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The Isabelle Case

Mr. Isabelle was placed in segregation at Kent Institution on July 26, 1983. He was told only that he was being detained "pending a security investigation." Three days later, he was charged with doing "any act with intent to escape" and "damaging government property." He remained in segregation until August 22, when he appeared before the Independent Chairperson for a disciplinary hearing on these charges. The primary evidence relied upon by the institution was a partially completed plexiglas key, three sets of wire cutters, and a 3/8" drill bit -- all discovered in a heating pipe in an area to which many prisoners had access -- and the presence of a plexiglas shelf in Mr. Isabelle’s cell, one corner of which had been cut out. The institution’s claim was that the key had been cut from the shelf and that Mr. Isabelle was responsible for this. Mr. Isabelle said he had not cut the key and denied any knowledge of it or the other tools. He testified that he had found the shelf in a washroom with a piece already missing from it and had made no effort to hide this shelf in his cell. The Independent Chairperson acquitted Mr. Isabelle on both charges.

Mr. Isabelle was not released from the segregation unit, however. Staff expressed great displeasure with his acquittal, since they saw this prisoner, who had arrived at Kent Institution from the Special Handling Unit, as a serious escape risk. They had planned to use his conviction on the charge of intent to escape to support an application for his transfer back to the Special Handling Unit.

Mr. Isabelle’s case was reviewed by the Segregation Review Board on September 2, twelve days after his acquittal. At the hearing, he asked why he had not been released to the population. He was informed that the institutional preventive security officer was still investigating the case and the plexiglas key and shelf had been sent to the RCMP crime lab for further analysis. The Board stated that, until this RCMP analysis was received, Mr. Isabelle was to remain in segregation. He protested that it could take months for the RCMP to complete an analysis, given the low priority the case would have. And even if they confirmed that the key had been cut from the shelf, he argued, that did not show he was the person responsible for making the key. As he had told the Independent Chairperson, he had found the shelf in the washroom with the piece already missing, and the Chairperson, in acquitting him of the charge of damaging government property, had believed him.

Following each review, the Segregation Review Board forwarded its recommendation to the warden. In response to the Board’s review on September 2, the warden made the following comments.

As Mr. Isabelle was found not guilty, we would have to have some rather compelling reason to keep him in segregation. It is agreed to keep him in segregation pending the next review where above factors should be taken into consideration. (Segregation Review Board Hearing Notice, Kent Institution, September 2, 1983)

The next review was conducted on September 9, and the written record of that meeting stated:

The situation has now been reviewed by the warden and it was decided that there was not sufficient justification to proceed with this matter. Accordingly Isabelle has been interviewed by the Head of the Living Unit and advised of the behavioural expectations the living unit staff have for him. He has agreed that he will abide by these expectations. The Segregation Review Board recommends that Isabelle be released from H Unit to the Induction Unit pending cell space in general population. (Segregation Review Board hearing Minutes, Kent Institution, September 9, 1983)

Accordingly, after almost seven weeks in segregation, and almost three weeks after he had been acquitted of the charges, Mr. Isabelle was released from H unit. Nearly a month later, on October 7, he was released from the Induction Unit, where he had been double-bunked, and returned to a single cell in the general population.

This case reveals how the same facts are viewed in a quite different manner by an independent adjudicator and correctional administrators. The Independent Chairperson concluded that Mr. Isabelle was not responsible for damaging government property and that there was no evidentiary basis connecting him to the key or the other items secreted in the heating pipe. The Segregation Review Board disbelieved the prisoner’s story, resulting in a further three weeks of segregation after his acquittal on the charges. Had an independent adjudicator been involved in the segregation review process, the institution’s argument for continuing segregation would have been given short shrift.

Mr. Isabelle’s return to the general population proved fleeting. At approximately 8:00 a.m. on October 13, two prisoners, Willy Blake and Stuart Stonechild, slipped through a window in the institutional schoolroom and, under cover of heavy fog, made their way to the perimeter fences of Kent, where they snipped their way through to the outside using wire cutters. They were recaptured later that day. Mr. Isabelle and two other French-Canadian prisoners had been in the schoolroom at the time of the escape, although they had not attempted to utilize the escape route.

One week later, on October 20, a pair of pliers went missing from the electrical shop. A massive search was conducted; every prisoner was strip-searched, and all areas accessible to prisoners were checked. The pliers were not found. The warden informed the Inmate Committee that until the pliers were found, all programs would be put on hold.

Less than an hour after this meeting, five French-Canadian prisoners were taken from the population and placed in segregation. Among the five were Mr. Isabelle and the two other prisoners who had been in the schoolroom during the escape the week before. None of the five worked in the electrical shop. The five prisoners were told they were being placed in segregation for a review of their security classifications. Subsequently, they were informed by staff that they were suspected of being involved in an escape plot.

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