Surviving the Pandemic on the Inside: From Crisis Governance to Caring Communities


  • Rachel Fayter University of Ottawa
  • Brittany Mario University of Ottawa
  • Vicki Chartrand Bishop's University
  • Jennifer M. Kilty University of Ottawa



The COVID-19 global pandemic spurred unprecedented global lock downs and quarantines. In looking at the response to and the impacts of COVID-19 in Canadian prisons, we show how the global pandemic can illuminate the impacts of imprisonment to make them more tangible and relatable to the wider public who are largely disconnected from the prison experience. We begin this article by conceptualizing how ‘crisis governance’ produces new practices of penal operations that become problematically normalized, even after the crisis fades. This is reflected in the Correctional Service of Canada’s (CSC) “new normal” document, a strategic plan and management protocol introduced by federal corrections in response to the pandemic. To highlight the new penal regime, we focus our analytical efforts on the mental health impacts of the CSC’s COVID-19 new governance and response plan as they have been reported by way of lived experiences of federal incarceration in Canada throughout the pandemic. We argue that in their efforts to securitize the environment in light of the very real health risks that COVID-19 presents, the actions taken and not taken by prison officials and Canadian politicians primarily left prisoners isolated, disconnected, and without supportive resources, which aggravates underlying mental health conditions and creates additional emotional distress for vulnerable people. Not only can this approach detrimentally impact staff-prisoner relations, it also fails to consider the value of decarceration as an essential and possibly life-saving component of the correctional COVID-19 risk management response plan. We conclude by considering more humane recommendations that would instead prioritize the creation of “caring communities” where collectives of people support each other’s health and well-being, over punitive and austere management practices. Given that the detrimental effects of isolation are now also being felt to a certain extent by those who are not incarcerated, this penal move to a “new normal” should signal to the wider public the ongoing and exceptionally damaging implications of imprisonment.