The Edmonton Institution is a high-profile maximum-security federal prison located in northeast Edmonton, Alberta. Operated by Correctional Service Canada (CSC), it houses some of the most dangerous and notorious criminals in the country. However, it has also been plagued by major incidents like riots, escapes, deaths, and controversies since first opening its doors in 1978.
History and Background
Construction on the $43 million Edmonton Institution first began in 1974. When it officially opened 4 years later in 1978, it was meant to be a modern, state-of-the-art facility that emphasized rehabilitation and skills training of inmates.
The initial design capacity was for 316 inmates, spread over 5 separate cell blocks. However, due to increasing prison populations, there are now routinely over 300 inmates at the facility.
Location and Layout
The Edmonton Institution occupies a 40-acre complex located in the rural northeast section of the city, close to the Edmonton Remand Centre. It has a fairly isolated location, surrounded by some commercial properties but mostly vacant land and parks.
Within its hardened concrete exterior walls topped with coiled barbed wire, the layout consists of 5 multi-level cell blocks connected by enclosed walkways. Other structures include administration buildings, kitchen, health services, chapels, gyms, classrooms, and workshops. There are also several yards for inmate recreation and exercise.
Security and Classification
As a maximum-security prison, the Edmonton Institution houses federal inmates classified as the highest security risks in the system. Most have violent backgrounds and are serving lengthy sentences for serious crimes like murder, attempted murder, major drug offenses, sexual assaults, kidnapping, and armed robberies.
With confirmed members of dangerous gangs like the Hells Angels and Terror Squad among the population, precautions are stringent. Movement is strictly controlled within the facility, while Correctional Officers carry pepper spray and batons at all times.
Operations and Management
The Edmonton Institution currently employs approximately 250 staff. Correctional Officers make up the majority, overseeing cell blocks, inmate movements, and perimeter patrols. There are also administrative personnel, program officers, health services staff, and more.
Overseeing daily operations is Warden Mark Shantz. He reports directly to the Prairie Regional Headquarters of CSC located in Saskatoon, which has jurisdictional authority over the facility.
Correctional Officers and Staff
Working as a Correctional Officer at the Edmonton Institution is an extremely demanding job with immense pressures and risks. Officers must maintain order among the volatile inmate population, while also treating them in an ethical, human rights-oriented manner per CSC regulations.
With inmate-on-inmate assaults a common occurrence, Officers face the possibility of violence each time they walk the ranges. They also enforce security protocols and respond to emergencies like medical incidents, suicide attempts, fights, or riots. The noise levels and chaos during a major disturbance can be disorienting.
High risks come with the territory, but low pay relative to similar law enforcement roles has led to retention issues among Correctional Officers. Heavy caseloads coupled with daily trauma also contributes to mental health struggles. Access to mental health support has been an ongoing demand.
Programs and Services
Inmates at the Edmonton Institution have access to a variety of rehabilitation programs and services. These include educational classes, vocational training, life skills programs, substance abuse counseling, cultural activities for Indigenous peoples, and more.
Religious services are also offered regularly, with chaplains available for spiritual guidance. Additionally, family visits are permitted in the dedicated visitor centre. Telephone access enables inmates to keep in contact with approved family members too.
Access to programs is a privilege that can be restricted for inmates who display violence or are non-compliant with facility rules. But in general, CSC aims to provide meaningful activities to encourage positive change.
Daily Life for Inmates
So what is daily life actually like for those serving federal time inside the Edmonton Institution? In short — highly regimented, tedious, tense, and sometimes dangerous.
The average inmate is confined to a small, austere cell for up to 23 hours a day. During sporadic yard time, altercations between rival gang members are an ever-present hazard. Strict limits on personal effects also provokes unrest.
Meal times, shower rotations, yard exercise, and visits comprise the only daily activities to break the extreme monotony. But lockdowns can restrict even these basic movements for days or weeks during security incidents. These “inside” lockdowns drive claustrophobia and agitation among the incarcerated.
Overall, the volatile environment surrounded by concrete walls and razor wire takes an immense psychological toll. Mental health struggles are unfortunately prevalent for those serving federal sentences.
Controversies and Issues
For all its rehabilitative ambitions, the Edmonton Institution’s maximum security setting has cultivated an intense, hostile environment on the inside. This has translated into major incidents that violated Correctional Service Canada (CSC) policies and principles over the years.
Riots and Unrest
In particular, destructive riots seem to occur in frequently at Edmonton Institution compared to others in the federal corrections system. By 2008, there had already been 5 major riots since opening. The worst came that summer, when warring gang factions sparked an out-of-control melee.
Lasting 9 chaotic hours, this riot caused enormous damage. Makeshift weapons led to multiple stabbing victims, while one inmate was even shot by security forces struggling to quell the violence.
Clearly, simmering tensions between dangerous offenders occasionally boil over into mayhem inside those concrete confines. CSC reviews of these incidents have cited poor inmate-staff relationships and overcrowding as recurring issues.
Enhanced violence reduction strategies were implemented after the 2008 embarrassment. But 2 additional riots since then suggest ongoing problems.
Violence and Deaths
Apart from periodic riots, inmate-on-inmate violence has remained an intractable challenge at Edmonton Institution.
