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The new CD 551 stated that the Mission-driven objective of the SHUs was "to create an environment in which dangerous inmates are motivated and assisted to behave in a responsible manner so as to facilitate their integration in a maximum security institution." The previous definition of a dangerous inmate was now cast more generally as someone whose "behaviour is such that it causes serious harm or death or seriously jeopardizes the safety of others." The new policy was designed to change the focus of the Special Handling Units from a reliance on static security to greater program orientation. The central features of the new policy included:

  • the introduction of a 90-day assessment period for inmates being considered for admission to an SHU; the integration of essential components in programming; treatment programs; psychiatric/psychological intervention; employment; personal development; recreational opportunities; and pastoral counselling;
  • the promotion of staff-inmate interaction and less physical controls so that the correctional environment will be more conducive to inmates changing their behaviour;
  • the establishment of a national review committee which provides for a more objective decision-making process when considering inmates' admission to, and transfer from, the SHU; and
  • the requirement for an annual review of the SHUs, and a report which presents observations and recommendations based on the review. (Special Handling Units: Annual Report 1991-1992, Institutional Operations Divisions, National Headquarters, June 1992)

In retrospect the first two features of this "new policy" were those set out in the Vantour-McReynolds originating blueprint for the SHU concept. By reiterating these objectives as a "new policy" in 1990, the CSC was implicitly acknowledging that the previous 13 years experience had fallen short of the stated objectives. The third feature, the "establishment" of the National Review Committee was more correctly its re-establishment.

From 1990 to 1997 the Prince Albert and Quebec SHUs functioned under the general provisions of Commissioner's Directive 551, which was amended from time to time, although retaining its overall structure. Significantly, the 1992 CCRA makes no mention of the Special Handling Units; therefore neither in the Act nor in the CCR Regulations are there any provisions which deal specifically with the units as separate institutions, even though they are perceived by staff and prisoners alike as being the most intensive and intrusive form of imprisonment. In 1995 a decision was made at National Headquarters to consolidate the units into a single unit by closing Prince Albert. That closure was postponed several times and finally in the fall of 1997 the Quebec SHU became Canada's only super-maximum security institution.

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