location: publications / books / Justice Behind the Walls / Sector 5 / Chapter 2 The Special Handling Units: The Corruption of Correctional Principles / Measuring Progress (1) -- The Official Paper Trail

Measuring Progress (1) -- The Official Paper Trail

The "Mission-driven Special Handling Unit Program" was heralded by the CSC in almost glowing terms. To quote again from Our Story :

A look at our history and at the past and recent experiences in several other correctional systems tells us that units for potentially dangerous inmates tend to become the Achilles' heels of the system. We are determined that this will not be the case in the CSC . . . these inmates, like all others, will be treated with dignity and afforded the opportunity for personal growth and to address the needs that have resulted in their placement in a Special Handling Unit. It is not part of our philosophy to create the worst possible environment purely as a demonstration that there can be a worse life than the one that inmates spend under a normal maximum security regime . . .

The development of this new approach continues to present us with many challenges but it is also a time to enjoy the excitement that comes with the creative process . . . Staff must continue to have opportunities to become agents of change and to realize that they are in a position that affords an ideal opportunity and the capacity to mould the facility into one of the best "Unit Management" entities in the Service. Perhaps then, we can begin to report on our positive incidents rather than only on the negative ones. ( Our Story at 90-91)

The implementation of the 1990 "Mission-driven" and program-oriented SHU policy can be tracked along two routes; the one left by the CSC's official paper trail; the other as travelled by prisoners who have lived under and through the changes. The CSC paper trail is relatively easily followed. One of the elements of the new policy was the requirement that there be an annual review of the SHUs and a report presenting observations and recommendations. An analysis of these annual reports provides a sobering counterpoint to the "excitement" of the "creative process" prematurely announced in 1990.

An important part of the 1990 policy was to significantly increase the program opportunities for prisoners in accordance with their needs and correctional plans. As the following table makes clear, there were many more prisoners participating in a substantially larger range of programs in Prince Albert than in Quebec.


Number of Participants
Anger Management
Gift of Self-Esteem
Native Elder
Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families
Drug & Alcohol
Cognitive Skills
Breaking Barriers

(at 26-27)

Despite the existence of more programs at the Prince Albert SHU, the zero participation in the "Gift of Self-Esteem" spoke as loudly of the substance of these programs as did the library with the empty bookcase in the original Millhaven SHU.

The 'new' 1990 policy on the SHUs, in seeking to enhance opportunities for effective programming and staff/prisoner interaction, recognized that the existing SHU structures, which highlighted the dominant physical security philosophy in place when those facilities were built, required significant modifications to reflect the dynamic security and programming elements now being encouraged. The 1991-92 report had this to say of progress in this area:

Primarily due to a lack of resources, minimal physical construction took place at the SHU. A new isolation and observation cell outside of the unit was constructed at the Quebec SHU, and there were no physical changes to the Prairies SHU during the past year. (at 40)

The 1992-93 Annual Report reviewed the progress made during the year, particularly with regard to promoting and reducing barriers to staff/prisoner interaction. It can only be described as minimal.

Each Correctional Officer 2 has case management responsibilities with a case load of approximately eight inmates. As well, phone calls between inmates and their families/friends/lawyer must be co-ordinated through the inmate's assigned Correctional Officer 2, providing an opportunity for discussion at these times.

Each Correctional Officer 2 has case management responsibilities with a case load of approximately five inmates. As well, in the past, cleaning and ground work were done by contract staff, whereas they are now done by inmates. These inmates are supervised by Correctional Officers which increases the opportunity for interaction at the line level. (1992-93, SHU Annual Report, p.3)

Characterising the contact involved in placing a phone call and watching prisoners clean the range as an "an opportunity for discussion and interaction," is the equivalent of describing the prison regime as "milieu therapy."

Page 1 of 4