bordeaux prison

Bordeaux Prison

Bordeaux Prison in Montreal, Quebec has a long and complex history as Canada’s largest provincial-level correctional facility. As Quebec’s primary detention center for sentenced male inmates and those awaiting trial, Bordeaux handles a hugely diverse inmate population under close confinement. After over a century of operation, the aging complex still grapples with overcrowding, infrastructure limitations, staffing difficulties, custody deaths, and other pressures facing modern prisons. While expansions and upgrades hold some promise, Bordeaux faces an uncertain future meeting the needs of inmates and staff alike.

A Massive Complex with an Extensive History

Constructed from 1908-1912 under architect Jean-Omer Marchand, Bordeaux Prison was built to replace Montreal’s outdated Pied-du-Courant facility. The massive brick-and-stone complex was strategically positioned on Gouin Boulevard West, providing space for workshops, kitchens, administrative offices, and sweeping cell blocks radiating from a central rotunda. By design, Bordeaux Prison could hold nearly 1,500 inmates – a staggering capacity for the era.

Handling Expanding Populations and Shifting Priorities

Over time, Bordeaux expanded in fits and starts to keep pace with Quebec’s rising incarceration rates in the post-war period. As sentences lengthened for violent crimes, gang activities, and drug offenses in the 1960s-1980s, Bordeaux saw inmate populations swell far beyond original plans. Managing maximum-security detainees soon overshadowed Bordeaux’s initial focus on medium-security populations. Cramped living quarters, limited programming, and outdated facilities became the norm for inmates and staff alike.

See also  Central East Correctional Centre

By the 2010s, as rehabilitation and human rights took center stage in corrections philosophies, Bordeaux Prison struggled on multiple fronts. Surging remand populations awaiting trial only compounded pressures in an already strained facility. Staff shortages, overreliance on overtime, and burnout plagued front-line officers tasked with running round-the-clock operations. Infrastructure decay, confinement-related conflicts, self-harm incidents, custody deaths, and other systemic issues pointed to the need for dramatic changes in managing inmates humanely and safely at Bordeaux.

Ongoing Challenges for Quebec’s Aging Prison Complex

Today, Bordeaux Prison remains at the epicenter of complex, inter-related challenges facing Quebec’s correctional system:

  • Overcrowding – Despite an “official” capacity of 1,400, Bordeaux regularly houses over 1,500 inmates and detainees. Cramped conditions raise risks for conflicts, mental health crises, infectious disease transmission, and violence.
  • Staffing Limitations – Officer shortages, high turnover, long shifts, and overreliance on overtime contribute to unsafe environments for both staff and inmates. Recruitment and retention clearly need addressing.
  • Infrastructure Deficits – Outdated ventilation, electrical systems, and security protocols fail to meet modern standards. Piecemeal upgrades barely mitigate immediate risks given $250+ million in deferred maintenance costs.
  • Programming Gaps – Limited capacity for substance abuse treatment, skills training, counseling, and other key services prevent Bordeaux from fulfilling rehabilitative aims. Better programming could ease overcrowding longer-term.
  • Deaths in Custody – Despite preventative measures, Bordeaux sees roughly 5-10 custody deaths per year linked to overdoses, violence, suicides, accidents or natural causes – among Canada’s highest prison mortality rates.

The Road Ahead: Progress and Uncertainty

In 2019, Quebec announced plans to build a new, more modern correctional complex supplementing Bordeaux Prison by 2022. However, construction faced repeated delays even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With Bordeaux operating 30-40% over capacity daily, infrastructure upgrades and programming changes are now viewed as stopgap measures until new facilities appropriately sized for rehabilitation open.

See also  Kent Institution

Ultimately, Bordeaux Prison remains caught between outdated 19th century architecture and modern pressures. While small additions, population caps, or staff increases provide temporary relief, systemic changes in corrections philosophies and facilities require long-term planning and commitment. Until Quebec resolves fundamental questions around rehabilitation, recidivism, and sentencing, Bordeaux seems likely to remain a crowded, challenging facility for the foreseeable future.


  1. When was Bordeaux Prison built originally? Bordeaux Prison was constructed between 1908-1912 to replace the outdated Pied-du-Courant facility in Montreal at the time. The original complex was designed by architect Jean-Omer Marchand.
  2. What is the maximum capacity of Bordeaux Prison? Officially, Bordeaux is designed to hold around 1,400 inmates and detainees. However, in practice, populations often exceed 1,500 inmates leading to severe overcrowding.
  3. How many staff work at Bordeaux Prison? As a 24/7 maximum security facility, Bordeaux employs around 500 staff ranging from front-line correctional officers to social workers to administrative personnel. However, staffing shortages are a chronic issue.
  4. What options exist for inmate rehabilitation programs? Programming is quite limited currently. Some vocational courses, substance abuse meetings, and counseling are offered but fail to meet demand among the inmate population. Expanding rehabilitation efforts is a pressing priority moving forward.
  5. Is a new prison facility slated to replace Bordeaux? Originally Quebec proposed building a modern facility supplementing Bordeaux by 2022. However, construction has faced repeated delays to date even before the COVID-19 pandemic. The future plans for Bordeaux remain unclear at this point.

Similar Posts