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Section
location: publications / books / Prisoners of Isolation: Solitary Confinement in Canada / Chapter 5 The Penitentiariesí Response to the McCann Case: Canadaís New Prisons of Isolation / Administrative Segregation in the 1980s / Segregation at Kent Maximum Security - The Cadillac of Canadian Penitentiaries

The failure of the board to give specific answers to prisonersí questions about why they had been segregated confounds the boardís duty, as set out in the instruction, Ďto reduce any anxiety in the prisonerís mind about reasons for his segregation.í Furthermore, it defeats the obligation to take into consideration Ďthe needs and psychological state of the prisoner,í since every segregated prisoner I have interviewed has always insisted that the ambiguity of the reasons for his segregation and the consequent uncertainty of its duration are two of the most disturbing psychological aspects of segregation. Most of all, it totally undermines any sense of fairness in the process. As might be expected, prisoners in H unit are openly contemptuous of the review board.

In several of the cases I observed, prisoners had been charged with criminal offences arising from incidents occurring in the prison, and the warden had requested that they be transferred to a special handling unit. The prisoners were awaiting decisions on their transfers from the National Review Committee, and the hearings consisted primarily of the prisoners asking how much longer this was going to take. It was assumed by the board that these prisoners would remain in segregation until the transfer decisions were made. There was no review of the individual circumstances of these cases because of the requirement in the commissionerís directives that only a prisoner already in segregation could be transferred to a special handling unit.

One case in particular made it abundantly clear that, notwithstanding Oswald and Cardinal, individual circumstances would not result in a recommendation to release prisoners who were considered candidates for a special handling unit. In case A, the prisoner had been charged with assault of a security officer at the Regional Psychiatric Centre. He had been transferred to Kent and immediately placed in segregation. Charges of wounding and possession of a dangerous weapon were laid against him. His segregation had been reviewed regularly pending the disposition of these charges. The manís experience in segregation had been stormy, and while in H unit he had been convicted of several disciplinary offences and sentenced to serve time in punitive segregation. He had first been segregated in September 1980 and was still there in March 1981 at the time of my observation of the review process. His trial at that point was only several weeks away. I was already aware of his case, having been con- sulted by his lawyers concerning certain legal aspects of his defence. Through them I was informed that he had spent a considerable time in segregation at other institutions and at Kent and had not been able to cope with the experience; his anxiety had led to several suicide attempts. As a result of one such incident, in which he had repeatedly cut his wrists while in segregation in H unit, he had been sent to the Regional Psychiatric Centre.168

He had been at the centre for several months and had made what he thought was a satisfactory adjustment when he was told that he was to be sent back to Kent. He was not told the reason, though the psychiatrist at his preliminary hearing on the wounding charge testified that it was because he was not participating enough in group therapy. When the guards came to take him back to Kent he had resisted, fearing that he would again be placed in H Unit. In the process of this resistance he was alleged to have stabbed a guard. The prisonerís lawyer had sought to make her clientís inability to deal with solitary confinement known to the authorities at Kent. While the warden acknowledged the prisonerís problem, the review board continued to recommend that he be kept in H unit. At the hearing I attended, the officer in charge of H unit told the review board that several of the disciplinary charges that had been laid against this prisoner (which had led to punitive segregation) had been provoked by guards who knew that it was easy to get him to react to insulting comments. It was to counteract what the officer regarded as a regrettable attitude on the part of some of his subordinates that he had allowed the prisoner to work as a cleaner on the tier in order to minimize the time spent in solitary. However, despite the prisonerís known difficulties with segregation, despite the particular circumstances of the offence alleged against him, despite his lawyerís concern that prolonged confinement in segregation was affecting her clientís fitness to give evidence at his forth- coming trial, he was kept in segregation until that trial. Significantly, the crown agreed to accept a guilty plea on the lesser offence of assault. The court imposed a sentence of only six months, which certainly suggests that it took into consideration the particular circumstances surrounding the offence, circumstances which the Segregation Review Board had failed or refused to consider. Only then, after seven months in H unit, was the prisoner released into the population.

In a second case I observed, case B, the prisoner was alleged to have knifed another prisoner during the riot of 7 June. This case raised other disturbing questions about the practice of detaining prisoners in segregation pending the investigation and hearing of criminal charges. The prisoner was told at his July review hearing that he was being detained while the RCMP completed an investigation of the incident. At his August review he was told that the investigation had been completed and that he was being detained pending a decision of crown counsel as to whether charges were to be laid against him. At his review in September, he was initially informed that he would be detained pending the completion of the RCMP investigation; when he protested that he had been told that this was already completed, the board corrected itself and again informed him that he would have to remain in segregation until crown counsel had made a decision. The prisoner wanted to know how long this might be and the status of the crown counselís deliberations. No one on the review board had any knowledge of the matter. I was asked by the prisoner to contact crown counsel to try to find out what was happening. At this point the prisoner had been segregated for over three months. He insisted that he had never stabbed anyone during the riot and that there were dozens of prisoners who could testify to that effect on his behalf. I got in touch with crown counsel, who informed me that this prisonerís file was not in their office. I then contacted the RCMP and was told that they were typing up their report and would be submitting it to crown counsel in a few days! This inordinate delay is largely explained by the low priority given to matters affecting prisoners who are already in segregation. This presents a paradox. Segregation, instead of providing an incentive for speedy investigation in order to minimize the likelihood of prisoners being un- justifiably detained, becomes an excuse for delay which extends, rather than minimizes, what may be unjustified detention.

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