Exploring Canadian News Media’s Portrayal of Federal Penitentiaries and Prisoners During COVID-19


  • Ihsan Hage-Hassan Simon Fraser University


The media have often portrayed prisons and prisoners in a distorted manner. Prisoners are often portrayed as more dangerous and violent than they typically are, and prisons as necessary institutions that function effectively. Using a qualitative content analysis of 84 newspaper articles published online by Canadian news outlets, this study explores how the news media portrayed Correctional Service Canada (CSC) federal penitentiaries and prisoners detained in these institutions during the first 11-months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The results reveal that the media portrayed prisoners as human beings that are entitled to exercise their rights until they were prioritized for vaccinations, at which point there was a shift towards their portrayal as an undeserving dangerous underclass. CSC was portrayed as having failed to address and protect prisoners’ needs and rights during the pandemic. The media ultimately portrayed federal imprisonment as a system that is broken and incarceration as an ineffective response to criminal behaviour. The implications of these findings – including the need for a “radical rethink” of federal imprisonment – and suggestions for future research are discussed.