The weekend escape of a Hells Angel member from a prison in Laval, Que., has raised questions about the security measures at minimum security prisons in Canada.

René Charlebois had been at the Montée St-François Institution serving a sentence for, among other charges, killing a police informant. He escaped on Saturday.


In minimum security prisons, inmates are given rooms rather than cells, and are allowed to have a number of furnishings, including a television. (Ken Gigliotti/Winnipeg Free Press/Canadian Press)

There are no details as yet about how Charlebois managed to flee, but it's one of several escapes from the federal institution over the past few years.

Here’s a closer look inside the world of minimum security prisons.

What sorts of criminals are housed in minimum security prisons?

Most of the inmates in minimum security prisons are people who have graduated from maximum and medium security facilities and are close to being reintegrated into society. Minimum security prisons house offenders who are deemed the lowest security risk.

Canada's medium security prisons

Westmorland (Dorchester, N.B.)

Federal Training Centre (Laval, Que.)

Montée Saint-François (Laval, Que.)

Saint-Anne-des-Plaines (Sainte-Anne-des Plaines, Que.)

Beaver Creek (Gravenhurst, Ont.)

Frontenac (Kingston, Ont.)

Pittsburgh (Joyceville, Ont.)

Bowden Institution and Annex (Innisfail, Alta.)

Drumheller Institution and Annex (Drumheller, Alta.)

Grierson (Edmonton, Alta.)

Pê Sâkâstêw Centre (Hobbema, Alta.)

Riverbend (Prince Albert, Sask.)

Rockwood (Stony Mountain, Man.)

Ferndale (Mission, B.C.)

William Head (Metchosin, B.C.)

What are the accommodations like?

Unlike more restrictive facilities, minimum security prisons generally do not have fences or other secured perimeter structures.

Offenders live in rooms or dormitories rather than cells. Housing complexes in a minimum security prison consist of individual rooms, washrooms, a living room, a dining room and a kitchen. Each bedroom has a bed, a wardrobe, a desk and a TV.

According to the Correctional Services Canada website, inmates are responsible "for the cleanliness of their rooms" and that their bed is "made at all times when not in use."

What distinguishes a minimum security facility from more restrictive facilities?

Because the inmates are seen as a low security risk, minimum security prisons allow inmates largely unrestricted movement within the facility, as well as opportunities for day parole and work placements in the community.

According to the Corrections Service Canada website, these facilities “offer an open correctional environment that encourages offenders to take on responsibilities for day-to-day life.”

All programs in a minimum security institution operate with an eye to reintegrating inmates into society at the end of their term.


Former Hells Angel René Charlebois left 10 audio recordings and a video for police to find after his suicide death. (Correctional Service Canada)

What sorts of programs are offered to inmates?

Inmates have access to a variety of programs, from social groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous to hobby activities such as wood carving and drawing.

Minimum security prisons also offer education classes, from basic literacy to computer studies. Depending on the facility, inmates may also take advantage of employment opportunities — in the kitchen or library, for example, or even off-site in a community service capacity.