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Ending his career as the warden of a federal penitentiary was the last thing Ken Peterson contemplated when he graduated from university with an education degree and enrolled in a doctoral program. Mr. Peterson first walked through the gates of the B.C. Penitentiary as a summer intern teacher in 1972. He decided to extend his summer job into the next year, and, as he told me, "Now it's 1999, that was 1972, and a lot of time has passed." The 1970s were tempestuous years in the B.C. Penitentiary, and Ken Peterson worked through a series of hostage-takings, one of which resulted in the death of his friend and colleague Mary Steinhauser in June of 1975. Then came the full-scale riot in September 1976. Mr. Peterson had good reason to remember the riot, because he found himself in the position of acting warden as the Penitentiary came under intense public scrutiny.

You had the civil rights movements in the latter part of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies, and the uprising against the Vietnam War and some degree of anti-authoritarianism that existed in the States that was also expressed in a less violent way -- there were no Kent States here -- in Canada. There was a revolution of rising expectations, and those echoed or mirrored themselves inside the penitentiaries in Canada. At the same time there were prisoners' rights movements in the community, and they certainly had an impact, not the least of which was to bring what was going on in the prisons to the newspapers and televisions, and as a result it became a profile issue for a number of years. (Interview with Ken Peterson, Mission Institution, July 25, 1999)

There was also a link in Ken Peterson's mind between the unrest of the seventies and the cultural distance between the people who worked in the B.C. Penitentiary and the prisoners who served their sentences there during these years.

When I started, most of the people working in the B.C. Penitentiary were veterans. At quite a young age they had gone through the Second World War or through the Korean War, and from the military they went into government service. There was a lot of the old New Westminster Regiment in the B.C. Penitentiary. So you had basically a paramilitary organization with militarily trained people, disciplined people, people who believed that orders were orders and you followed them and that's the way it is. So you have on the one hand an organization that is essentially paramilitary and that expects obedience and you come into a situation where the offenders are part of the new age of Better Living through Chemistry, so you have a tremendous clash of cultures; the expectation of a dumb, heel-clucking obedience and a society that is saying the world is changing, and whose expectations are rising. In those days, the offenders weren't allowed to have rings or watches, they weren't allowed to have this, that, and the next thing. Not because the rules were rational rules, but because irrational authoritarianism was the key.

In addressing the principal lines of change over the course of his career, Ken Peterson picked up the common thread of the Rule of Law.

Since the mid-seventies it has been well recognized that the Rule of Law has to be what runs these places, regardless of the culture or the history that heretofore had said that the warden was the law, which of course meant that if you had fifty different prisons you had fifty different laws. It also meant that the principles and purposes of the organization would not be set internally, they would be set externally for us through a number of cases, some of which you were involved in, that would create the parameters by which we would run the Service. First and foremost it is the Rule of Law that will run it, and we will test everything against the Rule of Law. That takes a long time. Policy-makers are in little motor torpedo boats or ski-doos, and they can just do pirouettes and figure-8's in three minutes. The Service is like a battleship. It's moving at full steam; to turn it around is going to take a long time. But what I see is that there is a convergence going on regarding the Rule of Law and people are cleaving to the course, and when there are aberrations the courts are not reluctant to step in, whereas they were in the past. It was, "This was out of sight and out of mind, and it's very nice if it stays that way, thank you. This is the warden's business." There is also an evolving understanding on the part of staff. They understand much better that the Rule of Law is not an impediment to running the prison. The feeling in the past was that if prisoners have rights then we won't be able to do anything and all hell will break loose. That's not the fact.

In the course of our interview, Ken Peterson addressed the other major change since the 1970s: the increased conservatism brought about by law and order politics and the impact this had had on the Service.

I think we are in a highly defensive mode in our case management. There is a little bit of a cookie-cutter corrections when it comes to this. I have to cross every "t" and dot every "i," because everything can go to court. There isn't a single thing that can't go to court. So if you are living in that hyper-defensive way it is almost like a marriage that has gone wrong. Love keeps no records, but when holy wedlock turns to unholy deadlock records are kept, and so we know that every single thing we say we have to be prepared to defend in court. And if there is supposed to be a piece of paper and there isn't a piece of paper then there are problems. If the piece of paper isn't completed correctly there are problems. Now if we have to go down to chapter and verse, line and phrase and where the punctuation mark is, that's all very fine, but it will get you a different kind of person as a case manager. The person who rises in a situation like that will be the person who can best survive, and the person who best survives will be the person who really deals with the paperwork very well and is foolproof. There's no question that it gets to be CYA because your ass is right out there with every decision.

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