Justice Behind the Walls: Human Rights in Canadian Prisons


636 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 1-55054-893-X
DDC 344.71'03564





Reviewed by Geoff Hamilton

Geoff Hamilton, a former columnist for the Queen’s Journal, is a
Toronto-based freelance editor and writer.


Michael Jackson is a professor of law at the University of British
Columbia. He has written a number of books on the Canadian prison system
and is a well-known researcher, prisoner advocate, and human-rights
activist. Jackson completed his first study of the prison disciplinary
process some 30 years ago, concluding with a damning assessment of the
state of human rights within our penitentiaries. His present work
updates his prior research in view of recent legal reforms. An Internet
version of this book, containing supplementary material suitable for
students and lawyers, is available at www.justice behindthewalls.net.

Jackson begins by offering a short history of the evolution of the
prison system in Europe and Canada, a summary of his own scholarship on
the subject, and an explanation of some of the most important legal
documents affecting Canadian prisons. The bulk of this work then tracks
the impact of particular reforms of institutional policy, such as the
Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) and the Supreme Court of
Canada’s rulings on the judicial review of prisons. Jackson focuses on
two B.C. prisons, which he visited and studied closely: medium-security
Matsqui and maximum-security Kent. While applauding the enshrinement of
prisoner protection in legal texts, he documents the continuing and
habitual shortfalls of the prison system in sacrificing prisoner rights
to “operational reality.” Numerous case studies reveal severe abuses
of human rights in Canada’s prisons, particularly with regard to
disciplinary hearings, segregation, and institutional transfers.

Justice Behind the Walls is a clearly written, well-organized, and
compelling study of Canada’s prisons and the human-rights abuses that
occur within them. Jackson’s case studies are sensitive, fair, and
poignant appraisals of the effect of prison reforms on specific
individuals. Several of the stories he tells about prison abuse are
heart-rending. Like much of his past work, this book will serve as an
important reference for anyone interested in the Canadian penitentiary
system, and will no doubt galvanize further reforms.


Jackson, Michael., “Justice Behind the Walls: Human Rights in Canadian Prisons,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/18000.