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Segregation Post-April 26 -- the P4W and the Penthouse at the B.C. Penitentiary

The women involved in the April 22 incident remained in segregation from that date until December 1994 or January 1995. The Arbour Report traces the conditions of their confinement, the reasons given by the CSC for its necessity, the segregation review process through which it was maintained, and the impact of the segregation on the women.

On April 27, 1994, the warden’s order that the inmates in segregation were to get nothing without specific direction from her, was forcefully repeated in the segregation log, and even more stringently interpreted than in the days before the IERT attendance. The resulting regime of denial continued for an extended period of time . . .

. . . Mattresses were not reintroduced in segregation at the Prison for Women until May 10th. Restrictions on the availability of clothing continued for some period of time, and even included the failure to comply with Unit Manager Hilder’s direction that women be provided with street clothes prior to attending in court. In the period immediately following April 27th, toilet paper was restricted to "one or two squares" per inmate. Underwear was denied, even in the circumstance of an inmate who required the use of a sanitary pad with vaginal cream. Regular cleaning of the segregation area, garbage removal and laundry was very slow to resume. At the Prison for Women, showers were not regularly provided in the initial weeks. Phone calls (including calls to the Correctional Investigator) were denied, as were specific requests for cigarettes, ice and face cloths . . .

While there was some attempt to suggest that the basis of the overall regime was grounded in security concerns, most witnesses who testified appeared to concede that there was little in the way of specific security justifications for the deprivations noted above . . .(Arbour at 132)

This deprivation of basic amenities replicated the conditions I observed at Kent Institution in H unit in 1983 and in the Penthouse at the B.C. Penitentiary a decade earlier. The regime of reducing prisoners to a Hobbesian state of brutish nature to demonstrate that they are under the total control of their jailers has long been a cornerstone of the customary law of segregation units. What Madam Justice Arbour found was that at the P4W, customary law had little difficulty maintaining its ascendancy over the provisions of the CCRA.

There were other elements of déjà vu at the Prison for Women.

When the inmates who had been transferred to the Regional Treatment Centre were returned, heavy treadplate was welded to the bars of all cells in the dissociation unit. This was done to discourage the throwing of objects or fluids from the cells. There had been no incidents of throwing anything through the bars after April 27th, either at the Regional Treatment Centre or at the Prison for Women. The effect of the addition of the treadplate was to increase markedly the oppressiveness of the dissociation unit cells, and the isolation of their inhabitants. Although almost $38,000.00 was spent installing the treadplate, it was not considered appropriate to spend the $2,000.00 which had been estimated as necessary to provide electricity to the cells so that televisions or radios could be provided, until late November or early December of 1994. (Arbour at 133)

This "improvement" to the segregation unit mirrored a similar "improvement" made to the Penthouse in the wake of the 1975 Federal Court judgement in McCann. The tiny windows in the cell doors were enlarged to permit greater light into the interior, but within months these were covered with a heavy steel-wire grill, isolating prisoners even further from the outside world.

Madam Justice Arbour was especially critical of the Segregation Review process at the P4W.

It is difficult to discern any indication in the segregation review process or otherwise, that any assessment was made of whether the statutory requirements for continued segregation were met.

. . . There is little, if any, consistency in the reasons for continued segregation recorded in the segregation review documents. Nor do the reasons advanced in the segregation reviews specifically address the question of whether or how those reasons relate to the statutory standards.

Throughout the segregation reviews, there is repeated reference to the significance of the outstanding criminal charges to the ongoing segregation of these women. In a number of instances, the outstanding charges are identified as the significant, and in some cases the only reasons for the continued segregation. This is so notwithstanding that it was conceded, as it must be, that the existence of such outstanding charges cannot by itself justify continued segregation.

The Regulations contemplate that an independent assessment of whether the statutory requirements for continued segregation have been met will occur every 60 days at the Regional Headquarters. The evidence raises a serious question as to whether such independent reviews occur . . .

It is apparent that the person conducting the review at the Regional Headquarters is heavily influenced by the judgement of the institution as reflected in the paper or electronic record of the segregation review. Indeed, there was evidence that insufficient attention was paid even to that record. (Arbour at 136-37)

Madam Justice Arbour’s findings regarding the deferential nature of regional reviews parallel my observations at Kent. Similarly, justifying segregation on the basis of outstanding charges reflects the persistence of the customary law at Kent, notwithstanding the provisions of the CCRA.

Madam Justice Arbour concluded her review with an assessment of the impact of prolonged segregation on the prisoners at the P4W.

In October of 1994, the prison’s psychologists advised the prison staff of the psychological ill effects being suffered by the women. Their report read:

Many of the symptoms currently observed are typical effects of long-term isolation and sensory deprivation. One thing which seems to have increased the deprivation in this current situation is the new grillwork which has been put up on the cells. The following symptoms have been observed: perceptual distortions, auditory and visual hallucinations, flashbacks, increased sensitivity and startle response, concentration difficulties and subsequent effect on school work, emotional distress due to the extreme boredom and monotony, anxiety, particularly associated with leaving the cell or seg area, generalized emotional lability at times, fear that they are "going crazy" or "losing their minds" because of limited interaction with others which results in lack of external frames of reference, low mood and generalized sense of hopelessness.

Part of this last symptom stems from a lack of clear goals for them. They do not know what they have to do to earn privileges or gain release from segregation . . . Their behaviour had been satisfactory since their return from RTC but has not earned them additional privileges, nor have they been informed that their satisfactory behaviour will result in any change of status.

If the current situation continues it will ultimately lead to some kind of crisis, including violence, suicide and self-injury. They will become desperate enough to use any means to assert some form of control of their lives. The constant demands to segregation staff [are] related to needs for external stimulation and some sense of control of their lives.

The segregation of these inmates continued for between two and a half to three months after these observations were made. (Arbour at 139-40)

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Segregation Cells, P4W with treadplate