Homemade “shanks” are a constant threat within its seven housing units. Over the years, there have been numerous non-fatal stabbings, beatings, and serious assaults.
More tragically, four inmates have been killed by other prisoners there since 2005. Incidents involved vicious beatings, throat slashings, and strangulations of cellmates. These fatalities point to inadequate supervision, emergency response failures, and unaddressed conflicts between incompatible inmates evidently.
Escapes and Security Lapses
With so many ruthless offenders looking to exploit weaknesses, lapses in prison security can enable escape attempts. Edmonton Institution has seen a handful of inmates temporarily breach its exterior perimeter or internal barriers.
However in its 44 year history so far, only one inmate has successfully escaped its confines long-term. This notorious exception is Harvey Andres…
Notable Escape Attempts
In an incredible turn of events, Harvey Andres escaped not once, but twice from Edmonton Institution months apart in 1981 and 1982.
Andres was a former outlaw biker serving life sentences for an execution-style murder. During a brazen escape in the winter of 1982, he slipped out during a blizzard after crafting an improvised handgun from smuggled parts. He managed to evade capture for months after sawing through the exterior fencing.
A massive cross-country manhunt eventually tracked Andres down again, but not before he was involved in violent confrontations and shootouts wounding officers. Horribly misplaced trust in Andres enabled him to escape the institution’s highest security twice.
No other inmate has matched his long-term escapes since, despite a few close calls. After each breach over the decades, security improvements were undertaken to fix glaring vulnerabilities. Today’s “ultimate security” confinement aims to finally live up to its reputation.
With so much violence and drama inside its walls, the Edmonton Institution has hosted some of Canada’s most infamous prisoners over the years. A few stand out for the international headlines they generated.
No current inmate stirs more heated debate than Omar Khadr. Captured in 2002 fighting for Al Qaeda at just 15 years old, the Canadian citizen was the youngest Guantanamo Bay detainee. After a decade there, he was transferred to Canadian custody in 2012 following a plea deal.
Khadr’s initial incarceration at Millhaven Institution in Ontario was short-lived. Following threats on his life, he was soon transferred across the country to Edmonton Institution for his own safety in 2013.
Victims of his alleged war crimes and right-wing media portray Khadr as a dangerous terrorist who should never be free. But human rights advocates see a former child soldier deserving rehabilitation. This polarizing case is still unfolding today.
Allan Legere, the infamous “Monster of the Miramichi”, has been housed at Edmonton Institution since 2015. While serving a life sentence for a prior murder in 1986, he had managed to escape custody in New Brunswick during a court transfer.
What followed was a 7 month reign of terror throughout the rural region as he savagely beat, shot, and killed four more victims in cold blood. His sadistic violence terrorized local residents for months before being caught again.
Deemed extremely high-risk to reoffend, the now 75 year old Legere was transferred from Atlantic Canada to this high security facility. He remains there to this day.
Other Infamous Inmates
Of course, Legere and Khadr are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to merciless offenders housed at the Edmonton Institution over the decades.
Other violent criminals like serial rapist Larry Fisher, child killer Thomas Svekla, cult leader Roch Thériault, and gang kingpin Nick Chan have also resided within these walls for periods of time.
With parole an unlikely prospect for these hardened convicts, most can expect to live out their final days in the cold confines of the Edmonton Institution.
Conclusion and Future of Edmonton Institution
For over four decades now, the Edmonton Institution has confined some of Canada’s most ruthless prisoners within its aging walls and endured crisis after crisis in attempting to contain them.
Costly security upgrades have been unable to fully eliminate violence, unrest, escapes, and tragedy from occurring periodically behind bars there. Inmates and staff alike face elevated risks working and living in such hostile conditions.
Yet with federal inmate populations projected to keep increasing, this facility will need to keep operating safely at peak capacity somehow. Its future remains crucial but challenging as it heads toward its 50th year of operation.
Can innovative rehabilitation initiatives transform toxic prison culture there for the better? Or are more riots and bloodshed unavoidable under such concentrated misery? An intense debate surrounding the mission and viability of Canadian maximum security institutions persists.
What is the Edmonton Institution?
The Edmonton Institution is a maximum security federal prison located in Edmonton, Alberta operated by Correctional Service Canada (CSC). Opened in 1978, it houses over 300 of Canada’s most dangerous inmates.
How did Harvey Andres escape twice from there?
Serving life for murder, Andres escaped by hiding in a garbage bin in 1981. In 1982 he crafted a makeshift gun, cut through perimeter fencing during a blizzard and escaped again. He evaded capture for months both times before being apprehended in shootouts with police.
Have there been any recent riots?
Yes, the most recent riot occurred in September 2022 when rival gangs clashed. Eight inmates were injured in fights and cells were set on fire during the 7-hour standoff. $350,000 in damages resulted before control was restored.
What is daily life like for inmates?
Regimented, isolating, and tense. Inmates spend nearly 24 hours a day locked in small cells with just brief times allowed out for meals, exercise, programs if enrolled. Lockdowns are common during security incidents. Assault risks and noise are constant stresses.
Who is the most famous current inmate there?
Omar Khadr, a former child soldier detained at Guantanamo Bay for 10 years who remains incarcerated at Edmonton Institution today. A polarizing political debate continues around whether he deserves rehabilitation or lifelong imprisonment.