Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



public health, prison health, penal law and policy, COVID-19


Correctional Service of Canada and the provincial prison systems have a duty to provide incarcerated individuals with health services that are comparable to those in the community, but they have failed to do so during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are inherent practical difficulties to implementing health care in prisons. In addition, prison demographics include a higher proportion of populations that are vulnerable to disease. These factors together mean that the prison response to COVID-19 must involve depopulation and the implementation of guidelines provided by public health agencies in all institutions. So far, the measures taken have been insufficient, as is evidenced by the rapid rates of spread of COVID-19 within prisons compared to the community. An overreliance on segregation of incarcerated individuals as a preventive measure raises concerns under s. 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter) and international human rights. There are also equality concerns under s. 15 of the Charter, given the high proportion of Indigenous people in prison. Ultimately, some prison systems’ failure to respond adequately to the pandemic impedes the successful flattening of the curve and will likely prolong the life of COVID-19 in the community. It highlights the urgency of the much-needed prison reforms that have been overlooked for decades.