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The primary witness called by the defendants in the McCann case was Dr. Peter Suedfeld, who is acknowledged to be the leading Canadian researcher in the area of sensory deprivation. Dr. Suedfeld did not interview any of the plaintiffs nor, except for part of McCann's testimony, was he present in court when they gave their evidence. In his review of the scientific literature on sensory deprivation Dr. Suedfeld testified that controlled experimental data with human subjects were limited to the results of three weeks of sensory deprivation on volunteers; these studies had been done in conditions where the subjects could terminate the experiment at any time. They were therefore not comparable to the situation in SCU. Dr. Suedfeld indicated that no controlled study of long- term solitary confinement had been done.

The few studies that have looked at the effect of solitary confinement on prisoners have been concerned with prisoners who spent short periods in solitary. In the early 1970s Paul Gendreau conducted a controlled experiment designed to test the effect of solitary confinement on prisoners' self-identity and stress levels. The study investigated the effect on the prisoners of ten days of solitary confinement, 'this being the longest time inmates usually remained in solitary' [emphasis added ].106 The experiment consisted of randomly assigning sixteen volunteer prisoners to two groups: one group was placed for ten days in solitary-confinement cells, nd the other group followed the regular institutional routine. The confined group and the control group were both given a series of tests to assess the effect of isolation on prisoners' self-identity as defined in terns of a set of core constructs. The two groups were also examined to determine their plasma cortisone values, heart rate, respiration, and body temperatures. These tests were designed to demonstrate the existence of altered stress levels. The researchers concluded that 'the plasma cortisone results in the study failed to confirm the clinical expectation that solitary confinement would be more stressful than routine prison life.'107 They also found that 'the personal constructs of the confined prisoners became more consistent during confinement,'108 implying that solitary confinement did not induce any change in the prisoner's self-identity. The differences between the circumstances of this study and the situation faced by prisoners in SCU are self-evident. Prisoners in SCU are not volunteers; they cannot terminate their confinement at will (four prisoners withdrew from the experiment); unlike the prisoners who took part in the experiment, they are not perceived by the guards in a positive way as contributing to the increase in scientific knowledge; their confinement is of indefinite duration and is usually for a much longer period than ten days.109

A second study on prisoners was carried out at the Regional Psychiatric Centre in British Columbia by Dr. Suedfeld and Dr. Chunilal Roy, the medical director of the centre. This was not a controlled experiment. Four prisoners had been sentenced to thirty days' punitive dissociation by a disciplinary board for causing a disturbance. The experimental manipulation consisted of modifying the normal institutional response while the prisoners were in solitary cells. The staff were instructed to maintain the normal procedures until a significant change occurred in the behaviour of the prisoners. When such a change was observed, social and physical reinforcement was applied. Reinforcers included making conversation, taking the prisoner out of the cell for a shower, or giving him a cigarette or a cup of coffee. Two of the prisoners were released after serving ten days in solitary. The other two served the full thirty days. The researchers concluded, based upon limited follow-up, that there appeared to have been good short-tern effects in these cases in that the men were better adjusted and posed fewer behavioural problems after being returned to their normal routine.110

Although the Suedfeld and Roy study seeks to demonstrate that there may be positive advantages to the use of dissociation under certain circumstances, the description contained in the report of the prisoners' behaviour while in dissociation corroborates certain aspects of the plaintiffs' evidence in the McCann case. One of the prisoners 'in the second week of his admission to the isolation unit was found to be hallucinating sporadically. He became calm but incoherent and slept heavily. He was unsteady on his feet. '111 Another prisoner, 'on the fourth day, began to show inappropriate behaviour such as giggling and staring into space for long periods. He reported that he had no appetite and slept for long stretches of time.'112

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