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Administrative Dissociation - Punishment or Treatment?

Section 2.30(2) of the penitentiary service regulations states:

An inmate who has been dissociated is not considered under punishment unless he has been sentenced to such, and he shall not be deprived of any of his privileges and amenities by reason thereof, except those privileges and amenities that,

(a) can only be enjoyed in association with other inmates, or
(b) cannot reasonably be granted having regard to the limitations of the dissociation area and the necessity for the effective operation thereof

Because of the very restrictive interpretation given by the security staff at the British Columbia Penitentiary to subparagraph (b), prisoners in SCUwere deprived of all the privileges and amenities enjoyed by other prisoners in relation to matters such as hobbies, work exercise, and other programs. With few exceptions, the regime under which they lived was identical to that imposed on prisoners who had been sentenced to punitive dissociation under section 2.29 of the regulations for a serious disciplinary offence. Prisoners in punitive dissociation were additionally deprived in that they had no radios, were not allowed tobacco or reading materials, did not receive desserts with their meals, and had their bedding removed from the cell during the day.

While there is little difference between the physical conditions of punitive and non-punitive dissociation, there are substantial differences between the process by which prisoners enter the two regimes and the duration of their stay. Under section 2.29 and relevant commissioners' directives,56 the prisoner can only be placed in punitive dissociation when he has been sentenced at a disciplinary hearing. The prisoner must be given written notice of the disciplinary charge; he has the right to cross- examine and present evidence at the hearing; and the decision is required to be based on evidence that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. As I have shown in another study,57 in its actual operation this model of procedural due process is subject to serious flaws, but there is at least an opportunity for the prisoner to know what he is accused of and on what basis he is to be judged guilty. There is no such similar procedural opportunity available to a prisoner prior to being placed in administrative dissociation.

These procedural differences in the way prisoners enter administrative and punitive dissociation are important, but even more fundamental is the difference in the extent of confinement. Under section 2.29 a prisoner cannot be sentenced to more than thirty days in punitive dissociation; it is therefore a finite punishment. Administrative dissociation under section 2.30 is subject to no such limitation. It is potentially infinite in its duration up to the expiry of the prisoner's sentence. As we shall see when analysing the effects of administrative dissociation on the prisoners, this infinite duration occupies a conspicuous place in the catalogue of terror.

All of the plaintiffs gave evidence that they viewed dissociation under section 2.30(I)(a) as a punishment; indeed, because of its indefinite duration, it was seen as a much more severe punishment than punitive dissociation. This is how Andy Bruce put it:

[Punitive dissociation)'s easier, it's a hell of a lot easier when you know when you're getting out, you got a date in your mind and you know that's when you're going to be released and you're going to go back to the population. When you're doing indefinite seg. it just hangs over your head. You don't know what you're supposed to do to get out of there because there is nothing you can do. It's entirely up to them. They say it depends on your behaviour but there's nothing you can do. You can't do nothing except get worse, and when you do get worse, they say that's why you're up there.58

It is not only the prisoners who perceive administrative dissociation as a punitive measure. Evidence was given at trial of two practices that strongly suggest that the authorities, despite section 2.30(2), also see it as a punishment. First, prisoners suspected of having committed some disciplinary offence were placed in SCU under section 2.30 instead of being charged with an offence and tried in a disciplinary hearing in accordance with section 2.29. This practice in effect enables the institution to punish aIleged disciplinary offences without giving the prisoner the benefit of a trial or hearing and permits the imposition of a sentence of dissociation far in excess of that permitted under section 2.29.

The second practice was the extension of a punishment of dissociation that has been duly imposed by a disciplinary court for an offence under section 2.29 by keeping the prisoner in dissociation under section 2.30(I)(a) on the expiry of his section 2.29 sentence. In practical terms this meant that the prisoner, on the expiry of his definite sentence under section 2.29, was taken out of F tier and placed in H tier for a further indefinite sentence, which was not preceded by any formal charge or hearing.

The evidence of Walter Dudoward showed that he was the victim of the tyranny of both these practices in 1973. Dudoward testified that he was on the inmate committee seeking to negotiate with the institutional authorities for better conditions in the British Columbia Penitentiary (including the conditions in SCU). When these negotiations broke down, a serious disturbance occurred in the penitentiary and Dudoward, along with all other members of the inmate committee, was placed in dissociation under section 2.30(1)(a). At no time was he charged with an institutional offence or given any hearing. He was in dissociation from 3 October until 29 November 1973. On that date Dudoward received a sentence of thirty days' punitive dissociation foIlowing a hearing on a disciplinary charge resulting from an incident involving himself and a guard. At the end of that sentence of dissociation, he was moved from F tier to H tier and maintained in dissociation under section 2.30(I)(a), where he remained until the end of March 1974. The assistant director of security, Mr Leech, said that Dudoward was kept in SCU because, while Dudoward was serving his sentence of thirty days punitive dissociation, information came to Mr Leech that a hand-gun was going to be brought into the institution by one of the staff; Dudoward was to receive the gun for the purpose of assassinating two of the guards should the opportunity arise. Mr Leech testified that the RCMP contacted and that they conducted an investigation. However, no criminal charges were ever brought against Dudoward for conspiracy to escape or to possess weapons, and no internal disciplinary charges were filed. He was simply kept in SCU for a further four more months under section 2.30. The director, Mr Cernetic, stated in his evidence that before he came to the penitentiary as director he had known Walter Dudoward and that there was nothing in his record or in his institutional behaviour to suggest that he was the type of prisoner who would be involved in such a desperate plot. Mr Cernetic, in fact, ordered Dudoward's release from dissociation at 'the first available opportunity after he became director.59

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