Kent Institution has a notorious reputation in Canada. As the country’s only maximum security federal penitentiary west of Manitoba, it houses some of the nation’s most violent and unpredictable offenders. First opened in 1979, Kent has been the site of numerous riots, killings, and tense standoffs between dangerous inmates and the guards tasked with keeping them under control.
History and Background
Nestled in the countryside of Agassiz, British Columbia, Kent was built to handle the most high-risk prisoners in the Pacific region. With a population capped at around 300 inmates, the sprawling concrete complex is surrounded by towering fences topped with razor wire. Inside the cold cell blocks, gang leaders, contract killers, and the country’s most sadistic murderers bide their time until release…or death, as is sometimes the case.
Location and Layout
Unlike some of Canada’s older prisons situated right in bustling city centers, Kent was strategically built in a remote location far from major urban areas. This adds an extra layer of security and isolation. The layout features six separate cell blocks radiating out from a central rotunda and enclosed by chain link fences and observation towers. Exercise yards, workshops, and other facilities are connected by a web of gated corridors constantly watched by armed guards perched on overhead walkways.
Prison Population and Capacity
Kent houses a mix of maximum security inmates transferred from other federal institutions across Canada. They represent the worst-of-the-worst – those too dangerous for even ordinary maximum security prisons. The population swells and contracts, but generally hovers around 275 prisoners crammed two to a cell built originally intended for single occupancy. Various gangs carve out their niche and new arrivals quickly have to pledge their allegiance to one faction or another to survive.
Focus on Rehabilitation
Ironically, while doing time at Canada’s toughest and most violent penitentiary, inmates still have access to educational programs, skills training, and other rehabilitation efforts like religious services. The prison has classrooms, workshops, chapels, and multi-purpose rooms dedicated to preparing prisoners for an eventual return to the outside world. Not surprisingly though, most inmates are simply biding their time rather than pursuing reform.
Notable Incidents and Unrest
Behind the rows of razor wire and imposing concrete walls, Kent has been plagued by disorder and deadly violence since soon after it opened. The tense environment means conflicts often turn into full blown riots. Killings and stabbings are common. And inmates stop at nothing to plot dramatic escapes.
In Kent’s earlier years, large scale riots with dozens or even hundreds of inmates rebelling were more frequent. However in recent times, smaller clashes are more common as the administration tries to limit mass gatherings. Cells get flooded, fires lit, and the Emergency Response Team gets called in to blast rioters with pepper spray and rubber bullets. Inmates learn quickly that guards shoot first and ask questions later when responding to disturbances.
Deaths and Violence
Stabbings and attacks resulting in killings are an ongoing challenge at Kent, averaging around one homicide per year. Most are prisoner-on-prisoner with weapons crudely fashioned from pieces of steel, glass, or ceramics. But periodically inmates attack guards as well. Warning shots echo through the cell blocks on a regular basis. The gymnasium, library, and individual cells have all seem bloody violence leading to intense lockdowns.
As Canada’s highest security prison, Kent has witnessed two Hollywood-style escape attempts over the years. The first in 1990 saw inmates hijacking a helicopter that had the misfortune of landing inside the prison grounds. After firing on guards killing one, the prisoners made their getaway only to be caught a few months later. More recently in 2007, an elaborate escape plot involving guns smuggled inside sausages was foiled just days before the planned attempt. For the unfortunate inmates involved, it meant a transfer to the dreaded Special Handling Unit.
High Profile Inmates
With nearly 300 dangerous offenders crammed within its towering fences and gun towers at any time, Kent houses some of Canada’s most ruthless villains ranging from mobsters to serial killers.
Homegrown Canadian serial killers and murderers fill many cells. Eric Carty killed an entire family known as the Pans executing the parents in front of their children. Dismemberment killer Terry Driver spent time in Kent before dying from cancer. Edward Isaac admitted to multiple gruesome murders earning him the label “Northwoods Strangler”.
As a maximum security facility housing mostly inmates with violent backgrounds, gang affiliation and networks are ubiquitous within Kent. Various organized crime groups like the United Nations, Red Scorpions, and Native Syndicates vie for influence, territory, and illegal trade. New arrivals have little choice but to pick a side or risk becoming a victim caught in the crossfire.
Beyond serial killers, Kent houses other well-known felons like Michael McGray serving six consecutive life sentences for his killing spree. Notorious pig farmer Robert Pickton did a stint at Kent after his arrest for Vancouver’s missing women murders. Stephen Reid of the Stopwatch Gang and his daring bank heists landed him behind these unyielding walls off and on through the decades.
Life Inside Kent
Daily life for Kent’s prisoners involves strict regimens, constant surveillance, tensions between dangerous inmates coagulated together against their will, and extreme violence always lurking right around the corner.
Security and Operations
As a modern maximum security prison, Kent utilizes the latest technology to maintain control including video cameras, body scanners, drug sniffing dogs, and restraints like belly chains and flex cuffs. Armed guards operate cell checks from interior corridors, patrol the perimeter, and watch closely trying to anticipate problems before they turn into outright bedlam. Known ringleaders and troublemakers have their communications monitored and get segregated at the first sign of conspiracy.
Divided along racial and gang lines, Kent’s prisoner social order walks a tightrope between self-rule and chaos. Contraband smuggling remains rampant with homebrew alcohol and drugs like heroin supplementing scarce resources. Unpaid debts result in violence including harassment and beatings by other inmates. Vulnerable prisoners get turned into ‘bitches’ by sexual predators and strongmen. Still, the harsh conditions lead to camaraderie between cellmates cooperating just to survive day after day without incident.
Regimentation defines daily life inside Kent Institution. Inmates start their days with wakeup calls over the PA system at 6 AM. Guards perform standing counts before breakfast then prisoners are released in small groups to workshops or education programs. Lockdowns commence around 4 PM with cell searches, checks, and lights out at 11 PM. Monotony gets broken up by exercise time outdoors, meals, visiting hours in the shared spaces, and always by the next outburst of violence which happens without fail.
For over 40 years, Kent Institution has reinforced its reputation as one of Canada’s toughest and most dangerous prisons. Maximum security inmates – many serving life or extremely long sentences – populate its aging cell blocks now at near double the intended capacity. Gang violence simmers waiting to boil over into deadly riots. Attempted escapes periodically make headlines reminding Canadians of the steps taken to contain the country’s most ruthless offenders. Rehabilitation takes a back seat to rigid security protecting guards and prisoners alike from the worst consequences of violence and turmoil bubbling up within its towering concrete walls.
Q: What types of inmates are housed at Kent Institution?
Kent houses maximum security inmates including notorious murderers, violent gang members, career criminals and dangerous offenders from across Canada.
Q: How do inmates spend their time and what is the daily routine?
The daily routine is highly regimented with set times for wakeup calls, meals, workshops, education programs, exercise yards, visiting hours and lights out. There is also ample “leisure time” which breeds illegal activity and violence that erupts without notice.
Q: How does Kent Institution manage security and control the inmates?
Guards, surveillance cameras, searches, specialized emergency response teams armed with non-lethal and lethal weapons, and advanced technology help maintain security. Known instigators are isolated from the general population.
Q: Why does Kent have issues with violence compared to other prisons?
Concentrating hundreds of the country’s most high-risk offenders together without the distractions of life outside prison creates a boiling effect where tensions escalate over disputes until violence becomes the norm for addressing issues and dominance disputes.
Q: What rehabilitation efforts happen despite the focus on security? Rehabilitation takes lower priority but Kent still provides schooling, skills training, religious access and other programs focusing on an inmate’s eventual release though participation remains relatively low amongst the hardened maximum security offenders.