Correctional Service Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Common menu bar links

Let's Talk

Warning This Web page has been archived on the Web.

Let's Talk

VOL. 31, NO. 2

Security Levels and What They Mean

Safety and Security - Inside CSC Institutions

Before being assigned a security level, a new federal inmate is admitted to a regional intake assessment centre and housed on a special intake range with other newcomers. During the assessment (an extremely thorough procedure that takes up to a few months to complete), the inmate will come into contact with a great number of Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) employees — correctional and parole officers, and health workers.

The parole officer will build an exhaustive social and criminal profile, identify problem areas that contributed to the offender’s criminal behaviour and may lead to re-offending, and devise a compulsory correctional plan that focuses on both risks and needs. The plan will be carefully monitored and updated throughout the inmate’s sentence.

The main factor for determining a security level is safety — for the public, for CSC staff and for the offender.

Main Security Levels

Minimum Security

  • The institution perimeter is defined but usually there are no walls or fences. There are no armed correctional officers, no towers, no razor wire or electronic surveillance equipment.
  • Restrictions on movement, association and privileges are minimal. Inmates are non-violent and pose very limited risk to the safety of the community. Many are on work-release programs that allow them to hold jobs during the day.
  • Inmates show the desire and ability to get along responsibly with fellow inmates with little or no supervision.

Medium Security

  • These institutions are usually surrounded by chain-link fences topped with razor wire. Firearms are present but not normally deployed within the perimeter.
  • Inmates pose a risk to the safety of the community. They are contained in an environment which promotes and tests socially acceptable behaviour. Inmates are expected to act responsibly under regular and often direct supervision and participate in their correctional program plans.
  • Many of these institutions have training centres and a variety of educational and treatment facilities.

Maximum Security

  • Maximum-security facilities are surrounded by high (20 feet) walls or fences with guard towers in strategic positions and electronic systems that ensure any movement within the perimeter is detected.
  • Correctional officers in the towers are supplied with firearms and there are additional locked caches of firearms within the institutions in the event of a serious disturbance.
  • Various parts of the facility are separated by locked gates, fences and walls. Inmate movement, association and privileges are strictly controlled because inmates pose a serious risk to staff, other offenders and the community.
  • Inmates are expected to interact effectively with other individuals and in highly structured groups such as in educational and treatment programs and skills development programs.
  • Some inmates live in segregation units, due either to behavioural problems or out of concern that they will be harmed by other inmates, usually as a result of their crimes.

Other Security Levels and Considerations

Multi-Level Security

  • Offenders with serious mental health issues are accommodated in multi-level security facilities that combine the features of two or more of the security levels described above.

Special Handling Unit

  • The highest level of security is reserved for the small percentage of extremely violent male offenders who cannot function safely at the maximum-security level. The goal of the SHU is to prepare inmates to return to maximum security institutions by evaluating their risks and behaviour and providing appropriate programs.

Women Offenders

  • There are no firearms within the institution or on the perimeter, which is surrounded by a chain-link fence and topped with razor wire.
  • Typically, women are housed in living units that accommodate 10 persons. Their movement, association and privileges are designed to give them freedom to pursue educational and training opportunities within the grounds of the institution.
  • Women with serious behavioural issues may be confined to a “secure unit” within the larger institution.

Aboriginal Inmates

  • Aboriginal inmates can be found in institutions of every security level. Their particular needs are accommodated in special living units where Native culture and spirituality are taught and practiced. In addition, the Correctional Service of Canada is responsible for the establishment of eight healing lodges across the country, specially designed to accommodate the needs of minimum-security Aboriginal offenders, based on the principles, philosophy and teachings of the Aboriginal way of life. A small number of non-Aboriginal offenders may be accommodated at healing lodges if they are willing to take the same programs as Aboriginal offenders.

Community Correctional Centres

  • Community correctional centres are federal facilities that house offenders on conditional release. The facility director, parole officers and support staff work as a team, often in co-operation with community partners, to supervise and provide programs for offenders. ♦