Westmorland Institution is a multi-level federal penitentiary located in Dorchester, New Brunswick. Originally opened in 1982, Westmorland was built to house medium- and maximum-security male offenders. With a current inmate population over 650, it is one of the largest federal prisons in Canada.
Westmorland Institution is comprised of three accommodation ranges surrounded by a secure perimeter fence. Inmates are housed in both cells and dormitory-style cubes. The site also contains administrative offices, program delivery spaces, health services, kitchens, workshops, and recreational areas.
As a multi-level institution, Westmorland houses offenders serving both medium- and maximum-security federal sentences of two years or longer. The population consists of those convicted of serious crimes such as murder, assault, robbery, and drug trafficking offenses. Many have had prior run-ins with the law or ties to organized crime.
Daily Life for Inmates
Inmates at Westmorland adhere to a highly structured daily routine. They are expected to keep their living areas clean and tidy. Some are assigned jobs such as kitchen duty, laundry, and maintenance work. Others participate in skills training, counseling, and education programs.
Housing conditions vary depending on security level. Medium-security inmates reside in shared cubicles while maximum-security offenders are confined to solitary cells. Amenities are sparse, with bunk beds, a writing surface, toilet, and sink provided. Some cell blocks have access to TV and telephones. Showers are communal with limited privacy.
Privileges such as yard time, gym access, library use, and social visits must be earned through good behavior. For inmates in segregation, these amenities are severely restricted or unavailable. Communication with loved ones is limited to strictly-scheduled visits and phone calls which are monitored.
Meals are served in the inmate dining hall three times a day. The fare mostly consists of starches such as pasta, beans, rice, bread, and limited proteins. Fruits and vegetables are rarely offered. Special dietary restrictions may be accommodated for medical or religious reasons.
Issues and Controversies
Westmorland has generated controversy on several fronts, including:
- Overcrowding: Designed to accommodate 350 inmates, the current population is double that, severely taxing resources. Cells meant for one often house two or three offenders.
- Solitary confinement: Westmorland has faced legal challenges concerning their use of solitary confinement to discipline and contain problematic prisoners. Isolation for extended periods risks lasting psychological damage, critics argue.
- Prisoner complaints: Inmates have cited issues ranging from unreasonable searches and seizures to lack of proper medical care. Use of force, discrimination, and freezing conditions have also prompted lawsuits.
- Drugs and contraband: As recently as 2021, a lockdown revealed widespread use and trafficking of drugs within the facility, sparking concerns about safety and security measures.
Rehabilitating long-term offenders poses difficulties. Still, critics contend more could be done to expand vocational training, counseling, education programs and transitional services to ease community re-entry.
Potential Changes and Reforms
Several options exist to improve conditions at Westmorland:
- A new facility may be built to address overcrowding and boost rehabilitation programming. However, construction plans face considerable fiscal and political hurdles.
- Reviewing solitary confinement policies and limiting its use to only extreme cases of violence could help curb lasting mental health damage to offenders.
- Training staff in de-escalation tactics may reduce use of force incidents. Better screening during hiring may curb employee burnout and corruption.
- Expanding community-based sentences, parole eligibility, and re-entry programs could ease prison populations and costs while supporting the transition home for some offenders.
Impact on the Community
As a major employer, Westmorland contributes needed jobs to the rural Maritimes region. However, some feel the growing prison population and budget takes resources away from preventing crime and supporting marginalized communities most impacted by incarceration. And while Westmorland may curb local crime rates in the short term by detaining high-risk offenders, more debate centered on restorative justice and rehabilitation approaches is warranted to increase public safety for all citizens.
Ultimately, citizens want humane conditions for the incarcerated and greater options for communities burdened by poverty and lack of opportunity. Perhaps reforming Westmorland Institution signifies not just corrections for those who are detained behind its fences, but correcting systemic failures that perpetuate cycles of crime.
Westmorland Institution plays an integral role in the federal corrections system as it works to safely contain convicted felons and provide opportunities for rehabilitation. However, persistent issues related to overcrowding, inmate treatment, contraband trafficking, staffing difficulties, and lack of access to transitional programs for offenders warrant concern.
Implementing viable reforms – whether aimed at infrastructure upgrades, policy improvements, alternatives to incarceration, or wider systemic changes – requires nuanced public conversation and political will. Still, tackling the shortcomings within institutions like Westmorland remains important work to uphold human rights while working toward the long-term goal of preventing crime and incarceration in the first place.
What types of offenders are housed at Westmorland Institution?
Westmorland houses adult male inmates serving medium- and maximum-security sentences of 2+ years for serious crimes under federal statutes. Offenders include those convicted of murder, assault, robbery, organized crime involvement and major drug offenses.
What is the capacity versus current inmate population?
Built to accommodate 350 prisoners, Westmorland now holds over 650 inmates – nearly double its intended capacity. This significant overcrowding causes deteriorated living conditions and strains staff resources.
How does Westmorland Institution address safety and security?
As a multi-level prison containing maximum-security inmates, Westmorland utilizes perimeter fencing, surveillance cameras, cell searches and solitary confinement to curb violence and contraband trafficking. However, drugs and unrest persist due to understaffing, overcrowding and infrastructure limitations.
What rehabilitation programs are available to offenders?
Westmorland offers some skills training, counseling, education and work programs. But high demand paired with limited capacity means only a small subset of inmates can participate. Expanding such programs could improve outcomes and ease overcrowding through parole.
Are better alternatives to incarceration available?
Some studies show community-based sentences, restorative justice initiatives and stronger transitional/re-entry services yield equal or better outcomes at lower taxpayer expense. However, political hurdles remain to gain public support and shift corrections policy away from incarceration models.