location: publications / books / Justice Behind the Walls / Sector 5 / Chapter 2 The Special Handling Units: The Corruption of Correctional Principles / The New Prisons of Isolation

The conditions and regime in the Quebec SHU in the Correctional Development Centre were not only physically more intrusive than at Millhaven but there was not even a pretence at there being a phased program. This is what I saw when I visited the CDC.

Block 5 consists of two ranges of cells with 20 cells in each range. There are two common rooms, an interview room, and a central controlled area for the custody officers . . . The cells in the CDC have no windows to the outside to admit natural light. The door contains a window approximately eight inches by eight inches looking into the corridor . . . One feature of Block 5 differentiates it from all other segregation units in Canada; prisoners in the cells are kept under surveillance by officers patrolling on top of the cells. A catwalk runs the length of the cell block, and a window in the ceiling of each cell permits the armed officers to see into the cell below as they patrol. Prisoners look up through the ceiling window at a gun, and are reminded constantly of the pervasive surveillance by the noise of the guard's boots on the roof as he walks back and forth above the range . . .

At the time of my first visit in August 1980, despite the fact that the SHU had been open for three years, the [phase] program existed only on paper. Phase 1 was simply "the hole;" 23 hour solitary confinement. The regime in Block 5 for phase 2 and phase 3 prisoners provided for two hours exercise in the yard each day in the morning or afternoon, and permitted all prisoners in both phases to go into one of the two common rooms from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. each night . . . Control of prisoners' movements was even more strict than at Millhaven in all phases. Each time a prisoner left his cell he was escorted by three officers, and in phase 2 and phase 3 prisoners were required to enter the common room one at a time through an ante-chamber. In all phases prisoner interviews, including those with staff, took place in the interview room, where a thick wire grill separated the prisoner from the interviewer.

In my meetings with the staff and the warden of the CDC there was no pretence that the phase system had been implemented in the unit. The warden told me frankly that given the limited facilities . . . there was no sense in pretending that there were distinctions in the quality of imprisonment. (at 179-80)

The phase program, designed to distinguish between Special Handling Units and the old-style segregation units, was the focal point for most of the criticism directed at the new units by prisoners I interviewed in 1980. They saw the program as a cruel parody of reform, because apart from the increased opportunities for exercise and association with other prisoners, there was little in the SHUs in the early '80s through which a prisoner could demonstrate positive change except to put in time and not commit disciplinary offences. The concept that each prisoner would have an individual program plan which would enable him to move through the SHU depending upon his own progress was further corrupted by a change in the Commissioner's Directive in December, 1980; henceforth, progression through the first three phases of the SHU program, prosaically described as "restricted association, limited association and increased association," would "normally" be expected to take a minimum of two years, to which was added a fourth phase of a one year conditional transfer to a maximum security institution. The effect of this two year rule was to literally double the average length of stay of prisoners at the SHUs.

The 1980 Commissioner's Directive also broadened the category of a "particularly dangerous inmate" who could be sent to the SHU. Such a prisoner was one "whose documented actions or demonstrated intentions while in custody or under sentence constitute a persistent and serious threat to staff, inmates or other persons." Such conduct included, but was not limited to, abduction; hostage taking; serious incidents of violence; escape or attempted or planned escape with violence; the manufacture or possession, introduction or attempted introduction into an institution of firearms, ammunition, high explosives or offensive weapons; incitement or conspiracy to kill or riot and substantiated serious threats against the life of a staff member, inmate or other person ( Prisoners of Isolation at 156).

The Directive also established a committee -- the National SHU Review Committee -- to consider applications from wardens to transfer prisoners to a SHU, thereby creating a different process for this form of involuntary transfer to higher security. The committee consisted of senior officials of the CSC under the chairmanship of the Deputy Commissioner, Security. The National Committee also had, sitting as independent observers, a representative from the Correctional Investigator's Office and from the St. Leonard's Society of Canada, a non-government after-care agency. Under these special transfer procedures the National Committee considered the warden's documented application together with any written submission of the prisoner. There was no provision for a personal hearing. However, the National Committee was also required to review the case of each prisoner admitted to the SHU every six months. In conducting these reviews, it travelled to the units and the prisoner was permitted to appear before the committee to make oral representations regarding his progression through the phases of the program and his ultimate release to a maximum security institution. As with admission, this ultimate release was determined by the National Committee.

Page 2 of 2