location: publications / books / Justice Behind the Walls / Sector 4 / Chapter 2 Administrative Segregation at Matsqui and Kent,1993-6: The Persistence of Customary Law / The Rhythms of the Law (I) -- The Thirty-Day Review

In Prisoners of Isolation, I wrote that the worst fear of prisoners in segregation was that they would be driven over the edge of sanity, that their worst experiences were having to see and hear the anguish of prisoners who had already been pushed into a place from which they might never return. At the May 9, 1994, Segregation Review Board hearing at Kent, two prisoners appeared perilously close to this brink. John Soane had been placed in segregation in December 1993 following his transfer from Mission Institution, based upon allegations of his involvement in drug trafficking. He denied this involvement and initiated court proceedings to challenge the transfer. His continued stay in segregation arose because of a problem with incompatibles in the protective custody open units. I had interviewed Mr. Soane earlier in May at Dwight Lowe’s urging, and at that time he was extremely agitated, relating his history in disconnected fragments. It was clear he had all his hopes pinned on his lawyer’s challenge to the transfer and the prospect of his returning to Mission Institution.

At the Segregation Review Board hearing, Mr. Soane proceeded to deny his involvement in the alleged activities that had brought him to Kent. He voiced frustration at being told by staff that they did not know what was going on with his case and could not comment on the validity of the allegations made by the Mission authorities. At his last review he had been told he would be contacted by the institutional preventive security officer, Mr. Dick, about complaints that erroneous information was in his file, but Mr. Dick, who had only come to see him the previous week, had not yet read the file. Although Mr. Soane’s account was understandable, he stuttered repeatedly and quite deliberately avoided any eye contact. He was told by Ms. Shadbolt, the unit manager for Segregation, that she would make sure Mr. Dick reviewed his security file for inaccuracies. In the meantime, his segregation would be maintained until there was resolution of the problems preventing him from moving into the open protective custody units.

After Mr. Soane left the room, Ms. Shadbolt asked the psychologist, Mr. Katz, if the stuttering was part of an act to impress the Board. Mr. Katz responded, "What you are seeing is pressured speech, which is the effect of segregation." After Mr. Soane’s review, I spoke to Mr. Katz, and he readily conceded that long-term segregation was having a very negative impact on Mr. Soane. His role at the segregation review was, however, limited to bringing this to the Board’s attention; he had no authority to recommend release from segregation.

The second prisoner close to the edge reviewed on May 9 was Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith had taken an overdose of heroin at the Regional Psychiatric Centre (RPC) with the intention of killing himself after having made previous attempts at slashing. The incident was logged by the RPC as drug-related, and Mr. Smith was transferred to Kent, where he was placed in segregation. He had been there since February 22. Mr. Smith said he wanted to go back to the RPC. Ms. Shadbolt reported that RPC staff felt the treatment program would be too intense for him right then, but efforts would be made to get him back there as soon as possible. Mr. Smith hardly participated in the review, answering questions in an impassive and abbreviated manner.

After the hearing, I asked Mr. Katz why a man who had tried to kill himself had been transferred out of the RPC -- the place he clearly ought to be -- into the segregation unit at Kent. Mr. Katz said that the RPC saw this as a drug-related case and, in a climate of zero tolerance, transfer was justifiable. He acknowledged that Mr. Smith was very depressed and agreed that segregation was not the appropriate place for him.

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Segregation Cell, Kent Institution