north slave correctional

North Slave Correctional Complex

The North Slave Correctional Complex is located in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, and is the largest correctional facility in Canada’s Northwest Territories. It is composed of an adult male unit, a youth unit which houses both young male and female offenders, and inmates with security ratings from minimum to maximum. The complex also holds those inmates who are awaiting trial.

History of the Prison

The North Slave Correctional Complex was created in 2016 through a merger of the previous North Slave Correctional Center and the North Slave Young Offender Facility. While these two facilities had historically operated separately, they were connected via an indoor corridor and shared gym facilities.

The North Slave Correctional Center, now called the Adult Male Unit, first opened its doors in 2004 and took the place of the aging Yellowknife Correctional Centre. When the seperate Arctic Tern Young Offender Facility closed its doors in 2011, the North Slave Correctional Complex’s youth unit took over responsibility for housing all young male and female offenders in the region.

Issues and Controversies

In recent years, the North Slave Correctional Complex has dealt with several high profile issues and controversies that have impacted inmates’ experiences and led to changes in policy.

Rehabilitation and Programming

A 2015 report by Canada’s Auditor General uncovered inadequate access to rehabilitation programming for short-term inmates at the facility. This finding suggested major gaps in efforts to provide inmates with services and skills critical to reducing recidivism after release. In the aftermath of this scandal, programming continued to be a major point of contention.

See also  Waseskun

First Escape Incident

In August 2016, the correctional complex suffered its first escape incident when an inmate successfully climbed the fence enclosing the outdoor yard. He then accessed the roof and ultimately escaped custody. This major breach of security led administrators to impose strict limits on outdoor exercise yard access. In turn, inmate access to fresh air, recreation, and cultural programming was drastically reduced. A resulting letter writing campaign organized by inmates demanded restored access to vital services.

Evacuation to Edmonton

During a city-wide evacuation of Yellowknife in August 2023, all inmates at the North Slave Correction Complex had to be transported to and housed at Edmonton’s Remand Centre correctional facility. This sudden upheaval and displacement to unfamiliar facilities and systems over 1,000 kilometers away placed major strains on inmates.

Daily Life in the Prison

Daily life inside the North Slave Correctional Complex is regimented by strict schedules dictating times for meals, sleeping, recreation, programming, and other activities. Ongoing security and supervision by correctional officers ensures compliance with rules and prevents incidents. Most inmates are housed in shared cells with access to common living areas under close watch.

Access to programs like counseling, education, skills building, and cultural activities has improved somewhat since the 2017 scandals but remains constrained by budget limitations and the remote northern location. Similarly, outdoor and recreation opportunities are considered inadequate by inmate advocates. Common complaints include limited time outdoors, weather-related cancellations of yard time, and access to only small concrete enclosures rather than facilities supporting wellness.

Role of Prison Staff

The facility’s correctional officers and program delivery staff play critical roles in overseeing inmate populations as well as efforts at maintaining order, safety, rehabilitation, and positive mental health. Officers supervised inmates at all times and are responsible for security and enforcement of rules. Social workers, instructors, skills trainers, health providers, chaplains, case workers, and cultural liaisons engage inmates in structured programming geared at personal improvement and preparation for re-entry into society.

See also  Millhaven Institution

Staff also oversee inmates’ access to necessities like clothing, bedding, food services, medical care, and communications with outside supports. In an environment with little external oversight, the conduct of staff can greatly impact inmates’ treatment and outcomes. Enlightened leadership and employment of trauma-informed correctional practices are essential to positive culture.


As the only correctional facility within a vast northern region, the North Slave Correctional Complex fills an important role. However, ongoing challenges around delivering adequate programming, order, safety, and rehabilitation in its remote setting continue to impact facility leadership and people incarcerated there. With attention and investment, solutions may emerge to strengthen its functioning. But a lack of public awareness and concern over the situation of marginalized inmate populations remains an obstacle. Going forward, greater openness, accountability, and commitment to progressive corrections policy from territorial leaders could benefit both inmates and correctional staff.


What is the North Slave Correctional Complex?

The North Slave Correctional Complex is the largest prison facility located in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Opened in 2004 and located in Yellowknife, it houses adult male inmates along with young male and female offenders.

Why was the facility evacuated to Edmonton in 2023?

Due to a city-wide evacuation order given in Yellowknife in August 2023, all inmates at the prison had to be quickly transported over 1,000 kilometers south to the Edmonton Remand Centre until the emergency situation stabilized.

What access do inmates have to rehabilitative programming?

Reports indicate there have been deficiencies providing adequate access to skills training, counseling, education, mental wellness, and cultural activities programming at the complex. But inmate advocates continue pressuring for reforms.

See also  Drumheller Institution

What was the outcome of the 2017 inmate letter writing campaign?

After a 2016 escape led to elimination of yard time and cultural programming, inmates demanded restored access through a coordinated complaint letter initiative. But limited improvements resulted, with outdoor time and programming still considered insufficient in the facility’s northern setting.

How could leadership and staffing policies be improved at the prison?

Experts widely agree that a trauma-informed approach and correctional best practices training for managers and officers could greatly improve culture, inmate treatment, access to services, and rehabilitation outcomes in the complex and better prepare inmates for reintegration into society.

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