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Shifts in the adult custodial population

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Since the 1980s, the profile of Canada’s adult custodial population in the provincial/territorial correctional system has shifted dramatically. For the first time, the number of adults held on remand or other temporary detention and the number of sentenced offenders were virtually equal.

On an average day in 2005, about 9,800 adults were in provincial/territorial custody serving a sentence, while another 9,900 adults were in remanded custody or in another form of temporary detention. Only a decade earlier, offenders serving a prison sentence made up 72% of the provincial/territorial custodial population; the remand population accounted for the remaining 28%.

This represents an 83% increase in remand counts from 1995 to 2005. During the same period, sentenced custody dropped 31%. Several factors may be contributing to the rising number of remanded individuals. For example, bail might be more frequently denied because of changing practices and policies. Also, processing cases in criminal courts has become more lengthy and complex, keeping adults in remand longer.

From 1995 to 2005, the proportion of remanded adults who served between one week and one month rose from 20% to 25%, and adults who were held in remanded custody for more than a month increased from 14% to 22%.

The conditional sentence, introduced as a punitive option in 1996, is likely contributing to the decreasing number of adults who serve their sentence in custody. The number of admissions to conditional sentences nearly doubled from 1997 to 2005—offenders who would have been admitted to a detention facility may instead be serving a conditional sentence in the community.