location: publications / books / Justice Behind the Walls / Sector 4 / Chapter 3 The Arbour Report: The Indictment of a System / Segregation Post-April 26 -- the P4W and the Penthouse at the B.C. Penitentiary

The psychologists’ report reiterates the conclusions of psychologists at the McCann trial that "sustained punishment without escape, without any instrumental response to terminate it . . . where there is nothing to learn" will generate violence and mental illness (cited in Jackson, Prisoners of Isolation at 74). As with Jack McCann, whose ongoing assessment as "quiet and cooperative" did not result in his release from segregation, the good behaviour of the prisoners at the P4W month after month did not provide them relief from their continued detention.

In summation, the Arbour Report made these findings:

The prolonged segregation of the inmates and the conditions and management of their segregation was again, not in accordance with law and policy, and was, in my opinion, a profound failure of the custodial mandate of the Correctional Service. The segregation was administrative in name only. In fact it was punitive, and it was a form of punishment that courts would be loathe to impose, so destructive are its consequences . . .

The most objectionable feature of this lengthy detention in segregation was its indefiniteness. The absence of any release plan in the early stages made it impossible for the segregated inmates to determine when, and through what effort on their part, they could bring an end to that ordeal. This indefinite hardship would have the most demoralizing effect and, if for that reason alone, there may well have to be a cap placed on all forms of administrative segregation . . .

If the segregation review process was designed to prevent endless, indeterminate segregation, by imposing a periodic burden on the prison authorities to justify further detention, it proved to be a total failure in this case. Essentially, the segregation review process reversed the burden and assumed, in virtually every instance that release had to be justified. In many instances, the reasons advanced for maintaining the segregation status would have been entirely unacceptable to trigger segregation in the first place. The frequent reference to the disposition of criminal charges as a landmark for de-segregation indicated that a wrong test was being applied. Worse, and even if not intended to do so, it could be objectively viewed as an inducement for the inmates to expedite the disposition of charges against them.

Eight or nine months of segregation, even in conditions vastly superior to those which existed in this case, is a significant departure from the standard terms and conditions of imprisonment, and is only justifiable if explicitly permitted by law. If it is not legally authorized, it disturbs the integrity of the sentence . . .

In this instance, this prolonged period of segregation was aggravated by the conditions that prevailed in the Segregation Unit at the Prison for Women at the time. The physical layout of the cells created the worst possible environment. The addition of the treadplate in front of the open bars created a massive visual obstruction which rendered the cement interior of the small cell darker and more claustrophobic. On the other hand, it did not shelter each individual inmate from the noise generated in the adjacent cells. For most of their time in segregation, these women had virtually no access to any form of external stimuli. Apart from the painful deprivation of human contact which segregation necessarily entails, they had no access to television and were limited for a time to a communal radio (only introduced in September) and some sparse reading materials.

There was no effort on the part of the prison to deal creatively with their reintegration. There were no programs available to them, and they were left idle and alone in circumstances that could only contribute to their further physical, mental and emotional deterioration. The period of segregation was not meant, in law, to serve as punishment for offences to which they had not yet pleaded guilty. They eventually did plead guilty and most of them were sentenced to additional time to be served consecutively to their current sentences. The bitterness, resentment and anger that this kind of treatment would generate in anyone who still allows herself to feel anything, would greatly overweigh the short-term benefits that their removal from the general population could possibly produce . . .

If prolonged segregation in these deplorable conditions is so common throughout the Correctional Service that it failed to attract anyone’s attention, then I would think that the Service is delinquent in the way it discharges its legal mandate. (Arbour at 141-43)

For those who would argue that the conditions endured by prisoners in the Penthouse at the B.C. Penitentiary can safely be consigned to the lessons of history, Madam Justice Arbour’s findings stand as an indictment of a failure of the Correctional Service of Canada to take those lessons seriously. Without a fundamental change in the culture of corrections, these practices, which harken back to the nineteenth century, will persist well into the twenty-first.

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