The Dorchester Penitentiary has a long and colorful history as part of Canada’s federal prison system. Originally built as a maximum security facility in 1880, it has gone through many changes over the decades.
The prison first opened on July 14, 1880 on a hill overlooking the Memramcook River valley near Dorchester, New Brunswick. In the early years, Dorchester housed some of Canada’s most dangerous and notorious criminals.
Infamous inmates included Nazi SS officer Kurt Meyer convicted of war crimes, judge David Ramsay imprisoned for sexual abuse of minors, and cult leader Roch Thériault. The remote location and harsh conditions inside its stone walls gave Dorchester a fearsome reputation.
Downgrades and Changes
After World War II, Dorchester was eventually replaced as Atlantic Canada’s maximum security prison. The facility was downgraded to medium security status to house less violent offenders.
Today, Dorchester handles many protective custody cases and inmates needing psychiatric observation. It also provides essential services to other prisons in the Atlantic region.
Inside the aging cell blocks, inmates have access to rehabilitative programs to develop skills and control addictions. They can work jobs maintaining the facilities or farms to have a small income.
Still, privileges are limited and controlled. The rural setting and perimeter fences maintain separation from nearby villages, symbolizing the loss of freedom.
Being one of Canada’s oldest functioning prisons, Dorchester suffers from overcrowded conditions despite expansion projects. There are also periodic incidents caused by rival gangs and smuggled contraband.
While many see Dorchester as outdated, it remains a critical cog in the federal corrections system. Balancing punishment and rehabilitation has always been the challenge within its storied gates.
What does the future hold for this living relic? The need for criminal justice reform may dictate changes at Dorchester, but it retains an enduring role and legend in the region’s history.
For over 140 years, the Dorchester Penitentiary has confined some of Canada’s most notorious criminals within its aging walls. From its early notoriety to current efforts at rehabilitation, Dorchester has adapted to serve the federal prison system. But major questions remain about its viability and purpose in a modern age. The iconic prison remains both an artifact of history and a symbol of society’s response to crime through punishment instead of prevention.
What security level is Dorchester today?
Dorchester is now classified as a medium security federal prison.
Does Dorchester still house maximum security inmates?
No, today its population is medium security offenders. Other facilities have taken over housing maximum security prisoners.
What kinds of programs are available to inmates?
Inmates can take part in skills building, addictions treatment, counseling, and other rehabilitation programs to prepare for potential release.
How large is the inmate population?
Dorchester currently houses close to 400 inmates, which is near its stated capacity. But overcrowding has been an issue at various points.
When will Dorchester Penitentiary close?
There are no definitive plans to close Dorchester. Its future likely depends on changes to Canada’s sentencing laws and prison population rates in coming years.