Crime, punishment and policy

How prison museums affect the way we see criminal justice in Canada

How we think about the past can affect how we think about the present—and the future. That’s why University of Ottawa researchers Justin Piché and Kevin Walby are examining how the transformation of penal institutions into museums and tourist attractions is influencing the way visitors feel about Canada’s approach to criminal justice, punishment and rehabilitation.

Investigating 45 sites over three years, Piché and Walby not only examined the sites themselves—taking the tours and speaking to the exhibit curators—but also collected the social media reactions of visitors. They’ve found that many sites are fostering a romanticized version of Canada’s penal past while ignoring the present realities of the judicial system.

Together, Piché and Walby hope their research will be used by prison museums to present a more balanced and accurate perspective of the penal system, helping Canadians formulate more informed opinions about future policy.