Classifying prisoners according to their offence, their sex and the length of their sentence was one of the reforms that transformed prisons in the 19th century. Correctional officers and staff started being responsible for order and security, in addition to building and detainee hygiene. The prison layout reflected this shift in correctional philosophy, even though this reform could not be fully implemented due to overcrowding.
Dr. Wolfred Nelson
Wolfred Nelson (1791-1863) was involved in the 1837 rebellion as leader of the Patriotes in Saint-Denis-sur-Richelieu. Imprisoned and convicted for high treason, he was banished to Bermuda for a year. He returned to Lower Canada in 1842 after spending a few years in the United States.
He was a doctor and a Member of Parliament, and he also became mayor of Montreal (1854-1856). In 1852, he was appointed inspector of provincial jails and asylums. Having spent seven months in the Pied-du-Courant Prison in Montreal during the Rebellion, he had inside knowledge of the issue. The inspector visited provincial prisons and drafted reports on the conditions of confinement in those facilities. This important tracking and monitoring function made it possible to expose and correct prison failures and abuses.
The correctional officer would assign cells based on the prisoner’s sex and offence. At the Trois-Rivières prison, one storey was used for female inmates, sometimes with their young children. Detainees were kept apart from defendants awaiting trial. A wing was assigned to prisoners unable to pay their fines. The correctional staff was in the center of the building to make it easier to keep watch on inmates.
Since 1867, prisoners have been housed according to the length of their sentences: for sentences of two years or more, prisoners go to federal penitentiaries, while sentences of two years less one day are served in provincial prisons.
Prison Chain of Command
Order and discipline! Everyone has a specific job in prison. In the 19th century, the sheriff was the prison warden. His job was extensive: in addition to managing the prison, he was responsible for administering the courthouse, selecting juries, carrying out sentences and collecting fines.
The jailer was in charge of the detention facility. He lived on site. He was responsible for the jailkeepers, guards and matrons. Added to this core group was the staff providing support and care to the inmates: the doctor and the chaplain. They all issued reports on their activities and those of the prisoners to the prison inspector. The inspector came several times a year to check on prison conditions and reported his findings to the government.