Headingley Correctional Institution
Tucked away in the rural municipality of Headingley, Manitoba lies a notorious high-security correctional facility formally known as the Headingley Correctional Institution. As the Headingley Correctional Centre, this prison has a long and often violent history spanning over 90 years.
Background and History
Originally opened in 1930 as the Headingley Gaol, this facility was built to house both male and female inmates transferred from other overcrowded institutions. Within its first year of operation, the facility expanded to employ 48 staff members supervising a population of 270 prisoners. However, by 1931 Headingley became an exclusively male institution when female inmates were relocated to Portage la Prairie.
The Headingley Correctional Centre occupies a large, aging complex located at 6030 Portage Avenue in Headingley, Manitoba, approximately 18 km west of Winnipeg city center. Currently operated by Manitoba Corrections, the site has a rated capacity of 549 adult male inmates across minimum, medium and maximum-security units.
Location, Layout and Capacity
Encompassing multiple cell blocks, support buildings and perimeter fencing, Headingley is one of the largest provincial correctional facilities in Manitoba. The sprawling complex also includes kitchens, health services,programs areas, administrative offices and segregation units to house higher-risk prisoners apart from the general population. With rated capacity nearing 550 inmates, Headingley remains a crowded and aging facility plagued by maintenance issues and insufficient space.
Security and Classification
As a multi-level institution, Headingley houses minimum, medium and maximum-security inmates with sentencing ranging from brief periods to life. Minimum-security prisoners often participate in community work programswith additional freedoms and privileges. In contrast, maximum-security inmates represent the highest risks, subject to the tightest restrictions and continuous supervision. This diverse mix of security classifications has contributed to tensions and conflicts amongst prisoners over the facility’s history.
In the first decade after opening in 1930, Headingley continued to receive transfers from other correctional facilities across Manitoba, with the population swelling to over 500 inmates by 1940. While conditions were likely crowded and unpleasant, few incidents or disciplinary issues have been officially recorded from the prison’s early operational years.
From 1932 to 1952, Headingley functioned as the primary site for capital punishment within the Manitoba corrections system. During this period, the prison included an active gallows where 25 convicted prisoners were executed by hanging. By today’s standards, housing executions within a correctional population seems archaic and likely further contributed to Headingley’s notoriety.
Riots and Disturbances
While day-to-day operations may have initially seemed uneventful on the surface, tensions between inmates and management continued mounting. Starting in the 1930s, minor inmate revolts flared up approximately once per decade leading up to the 1960s. However, these incidents remained relatively small in scale and impact compared to the unrest still to come.
According to available records, Headingley experienced approximately one smaller-scale incident per decade in the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s. While resulting damage and injuries were limited, these revolts signaled ongoing issues between prisoners and staff. Likely causes could include overcrowding, tensions between inmates factions, and inadequate staffing levels or training.
1971 and 1983 Riots
Before the notorious 1996 riot, earlier large-scale riots broke out at Headingley in 1971 and 1983. While few details have emerged, these violent disruptions resulted in facility damage, injuries and required intervention from outside law enforcement agencies. Much like previous incidents, overcrowding and building frustrations likely reached a boiling point amongst the inmate population.
The worst unrest came in April 1996 when a massive riot erupted between rival gang members and raged over 24 hours. This violent confrontation highlighted how conditions and tensions had continued deteriorating at the aging facility.
The 1996 riot initially started around 11 pm on April 25th when members of the Manitoba Warriors and Indian Posse gangs attacked each other within the medium-security ranges. Security systems failures and inadequate night staffing levels enabled the violence to spiral out of control. As guards lost control of cell blocks, chaos took over the complex.
Over the next 24 hours, the inmate population ransacked offices, set fires and destroyed infrastructure. Almost half the facilities sustained heavy damage. Correctional officers fled as they risked being taken hostage or violently attacked. When daylight arrived, officials observed shattered windows, smoke pouring from buildings and ruins resembling a war zone.
After reinforcements arrived, all 549 inmates eventually surrendered by the second day. In the aftermath, officials transferred the entire population to other higher-security institutions including Stony Mountain, Brandon Correctional and Winnipeg Remand while repairs commenced. Extensive rebuilds continued for months, costing taxpayers over $10 million.
In the riots ugly wake, 8 guards and numerous prisoners suffered serious injuries, with some inmates nearly losing their lives. Many considered themselves lucky to have survived the melee unscathed. While forgotten by the outside world, those present will forever remember April 1996’s terror.
Beyond dark history, Headingley has occasionally housed some rather interesting prisoners over its 90 years of operation.
In 1988, Danish actor Ole Thestrup served a brief sentence at Headingley following disruptive behavior aboard an international flight. Details remain vague surrounding his imprisonment and subsequent release from the facility.
More recently, Canadian fashion mogul billionaire Peter Nygard occupied a cell at Headingley. Currently awaiting extradition to the United States, Nygard faces trial on allegations of sex trafficking spanning decades. His stay proved brief before being transferred to a facility in Toronto, likely due to overcrowding and security concerns.
Currently still operational today, the Headingley Correctional Centre has an extensive and notorious history within the Manitoba prison system. As an aging facility, significant investment in repairs, capacity and programming is required to house inmates safely and humanely. With extensive upgrades and expanded staff training, perhaps Headingley can shift away from its visibility troubled past.
What types of inmates are housed at Headingley?
Headingley houses approximately 550 adult male inmates across minimum, medium and maximum security classifications based on sentencing and risk levels.
How many riots have occurred at the facility?
Over its 90+ year history, Headingley has experienced various smaller inmate revolts with major riots occurring in 1971, 1983 and most notably in 1996 resulting in extensive damage.
What notorious criminals have been held at Headingley?
Infamous inmates have included Danish actor Ole Thestrup following disruptive behavior on an international flight and more recently Canadian fashion mogul billionaire Peter Nygard awaiting extradition to the US on sex trafficking charges.
How did the 1996 riot start?
The riot began when rival Manitoba Warriors and Indian Posse gang members attacked each other after security systems failed. Violence spiraled across the complex over 24 hours.
How much did repairs cost after the 1996 riot?
Over $10 million was required to rebuild damaged infrastructure and replace destroyed equipment, with extensive repairs taking months to complete.