location: publications / books / Prisoners of Isolation: Solitary Confinement in Canada / Chapter 5 The Penitentiaries’ Response to the McCann Case: Canada’s New Prisons of Isolation / Administrative Segregation in the 1980s / The Special Handling Units

The Vantour-McReynolds Report sets out the objectives of special handling units:

  1. To provide a safe and secure environment for the staff and inmates of the institutions from which dangerous inmates are removed;
  2. To provide a safe and secure environment for the staff and inmates in the special handling units;
  3. To avoid the physical and mental deterioration that accompany the long periods of dissociation which these inmates have experienced in administrative segregation in the past;
  4. To provide inmates with the incentive and opportunity for earning their return to the main inmate population.44

Objectives 3 and 4 are clearly of cardinal significance in differentiating the special handling units from solitary confinement in the SCU at the British Columbia Penitentiary, and the report develops in some detail the strategy for achieving these objectives.

Realization ...depends upon the inmates’ opportunity for sensory and intellectual stimulation. This can be achieved through the presence of inter-personal contact between staff and inmates, through the provision of appropriate programmes designed to reduce periods of isolation, and through access to activity spaces out- side the cell... The inmate must have the opportunity to demonstrate acceptable behaviour. This requires a process in which the inmate can earn privileges and advance through the SHU to eventual return to a less secure environment.

The provision of incentives is the vehicle through which acceptable behaviour is encouraged. All positive actions should lead to increased freedom of movement within the SHU.

The above requires a sequence of phases through which all inmates can progress from admission to release.

Phase 1 - Assessment and Orientation
Every inmate admitted into an SHU must be assessed and oriented towards the nature of the programme and an individual programme plan (WP) developed for his stay at the SHU. The essence of the IPP is that each inmate can evaluate his own progress whilst staff measure his development. This normally lasts thirty days with the initial evaluation deriving from behaviour displayed during the first two to three weeks. Formal data collection is obtained from interviews. The individual programme plan is developed for each inmate. The length of time for assessment and orientation depends upon the behaviour of the inmate. Inmates refusing to become involved are interviewed regularly at intervals until the IPP is developed and the inmate demonstrates a willingness to participate. Uncooperative inmates remain in isolation with only basic amenities.

Phase 2 - Self-Awareness
During this phase, an inmate is expected to operationalize his IPP. He should examine his problems with his classification officer, his case manager, and possibly with other inmates as identified by the case management team. Contact with staff and other inmates is minimal. The inmate may receive increased privileges within this phase. In order to progress from Phase 2 toPhase3 he should identify his problem areas with the assistance of staff and display a willingness to deal with them.

Phase 3 - Individual Demonstration
Once progressing into Phase 3 the inmate is given an opportunity to deal with his problems through dyads, group settings and individual counselling sessions. Con- tact with other inmates and staff increases, privileges are considerably extended in response to his cooperation and willingness to reconcile his behaviour. Following extensive and regular evaluation sessions between the staff team and the in- mate himself, the inmate’s case is presented before the Regional Review Commit- tee for return to his institution. Having achieved this he will enter into Phase 4.

Throughout each programme phase the privileges and means of assessment must be known to both staff and inmate. Regular reviews are carried out every 30 days, providing the Regional Review Committee with data for semi-annual reviews. These enable the inmate to be aware of his progress. Since progress through each phase depends on the management team’s perception of inmate behaviour, the inmate must be made aware of their perception and evaluation.45

The Vantour-McReynolds model envisaged prisoners being organized in groups of no more than seven people to work with a case-management team comprising a psychologist, a part-time psychiatrist, a case manager (a classification officer), corrections officers, and other ad hoc members as required. Each group of seven would be kept separate from other groups; to accomplish this separation, the physical facility was to be designed around interrelating spaces called ‘envelopes,’ defined as ‘a space surrounded by a secure physical barrier through which total control of access and egress can be exercised.’46

The report describes program activities, including one-to-one encounters between the prisoners and staff, group encounters between prisoners and staff, active recreation, passive recreation, visiting, and academic or vocational development, and describes the graduated nature of prisoners’ privileges as they move from phase to phase. It is an essential part of the philosophy of the SHU as set out by Vantour and McReynolds that all opportunities to participate in programs are a privilege and not a right. The programs are made available ‘to promote the development of acceptable behavioural responses.’47 Thus such things as cards, chess, and checkers ‘are all used for the demonstration of inmate behaviour.’48 Similarly, ‘the provision of any academic or vocational training activities in an SHU is strictly to provide insights into the behaviour of the inmate and to provide an opportunity for the inmate to demonstrate meaningful behavioural change.’49

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