Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Archambault Report proposes that prisons focus on rehabilitation, not punishment

In 1938, the Royal Commission Report on Penal Reform in Canada, also known as the Archambault Report, was tabled. This report is widely recognized as Canada’s pre-eminent document on prison reform, because it represented a complete change in focus towards the rehabilitative role of prisons, away from the historical trend of retributive punishment.

To comprehend the significance of this report, it is important to examine the social and historical context into which the report was introduced.  At the turn of the 20th century, developments in the field of psychology supported the call for reforms to the parole system in Canada, a system that was in effect, non-existent. Several of those psychological studies argued that reformative treatments could positively affect the brain in those individuals who participated in criminal behaviour, and restore within them the capacity for non-criminal behaviour.

However, the pressure towards rehabilitation was soon lost on Canadian society as war veterans returned to Canada following a brutal experience in World War I. Rehabilitation became irrelevant in light of the slaughter overseas. Credibility in science diminished. The crime rate on Canadian soil increased substantially in the years following the war. For those in Canadian prisons, conditions became inhumane.

During the Depression years of the 1930s, a new situation arose. The crime rate was still high, but prison space became limited and there were minimal government funds available to build new prisons. Proponents of penal reform, such as Agnes McPhail, were now being heard out of necessity. Canadian prisons no longer operated in isolation from the rest of society, and management practices and punishment methods were now scrutinized by the public. It was in this context that in 1934, Mr. Justice Joseph Archambault was appointed by the federal government to lead an investigation on prisons, and by 1936 the Royal Commission on Penal Reform in Canada was created. 

The focus of the Archambault Report was a call for “strict but humane discipline and the reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners.” In many ways, “the Archambault Report reflected a society that had become less concerned with retribution and more with rehabilitation.” (Correctional Services Canada, 1999).

The Archambault Report represented a significant change in the direction of penal history and the treatment of prisoners. The Report rejected the Auburn System, a model of incarceration developed in the United States in the early 1800s, which called for prisoner isolation and exhaustive manual labour conducted in silence. Rather, Joseph Archambault proposed that the focus should be placed on the readaptation of the inmates, with the hiring of specialists and the creation of adult education programs.

Archambault firmly believed that if prisoners were provided with the opportunity for rehabilitation, the rate of recidivism would decline substantially. Under the system in place at that time, Archambault did not feel that prisoners were provided with an opportunity to reform their behaviour while incarcerated, nor were they supported in their efforts to seek employment following their release from jail.

While the recommendations of the Archambault Report were not immediately implemented due the onset of World War II, the report inspired numerous reforms introduced to the Canadian penal system in the 1940s. The primary objective of the reforms was to “focus on treatment within the walls. Prisons began to hire teachers and psychologists and developed training programs”. (Government of Canada, National Parole Board)

The Archambault Report marked a defining moment in Canadian penal history, and in outlining the role of adult education in it. For the first time, adult educators were invited into the prison system to facilitate the education and rehabilitation of prisoners. No longer was sentencing viewed merely as retribution; prisons were to be the grounds of reformation and rehabilitation. The Archambault Report paved the way for adult educators to take an active role in nurturing the learning of prisoners and in helping them to prepare effectively for a healthy re-entry into society.


Cellard, Andre (2000). Punishment, Imprisonment and Reform in Canada, from New France to the Present. Canadian Historical Association: 2000

Corpun. World Corporal Punishment Research. (Accessed November 5, 2002)

Government of Canada. Correctional Services. (Accessed November 5, 2002)

Government of Canada. National Parole Board. (Accessed November 5, 2002)


Prepared by Meghan Seybold (OISE/UT)

Citation: Author (2002). Title. In Daniel Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century [online]. Available: (date accessed).

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