drumheller institution

Drumheller Institution

The Drumheller Institution first opened in 1967 as a medium-security federal prison operated by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC). Prior to its opening, the penitentiary system in Canada was struggling with overcrowding and a lack of modern facilities. Drumheller was part of a broader expansion of prisons across the country in the 1960s aimed at upgrading outdated infrastructures.

Opening and Early Years

When it first opened, the Drumheller Institution consisted of a medium-security wing with a capacity for 598 male inmates over the age of 18. A minimum-security annex with space for 72 offenders was added shortly thereafter. In its early years, the facility focused on preparing prisoners for successful reintegration using vocational training, education, counseling, and community release programs.

Expansions and Developments

Over the past 50+ years, the Drumheller Institution has undergone various upgrades and expansions in response to increasing prisoner populations across federal corrections. Cell blocks have been renovated, program spaces have been expanded, and security enhancements like perimeter fencing have been implemented. However, persistent challenges like overcrowding have remained.

Facility Details and Operations

As a medium-security federal institution, the Drumheller Institution houses male offenders who are serving sentences of 2+ years. With sleeping quarters, activity spaces, and support services all contained on-site, the facility operates as a self-sufficient community.

Security Classification and Capacity

The medium-security wing has a rated capacity of 598 prisoners. These inmates are considered moderate escape risks. The smaller minimum-security unit houses 72 offenders who present a lower risk and are nearing parole eligibility. Together, the entire complex has an operational capacity of approximately 670.

See also  Grande Cache Institution

Inmate Demographics

The inmate population at Drumheller represents diverse backgrounds, sentences, ages, and risk levels. Aboriginal Canadians are overrepresented in the federal system and make up a significant portion of prisoners at the facility. Gang affiliations are an ongoing security and programming challenge as well.

Daily Life for Inmates

Inmates reside in shared cells inside locked cell blocks. Movement is limited and strictly scheduled. Leisure time involves regulated access to television, exercise rooms, yard time, and hobby crafts. Participation in correctional programs makes up a large part of the weekday routine.

Housing and Accommodations

Inmates are housed in secure cell blocks with access to toilets, showers, and telephones. They sleep on bunk beds and have a locker for personal belongings. Living quarters are small and afford little privacy, which can increase tensions between cellmates.

Programs and Activities

A range of rehabilitative programs are offered including counseling, substance abuse treatment, anger management, educational classes, and technical skills training. Recreational activities provide a productive outlet and consist of fitness training, sports, flexible hobby crafts.

Rules and Restrictions

Strict schedules dictate wake up, meal times, rotations to activities, head counts, and lights out. Contraband items are prohibited. Violence and gang recruitment result in solitary confinement. Family visits require security clearance. Failures to comply with rules result in disciplinary action.

Issues and Controversies

As Canada’s prison system has wrestled with overcrowding, gang violence, drug trafficking, and high rates of recidivism, the Drumheller Institution has dealt with these systemic challenges firsthand.

Gang Activity

Gang affiliations provide solidarity but also introduce violence and hierarchies that undermine prison culture. Drugs as currency and protecting turf through force presents constant security concerns. Drumheller has struggled in particular to curb violence from groups like the Native Brotherhood and Manitoba Warriors.

See also  Monteith Correctional Complex

Attempts to Curb Violence

Various initiatives aim to deflate gang activity and reduce violent incidents between rival groups. These include inmate transfers, separating recruits from established members, culturally specific programming for vulnerable groups, and extended sentences for gang leaders who orchestrate criminal dealings from within prison.

Drug Smuggling

The prevalence of contraband drugs like opioids within correctional facilities points to shortcomings detecting smuggled substances. Visitors, staff, drones, deliveries through the mail, and even complicit inmates all represent vulnerabilities in security screening procedures. Improvements like body scanners aim to restrict the influx of illegal narcotics.

Enhanced Security Measures

To counter the cunning tactics employed by gangs and curb contraband, enhanced measures have included tactical teams to conduct raids, restrictions on inmate mobility, expanded surveillance, and hiring specialized drug detection dogs. However, targeting supply has proven difficult when demand remains high.

Overcrowding Concerns

Built to house 598 inmates, Drumheller has frequently exceeded its intended capacity over the years through double-bunking. Cramped conditions intensify interpersonal frictions. Lack of beds also means no separation between rival gangs. Overcrowding strains critical services as well and undermines rehabilitative goals.

Focus on Rehabilitation

While drumming out gang activity and stopping illegal drugs remain high priorities, corrections aims to curb reoffending through effective rehabilitation.

Education and Skills Training

Upgrading literacy and education gives offenders tools needed for employment after release. Courses also provide personal development and constructive uses of time. Vocational programs in woodworking, auto mechanics, food services, enable marketable skills.

Counseling and Support Services

As over 50% of federal inmates suffer from substance dependence or mental illnesses, counseling and treatment services aim to support rehabilitation. By addressing trauma, teaching coping strategies, building self-worth and personal insight, offenders can overcome deep-rooted struggles.

See also  Regional Psychiatric Centre

Addressing Mental Health

From assessments to medications to therapy and access to outside specialists, a spectrum of care targets diagnosing and managing mental illness. This aims to equip those with psychological disorders for functioning positively both inside and outside prison walls.


While the Drumheller Institution has faced systemic challenges pervasive across Canadian corrections, its continued mission remains rehabilitating offenders through personalized programming, mental health supports, skills building, and community reintegration. As sentencing shifts increasingly toward restorative justice and rehabilitation, Drumheller will need to align with models that heal individuals, strengthen communities, curb gang violence, and ease high incarceration rates stemming from social inequality and unresolved trauma.


  1. What is the capacity of Drumheller Institution? Drumheller has an operational capacity of approximately 670 inmates between its medium-security wing (rated for 598) and minimum-security annex (72 beds).
  2. What percentage of inmates at Drumheller are Indigenous? While exact figures vary, Indigenous peoples are estimated to make up between 25-40% of the inmate population at Drumheller, reflecting disproportionate incarceration rates among First Nations, Metis, and Inuit offenders in federal corrections.
  3. How does a medium-security facility differ from a maximum one? Medium-security prisons like Drumheller house moderate escape risks in locked facilities with strict conduct rules and controlled movements. Maximum-security institutions contain offenders who pose grave flight risks through more intensive restraints and isolation.
  4. What vocational programs teach marketable skills? Programs in woodworking, automotive mechanics, welding, culinary arts, agriculture, and food services aim to provide Drumheller inmates with tangible employment options upon release.
  5. Why does mental health matter in rehabilitation? Unresolved trauma, addiction, mood disorders and lack of coping tools commonly underlie criminal behavior. Access to assessments, medications, therapy and support teaches wellness strategies for functioning positively in society after serving sentences.

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