Canada’s last military prison costs $2M a year. About half the time, it has no prisoners

Over time, the military's internal prison in Edmonton has fallen into disuse .


Over time, the military’s internal prison in Edmonton has fallen into disuse .

One night at the end of April, just before midnight, three soldiers arrived at the military’s internal prison at the south end of the sprawling base in Edmonton and went to work.

There’s always a list of things for the guards on the night shift to do, explains the prison’s commanding officer. Maj. Paul King – patrolling the building, for example, or stripping and waxing the floors.

Really it’s supposed to be five soldiers, King explains – four guards of junior ranks and an NCO to supervise – but some are away on courses, and some positions aren’t filled.

If there had been a prisoner, they would also have had to check on him regularly. But there wasn’t one, and hadn’t been for ten days, since the last one finished his sentence and left.

The Edmonton detention barracks, a small 25-cell prison run on very rigid military lines – when there are inmates – is falling steadily into disuse. On just over half the days since January 2017, it has had no prisoners at all.

However, it still has a staff of 30: a commanding officer, deputy commanding officer, a sergeant-major with the title of ‘chief disciplinarian,’ an administrative staff and enough guards to run the jail 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, on a system of four six-hour shifts a day

Prison costs $2 million a year to run

Running the institution costs about $2 million a year.

For 2016, that works out to about $2,280 per inmate/day, or about ten times the cost of civilian maximum-security custody. In 2015, when there were fewer inmates, it came to $3,900 per inmate/day. (By contrast, Ontario charges the federal government $237.13 per inmate/day to confine immigration detainees in its maximum-security jails.)

However, King says the DB has responsibilities that go beyond its inmates. During the Afghan war, for example, it was tasked to start a small detention facility in Kandahar, and its soldiers have to be prepared to leave the country. The Edmonton facility also trains soldiers how to handle prisoners and run jails.

“We spend that money to maintain a capability in the Canadian armed forces as it serves the country,” King says. “If it has to deploy, or train people to deal with detention operations, that’s part of the responsibility for the prison and detention facility that we run here.”

The capital cost to build the facility in 2000 was $3.45 million, which would be $4.8 million now.

The data comes from documents released under the Access to Information Act. It doesn’t include the details of offences soldiers were sentenced for, but in some cases we can cross-reference the data to public court-martial records.

Canada’s last military prison costs $2M a year. About half the time, it has no prisoners