through the safe and humane custody of offenders.

The CCRA provides a comprehensive framework for search and seizure to aid in mitigating safety and security threats. Detention cells without plumbing fixtures, also known as dry cells, are one of several tools used by CSC to prevent the introduction of contraband into its institutions. Section 51 of the CCRA authorizes an inmate’s placement in a dry cell where the Institutional Head has reasonable grounds to believe that an inmate has ingested contraband or is carrying contraband in the rectum. The inmate remains in the dry cell, under constant supervision, until the contraband is expelled or there is no longer a reasonable expectation of expulsion.


Pursuant to subsection 6(1) of the CCRA, I am issuing the following Ministerial Directive (MD) to outline my expectations of CSC with regard to the use of dry cells, and ensure that CSC uses the least restrictive measures consistent with the protection of society, staff members and offenders.

This MD shall be read in conjunction with the:


While I may provide general direction, including operational policies, it is the Commissioner’s responsibility to ensure my guidance is interpreted and operationalized by CSC officials, including through the use of internal policies such as Commissioner’s Directives.


When dry cells are used, I expect CSC to ensure the humane treatment of offenders. They shall continue to have access to physical and mental health services, including a daily visit from a healthcare professional. They shall also be provided with spiritual and psychological assistance, as requested, and may meet with other staff such as their institutional parole officer. Inmates shall also be provided with adequate bedding, nutritious food in accordance with the Canada Food Guide, clothing, and toiletry articles and, whenever possible, will have access to recreation as long as risks can be mitigated. Staff members shall continue to make efforts to educate offenders on the dangers and risks of ingesting or carrying contraband.

CSC will maintain the strong procedural safeguards that are currently in place regarding dry cells, including the requirement that the Institutional Head (IH) review the placement in dry cells on a daily basis. At the 48 hour mark, the Assistant Deputy Commissioner, Correctional Operations (ADCCO) will be advised in writing. At 72 hours, the IH will provide written notice to both the ADDCO and the Director General of Security, which must include the rationale for continuing the placement. Thereafter, the ADCCO and DG, Security, will receive an update from the IH every 24 hours, including a written rationale for continuing the placement. In this rationale, CSC will give significant consideration to the offender’s state of physical and mental health or health care needs based on relevant information provided by a health care professional.

Where dry cell placement is expected to reach 48 or 72 hours outside of business hours, the aforementioned written notices will be provided in advance.

CSC will ensure that offenders detained in dry cells are subject to daily physical and mental health monitoring.  CSC will continue to support the professional autonomy and clinical independence of registered health care professionals, as well as their promotion of patient centred care and patient advocacy.

In addition to ongoing commitment to the above practices, I expect CSC to clarify the specific circumstances under which dry cells may be used. Consistent with section 51 of the CCRA, CSC will also establish additional duration guidelines to help ensure dry cell detentions are as short as reasonably possible in the circumstances.

CSC will develop guidance for the use of dry cells that prioritizes the use of alternative, least restrictive means (e.g., scanners) to detect contraband and promote the voluntary surrender of contraband by inmates suspected of concealing contraband in their bodies. Staff should engage with the inmate, and employ available mediation strategies to encourage them to surrender the contraband, as well as consider individualized and/or culturally appropriate interventions that may yield positive results.

CSC is to pursue the continuous improvement of search and seizure activities within its institutions, including researching and exploring new technologies and practices to better facilitate the detection and seizure of contraband.

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