Security classifications

Each federal institution has a security classification. The classification determines its layout, operations and the programs offered. There are five different Security classifications.

Special Handling Unit (SHU)

The SHU is located within the Regional Reception Centre (RRC). This is a multi-level institution in the Quebec region. It can house up to 90 inmates. It offers a highly structured environment for inmates who cannot be managed safely in another institution.

When an inmate is sent to the SHU, every effort is made to return them to a maximum security setting as soon as possible. The length of an inmate's stay depends on the risk they present to staff and other inmates.


Maximum security institutions are designed to house inmates who:

  • present a greater threat to the safety of the public;
  • require a higher degree of supervision; and/or
  • have a higher chance of attempting to escape.

Movement, association and privileges are very restricted.

Maximum security institutions aim to prepare inmates for medium security. This is done through programs as well as employment and educational activities.


Medium security institutions provide an environment that encourages inmates to be more responsible for day-to-day life. Movement, association and privileges are moderately restricted. These institutions have the same security safeguards as maximum security institutions.

Medium security allows more interaction among inmates. This allows them to take responsibility for their actions, and co-operate with each other. This process helps prepare them for a minimum security institution.


In minimum security institutions there are fewer limitations. Movement, association and privileges continue to be monitored and managed by correctional staff with as little restriction as possible. This prepares inmates for their eventual return to the community.

The environment promotes personal development, responsible behaviour and interactions with others.

Women offender institutions

Women's institutions provide a safe and supportive environment for inmates. This is done through programs and treatment that are designed specifically to meet women's needs.

All women's institutions are multi-level. This means they house maximum-, medium- and minimum security inmates. The only exception is Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge. It houses only minimum or medium security inmates.

Women live in the section of the institution that matches their security level. Those who are classified as minimum or medium security live in housing units with shared living areas. They are responsible for their daily needs such as cooking, cleaning and laundry. Women classified as maximum security live in secure units. Specialized staff provide high-level programs and supervision.

Transitioning through security levels

The Correctional Service of Canada manages approximately 14,000 federal offenders in its institutions. Every year, despite our best efforts, a very small number of offenders escape our custody.

The majority of these escapes are from minimum-security institutions, which means the offender walks away, as most minimum-security facilities don't have fences.

How the security level placement works

Upon arrival into federal custody, the offender completes a full intake assessment to determine their correctional needs. This means that CSC collects a variety of information about the offender and the offence from police, courts, victims, family members and the offender.

The offender's security level is based on three factors: how the offender will adjust to the institution, the risk of escape and public safety.

CSC regularly assess all offenders to ensure that they are placed at the appropriate security level. Only those offenders who are assessed as having a low risk to public safety are placed in minimum security.

Gradually transitioning offenders to minimum-security institutions encourages offenders to adopt more responsible behaviour and provides a setting that is similar to the community. It's important to remember that most offenders will ultimately return to the community.

Although we provide programs and complete regular risk assessments, there are still occasions when an offender escapes.

Every escape is taken very seriously. We work with the police to locate the offender as quickly as possible. Once apprehended, the offender's risk is reassessed and they are most often placed at a higher security level.

Looking for more information? Consult our Commissioner's Directive on the Classification of Institutions.