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Assessing the Reforms

Much of my criticism of the reforms introduced in response to the Task Force on Segregation’s recommendations has been directed to the failure to implement the most critical part of a reformed system -- independent adjudication. However, it would be unfair to suggest that the improvements made to the segregation review process at Kent Institution by 1998 were not significant. The most important qualitative improvement was in the preparation and sharing of detailed, written information within the time frames set out in the CCRA. This was the full-time responsibility of CO-II Stan Beacon, working in close conjunction with Segregation Unit Manager Kevin Morgan. They gave the document preparation the kind of attention the CCRA required, which, hitherto, it had never received.

The other important improvement was quantitative: a reduction in the overall number of placements in segregation. The Task Force on Administrative Segregation first visited Kent in September 1996. That month, 42 prisoners were placed in segregation. A year later, the number for the same month was 36, and in September 1998 it was 20. In aggregate terms, for the whole of 1997 there were 308 placements into segregation at Kent Institution, with an average stay of thirty-nine days; for the whole of 1998, the number was 218, with an average stay of twenty-two days. There was also a reduction in the number of prisoners in long-term segregation. In 1997, 15 prisoners served between sixty-one and ninety days in segregation; in 1998, only 7 prisoners did so. Five prisoners spent between 91 and 120 days in segregation in 1997, 6 prisoners in 1998. For prisoners who served more than 120 days in segregation, the numbers had shrunk from 38 prisoners in 1997 to 7 in 1998.

Stan Beacon and Kevin Morgan were justifiably proud in December 1998 when they presented me with the statistical verification of Kent’s reduced use of segregation. That pride was soured, however, by the failure of National Headquarters to provide the further training promised at the workshop on Segregation and the Law held in January 1998. The Task Force on Segregation had recommended a certification program for chairpersons of Segregation Review Boards, and at the January workshop CSC representatives had confirmed this was in preparation. Yet a year later, no word had filtered down from National Headquarters on the status of this initiative. A new position had been established at Regional Headquarters to better fulfil the legal requirement of a regional review of cases of prisoners segregated for more than sixty days; part of that officer’s responsibilities would be to provide ongoing training for the institutional Segregation Review Board. The person appointed to that position in the Pacific Region was Bob Lusk, who had been warden of Kent Institution from 1993 to 1997, when he transferred to Regional Headquarters. His assignment in 1999 to the new position of Regional Co-ordinator of Segregation was seen not so much as the designation of a high-profile and experienced correctional practitioner (which Mr. Lusk certainly was) but rather as a pre-retirement secondment. The creation of the position of Regional Co-ordinator provided staff with as little assurance that their needs for ongoing training in the law and procedures governing segregation would be met as it gave me in representing a real alternative to independent adjudication.

My scepticism about the capacity of the CSC to reform itself without independent adjudication should not be read as a slight to the integrity of individual correctional staff and managers. Rather, it flows from my concern about how personal and professional relationships within the CSC affect fairness and justice behind the walls. Over the six years of research for this book, I observed and talked to the key players at Kent and Matsqui on many occasions. I came to respect their professionalism and in some cases to know and like them as good people. That is not a remarkable outcome. Indeed, it is perhaps an inevitable feature of this kind of fieldwork; as you get to know the people with whom you are working, there develops a level of mutual respect, and indeed friendship, that makes the research encounter more rewarding and revealing. What I did find remarkable, however, was how these developing relationships affected my feelings about what I was writing. I have related how uneasy I became about my account of Mike Csoka’s handling of minor disciplinary court at Matsqui in 1993 as I came to know him better when he assumed the responsibilities of unit manager at Kent during 1996-98. I worried he would feel betrayed by the strong criticisms I had expressed about those hearings and the five-day hearings I later observed him chairing at Kent. My concern led me to re-interview him, both to explain what I had written and to give him an opportunity to respond. In one sense, this can be viewed as a research version of the duty to act fairly. Yet when I explained my actions to students in my Penal Policy seminar at the UNiversity of B.C., several of them diplomatically suggested that my concern for Mike Csoka’s feelings might have blunted my criticism and caused some self-censorship in my written observations. Although I had not changed the text of my original critique, only added Mr. Csoka’s commentary on my observations, the students’ criticism reinforced my views that professional and personal relationships do affect judgement.

If I, as an independent researcher and thirty-year advocate for prisoners' rights, was concerned that publication of my research would affect my relationship with a correctional administrator I had come to like but with whom I would have only intermittent professional contact in the future, how much more so would this be the case if our relationship was career-long and situated within the same inner circle? Yet this is the environment within which correctional staff must make their decisions. The inescapable fact is that the relationships staff members form with their peers and superiors is of far more importance to their careers than the relationships they have with prisoners. This professional reality is reinforced by the personal relationships many correctional staff and administrators have with one another outside of prison. There are many examples of spousal and family relationships within the system, and friendships take the form of membership in the same legion, bowling alley, or gym and of involvement in the many other areas of shared interest that develop in a workplace. The pressure against second-guessing your colleague in a work situation may be very strong when that colleague is someone you have known for twenty-five years and with whom you and your family have ties of affection and respect.

It might be suggested that the same is true for judges. They also move within a circle involving recurring contact and ongoing professional, social, and personal relationships. The difference is that within the judiciary -- recognizing that individual judges have personal and ideological biases -- there is a long and well-entrenched tradition of independence; furthermore, the transparency of published reasons for decisions is buttressed by an independent bar asserting and defending the competing interests at stake. It is the absence of this tradition and these same hallmarks of justice within the prison that anchors the case for independent adjudication of those decisions that critically affect the rights and liberties of prisoners.

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Stan Beacon