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Conditions of Confinement -- Giving Effect to Legal Rights

As discussed, the CCRA provides that prisoners in administrative segregation shall be given the same rights, privileges and conditions of confinement as the general population, except for those rights, privileges and conditions that can only be enjoined in association with other prisoners or cannot reasonably be given owing to limitations specific to the administrative segregation area or security requirements. The Task Force found that "the operational reality has been that inmates, their advocates or program staff have had to demonstrate why they should be provided the same rights, privileges and programs. The legal reality is that the CSC has to demonstrate why they should not be provided" (Task Force Report at 50). To get a more informed picture of the national situation, the Task Force distributed a questionnaire to all segregated prisoners in late 1996 and received responses from almost four hundred. The purpose of the questionnaire was to determine whether prisoners had the same, less, or more access to rights, privileges, and services while in segregation. The responses confirmed that, under current practice, administrative convenience and security considerations had all but eclipsed legal programming requirements. This confirmation has important implications for the issue of independent adjudication. Just as independent adjudicators are not likely to allow administrative convenience to overshadow the requirements of justice, so also would they be less likely to permit the abridgement of the Serviceís lawful requirements regarding programming for administrative convenience or ill-defined security considerations.

At the time prisoner Glen Rosenthal responded to the questionnaire, he had served a year in segregation at Edmonton Max. In addition to checking off the list of questions, he offered these reflections:

In the course of completing this survey I have found it extremely difficult to convey the reality of living in this segregation unit for nearly a year. I have spent fifteen years in many different prisons and have found myself in the segregation units of most of them at one time or another. Never have I experienced anything remotely comparable to what I am experiencing now. It is one thing to be locked in a cell for a year, and that of itself is bad enough. Add to that the fact that you have no idea how long it will continue . . . And add to that the fact that your health has deteriorated to the point where you doubt you will ever be healthy again . . . You canít sleep more than three or at best four hours at a time. You are constantly getting awoken by music blasting, barriers clanging open and shut. You are always tired. You have gone from a hundred and fifty pounds to a hundred and ninety pounds and every muscle in your body is either knotted or atrophied. The warden told you he would transfer you to B.C., so your wife moved there six months ago and you have watched your marriage fall apart one piece at a time since then. You have been wearing stinking rags for so long you donít notice it anymore. You look older, fatter, disgusting to yourself when you look in the mirror. Your self-esteem is sub-zero . . .

You want to complain about the rags you get for clothes but you know the cleaners will spit in your food or urinate in your coffee if you do. You want to complain about the guard who miscounted your phone calls for the month, only giving you one or two, but you know next month you wonít get any if you do. You want to complain about not being transferred but you know that this will piss somebody off and you will never get out. You canít bear the thought of people you love seeing you in this condition so you donít take any visits. Your life is so static there is nothing, absolutely nothing left to write to anyone about. Your once passionate and hopeful phone conversations with your wife turn into a string of uncomfortable silences and misdirected frustrations. But she is the only one who will listen, and then one day there is no one. You spend twenty hours a day on your back, somewhere between waking and sleeping, trying to keep your mind out of the dark places but you canít. Your mind seems full of thoughts that donít belong there. You canít carry a conversation anymore because you are afraid one of them will slip out. You donít tell anyone because you are even more afraid of the medication they might think you need.

I donít use words like "afraid" easily. I have always identified myself with being up to whatever challenge came my way, and so far I have. I have never faced a challenge that threatens who and what I am more than this last year in this segregation unit. It is no exaggeration to call this cruel and unusual punishment. Though the circumstances here are likely more the product of indifference than malice, it is no less insidious and destructive. My health is gone, my life has fallen apart, parts of me that words canít describe will not recover from this. And I did nothing wrong. All this is happening to me because the machine isnít working and no one seems obliged to fix it.

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Glen Rosenthal