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 model placed much emphasis on the need for ongoing evaluation in the regular review of prisoners in the special handling units. I have already explained how the commissioner’s directive and the divisional instruction provide both for a thirty-day review at the institutional level and for a six-month review at the national level. The prisoner is permitted to attend the six-month review. I questioned the prisoners about the review process, since, on paper at least, it is designed to remedy the deficiencies revealed in the McCann case. However, as far as the prisoners are concerned, the changes have not rendered the review process in the SHU any more legitimate or fair. Two documents prepared by prisoners explain why.

Inmates in the SHU whose cases are brought before the monthly Segregation Review Board should be allowed to appear in front of the Board and present their cases. The way the Board is now being operated is not just. Every month, each inmate gets a slip of paper saying that his case was heard by the Segregation Review Board and that the decision was for the inmate to remain in the SHU. They never give any of the facts that were presented at the Board, or what their decisions were based on. Every inmate should have the right to present his case in front of the Segregation Review Board every month so that he knows why the decision that is rendered in his case, is rendered ...Right now nobody knows what goes on at the Boards, or if in fact there is even a Board that sits every month. All we know is that we get a piece of paper every month saying that it has been decided that we remain segregated for the next 30 days. Unless there is something that goes on at the Boards that you want hidden from the inmates, such as a picking of straws, or arbitrary decisions being rendered, without two sides of a case being presented, then there is no reason why every inmate can’t be allowed to present his own case at the Segregation Review Board. 88

Inmates of G-2 Tier feel that without input regarding their cases, the Review Board is once again making arbitrary decisions based on information supplied to them by the penitentiary staff, completely disregarding and relegating inmates’ status to that of a number to be dealt with as they see fit. The inmates of G-2 Tier therefore request their presence at the 30-day Segregation Review Board so that they may make full answer and defence against staff allegations and reports .89

The prisoners believe that the thirty-day review process at Millhaven is not based on hard evidence measured against clear criteria but, like segregation at the British Columbia Penitentiary, is based on various staff members’ feelings and intuition about the prisoners’ attitudes. The prisoners rejected the idea that the board was receiving any valuable or reliable information from either the classification or the psychological staff, because prisoner contacts with those staff members were infrequent. Several prisoners told me that they had not seen the classification officer in over three months, and that they had not had a proper interview with a psychologist in that period.90

Prisoners showed me copies of the notification slips they had received reporting the outcome of their thirty-day reviews. The slips confirmed their assertions that they revealed nothing of the evidence or the basis of the board’s conclusions. Moreover, it appears from some of these notification slips and from the responses made to the prisoners’ grievance that they be permitted to attend the thirty-day review that the authorities at Millhaven perceived that review to be subordinate to the six-month review conducted by national headquarters. The authorities’ response states that

authority to transfer inmates in or out of SHU ultimately lies with National Headquarters. They review the cases every six months at which time all inmates have a chance to appear before the Board. Time and staff deployment do not allow for the requested procedure which normally takes two to three days. Unless, therefore, there are exceptional circumstances we will continue with the present procedure of interviewing inmates every six months. 91

The review notification slip received by Prisoner A in November 1979 also suggested that the Millhaven authorities, in their monthly review, did not see themselves as having the authority to change a prisoner’s status -even to another phase within the unit -without the approval of the National SHU Review Committee. Prisoner A was informed that he was to be retained in dissociation

...for the maintenance of good order and discipline in the institution. The six- month SHU Review Committee on October 31 and November 1, 1979, indicated that you remain in phase 2 and that you will be reviewed at the next six-month review. 92

This is the clearest possible indication that whatever Prisoner A did or did not do during the six months, he would remain in phase two, negating any suggestion that during that six-month period he could, by his behaviour or any other means, improve his situation within the SHU. The new divisional instruction now provides that the warden of the institution in which the SHU is located may authorize the progression of a prisoner through phases one, two, and three, as well as the return of a prisoner to an earlier phase. The power to advance a prisoner through the phases is circumscribed by the provision in the new directive that the National Review Committee ‘shall approve an individual program for the inmate’s progression and set a tentative date for his advancement to phase 4.’93

While the National Review Committee pays close attention to the documentation produced by the institutional monthly reviews, the prisoners’ perception that the six-month review process is the effective source of decision-making in relation to the release of prisoners from the special handling unit, and a powerful influence on major changes of status within the unit, is an accurate reflection of reality.94

Does the fact that prisoners are permitted to attend the six-month review board hearings remedy the alleged deficiencies in their inability to hear and respond to evidence presented during the monthly reviews? The prisoners are all of the view that the nature of their participation in the six-month review process does not guarantee the fairness of that procedure in terms of their right to make full answer and defence and to comment on the matters brought before the six-month board. In order to provide an empirical basis for my own judgment as to the adequacy of the six-month review process, I requested the opportunity to attend the review board hearings in the fall of 1980. That request was denied on the basis that, because of the highly sensitive nature of the information ex- changed, my presence would impede the functioning of the review committee.

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