Mission Institution -- Segregation: The Cutting Edge,
The Hurting Edge
The discussions of the Task Force with management and staff at Mission
Institution on September 5, 1996, highlighted the themes of "operational
pragmatism" and the lack of any organisational commitment to education
and training in the law. During a meeting with union representatives,
both of whom had worked in the segregation unit at Mission, one as a CO-II
and the other as a correctional supervisor, they were asked whether there
were days when prisoners did not get the one hour exercise required by
law. The segregation unit at Mission was originally designed for a maximum
of eight prisoners and now had seven of those of cells double bunked (the
only one which was not was the observation cell). Although the segregation
count the day of the Task Force visit was eight prisoners, the union representatives
said that a few months before when they were on shift the numbers fluctuated
between 10 and 15. When the numbers got that high it became very difficult
to comply with all the shift requirements. The window within which to
complete the dayís activities was from seven in the morning until two
in the afternoon. After two oíclock the prisoners were locked in their
cells and any out of cell movement required bringing in an additional
staff member. When the count was high and there were other activities
going on, such as a Segregation Review Board hearing or escorts of prisoners
for visits, it became impossible for everybody to exercise. What the staff
would then do was to give the prisoners who had not had exercise on one
day priority the next day. The point was also made that in order to try
and give everyone exercise, prisoners were often placed in the small exercise
yard three or four at a time which compromised safety concerns. Although
there was now a dedicated correctional supervisor for the segregation
unit, there were no dedicated staff and correctional officers had one
week rotations in the unit and had to learn the rules and standing orders
on the job.
The union representatives were also questioned about the kind of training
they had received. They were quite satisfied with the training that had
taken place in the handling of weapons and gas, CPR, and emergency response
procedures. However, they had received no training at all in the law.
They were asked whether they had read the Corrections
and Conditional Release Act or the Regulations
and they frankly admitted they had not.
At the afternoon debriefing, Ken Peterson, the warden of Mission, had
some penetrating comments on the priority the CSC gave to training staff
with respect to their lawful obligations. Contrasting the opportunities
for staff training and retraining in the handling of weapons with the
handling of the law, he asked, "What do you use the most as a correctional
administrator or staff member, a weapon or the law? What do you fire the
most in your day to day work?"
Mr. Peterson evocatively referred to segregation as "the cutting edge,
the hurting edge of the law." That characterization was based upon his
own experiences in talking with prisoners in his capacity as former assistant
warden of the B.C. Penitentiary in the days of the "Penthouse" and as
deputy warden and acting warden at Kent Institution. Several prisoners
whom I have interviewed, who had served extended periods in the "Penthouse,"
informed me that Mr. Peterson had come up to the unit and spoken with
them and was one of the few institutional people who seemed to understand
the despair and hopelessness caused by their extended segregation. Mr.
Petersonís description of "the cutting edge, the hurting edge" comes much
closer to the way in which prisoners understand the segregation experience
than Dr. Bonta and Dr. Gendreauís "scientific" conclusions that segregation
has no demonstrable negative effects.
In an earlier interview with Mr. Peterson addressing the significant
changes within the Service over the past 25 years, he had commented on
the proliferation of law, regulations and administrative directives which
now controlled decision making within the prison. Madam Justice Arbour
in her report had observed that the Serviceís tendency to produce great
volumes of policy directives had the unintended result of obscuring, rather
than clarifying, legal requirements. Ken Peterson made a similar observation,
drawing an analogy with the childrenís game of hopscotch.
In hopscotch you have to advance by jumping from
side to side on one leg making sure you do not touch the lines. The
CCRA and all those volumes of Commissionerís Directives mark the
lines which you must not touch if you want to play the game. Now, I have
no difficulty walking a block if I can walk on my own two feet and use
my own judgement about where Iím going, but if you tell me I have to hop
on one leg and play hopscotch for that whole block, by the time I reach
the end of the block Iím going to be pretty exhausted.
In the course of that interview Mr. Peterson also commented on the vital
distinction between the letter and the spirit of the law. In his dealings
with prisoners he had never found them to be particularly impressed with
justifications for actions which relied upon statements such as "I have
to do this because thatís what the law requires." He felt that when he
sat down with a prisoner and sought to justify a decision on a personal
basis by explaining why he had come to that decision, he was more likely
to convince that prisoner that his rights and dignity had been respected.
In Warden Petersonís view, "Respecting dignity goes a lot further in most
prisonersí minds than the formal letter of the law."
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