collins bay institution

Collins Bay Institution

Collins Bay Institution first opened its doors in 1930 under the name “Preferred Class Penitentiary (Ontario).” It was constructed to accommodate a rising federal inmate population in the province. Inmates from nearby Kingston Penitentiary even assisted in building parts of the new facility.

Opening in 1930

When Collins Bay first opened, its centerpiece was a stately Canadian Chateau-style building with red roofing and pointed corner towers. Local residents ended up dubbing it “Disneyland North” for its castle-like grandeur.

Inside the limestone walls, the first cell blocks had mansard roofs and half-circle exterior windows. The barred cells themselves faced into a central open space. This basic setup would be replicated over the next 20 years in additional blocks as more continued to arrive.

Early Conditions and Violence

Almost since its inception, Collins Bay gained notoriety for disorder and deadly violence amongst its population. The gladiator-like conditions earned it the nickname “Gladiator School” amongst staff and inmates.

Deadly Inmate Clashes

Gang-related clashes often ended in injury or death. Brawls utilizing shanks and other makeshift weapons occurred frequently. The prison struggled to control the hostile environment that often prevailed in its aging cell blocks.

Notorious Inmates

Some of the facility’s most volatile inmates have included outlaw bikers and organized crime figures. Notables like Lorne Campbell, Gary Comeau, and Bernie Guindon spent time confined here.

See also  North Bay Jail

Other infamous residents were ringleaders of major riots elsewhere. For example, Billy Knight and Barrie MacKenzie both orchestrated uprisings at Kingston Penitentiary before later doing time at Collins Bay. Their presence did little to ease tensions.

Modern Era and Expansion

As Collins Bay entered the modern corrections era, new buildings were constructed to supplement its antiquated facilities. Demands from a ballooning federal inmate population necessitated the changes.

New Cell Blocks Added

In 2008, a set of new cell blocks were erected in a wheel-and-spoke layout centered around control hubs. TheseBuildings 6-9 added sorely needed high-security space at Collins Bay.

Maximum Security Unit

Then in 2014, a 3,500 square meter dedicated maximum-security unit came online as Building 11. This new 96-bed facility helps absorb risky overflow from the recently shuttered Kingston Penitentiary nearby. Its cutting-edge surveillance and control systems attempt to keep volatility in check.

Life Inside Collins Bay Today

Collins Bay now houses around 700 male inmates across its range of security levels. They still grapple with many of the same issues the facility faced in the past.

Inmate Demographic

The bulk of those incarcerated at Collins Bay hail from urban areas, and many have gang connections from their lives on the outside.

Gang Affiliations

An estimated 30 percent of the current inmate population has ties to organized criminal groups. These include outlaw motorcycle clubs and street gangs with networks across Canada’s prison system. Staff attempts to strategically disperse members throughout the facility’s units. But tensions and violence still routinely erupt along group lines.

See also  Edmonton Institution

Daily Routine

The average Collins Bay prisoner spends 23 hours per day locked inside their cell. A strictly enforced system determines their movement and access throughout the grounds.

Work Programs

Inmates have opportunities to participate in facility maintenance, farming, industry, and other work programs. Competition is fierce for these coveted roles that provide a change of pace and small financial stipends.

Frequent Lockdowns

Security concerns trigger frequent institution-wide lockdowns that confine all inmates to their cells. Searches for contraband and suppressed conflicts disrupt the tightly controlled schedule. Educational classes and callouts get cancelled as resources shift to containment during these periods.

Rehabilitation Efforts

Administrators balance punitive policies with rehabilitative programming – to varying degrees of success.

Education Programs

Inmates can complete high school diplomas and vocation classes like small engine repair. Budget cuts have reduced offerings, but education remains a priority to prepare prisoners for release.

Mental Health Resources

Collins Bay struggles to support inmates with addiction and psychiatric issues. Counseling staff fight against heavy caseloads. Peer support workers receive training to identify crisis situations. But critics say much more work is needed on this front.

Controversies and Issues

Various controversies continue to plague Collins Bay’s aging infrastructure and challenging population.

Overcrowding Problems

After taking on maximum-security overflow offenders from Kingston, Collins Bay exceeded its stated capacity. Double-bunking cells risks escalating friction in an already volatile environment.

Drug Smuggling Concerns

Administrators wage an endless battle to keep drugs out of the facility. Trafficking remains one big driver of turf wars between competing groups. Visitors, staff, drones, packages – smugglers employ any means possible, while guards foil plot after plot.

See also  Monteith Correctional Complex

Calls for Increased Accountability

Outside advocates demand more transparency around use-of-force reporting. Correctional officers stage walkouts to protest unsafe conditions amidst chronic understaffing. The tense standoffs on both sides receive media scrutiny.

The Future of the Institution

As one of Canada’s longest continuously operating prisons, Collins Bay’s future direction carries important consequences.

Potential Changes Under Review

Various proposals to improve safety, rehabilitation focus, and accountability remain under consideration by oversight bodies. But fiscal constraints and political disputes slow any wholesale changes.

Balancing Security and Rehabilitation

The fundamentals remain unchanged from Collins Bay’s pioneering early days – restricting violent offenders protects public safety, while normalizing mentally ill prisoners eases re-entry. Balancing these duelling priorities continues to challenge administrators today much as it did a century ago.


Collins Bay Institution has retained its notoriety through the decades as violence and contraband issues refuse to disappear entirely. But modern expansion projects and revised policies attempt to reform this maximum/medium-security facility toward some best practices. Still the new problems that emerge with evolving inmate demographics keep staff occupied maintaining order. The future likely holds this landmark prison continuing to stand firm amidst the winds of change swirling outside its limestone walls.


What is Collins Bay Institution known for?

Collins Bay is infamous for violence and gang clashes resulting in its “Gladiator School” nickname. Notorious inmates like outlaw bikers and riot ringleaders have spent time there.

How old is Collins Bay Institution?

It first opened in 1930, making it the oldest continuously operating federal prison in Ontario. Some of its original cell blocks from the 30s still stand today.

What security levels are there?

Collins Bay has maximum, medium, and minimum security units – including a new 96-bed max facility added in 2014. About 30% of inmates have ties to gangs.

What rehabilitation programs exist?

Options like high school diplomas, vocational courses, counseling, and peer support aim to prepare prisoners for release. But budget cuts and overcrowding have impacted these efforts.

What are some ongoing issues there?

Drug trafficking, contraband smuggling, overcapacity housing, and use of force accountability concerns continue to plague administrators and staff.

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