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

The 1991-92 report had recommended a series of physical changes to the two SHUs consistent with the policy of encouraging staff/prisoner interaction and to provide increased areas for programs. The extent to which the CSC was prepared to commit resources to its new correctional strategy is aptly summarised in this description in the 1992-3 report of the action taken:

The physical modifications which were proposed were not undertaken due to lack of funding. The above physical modifications were proposed in the five year master development plan, however, no construction is planned for the coming year. (Annual Report 1992-93 at 6-7)

In January 1994 the first audit of the Special Handling Units was carried out by the Corporate Review Sector of the CSC. The first objective of the audit was to assess whether prisoners being transferred to the units met the definition of "dangerous inmates" as set out in the Commissioner's Directive. The audit team found "that the criteria was interpreted broadly in all five regions" and it was determined that "there are inmates transferred to both Special Handling Units for assessment and often admitted, who do not meet even the broad definition of dangerous inmates, as it is stated in policy." (Internal Audit Report, Special Handling Units No. 378-1-063, January 1994, Corporate Review Sector CSC at 9) This example was given by the audit team:

  • An inmate who assaulted another inmate at the Atlantic Institution and was transferred to the Quebec SHU, despite the fact that it was felt he could be controlled within the region. It was decided to transfer him to the SHU to send a message to the other inmates. (at 10, emphasis added)

The second area examined by the audit was the adequacy of the reception and assessment process. According to CD 551, an assessment and program committee was to be established in each unit whose role was to co-ordinate the assessment of newly admitted prisoners, oversee their treatment plans and recommend approval of the assessment to the National Review Committee. Under the Commissioner's Directive the assessment process is required to be completed within 90 days of a prisoner's transfer to the units. Both in Prince Albert and Quebec the audit found that 20% of the assessments were not completed within this time frame. The Commissioner's Directive also requires that the National Review Committee review the overall assessment within one month of its completion to determine if the prisoner should be admitted to the SHU. The audit found that in 42% of the cases reviewed in the Prince Albert SHU, the National Review Committee had not rendered a decision within this prescribed time; indeed in a number of cases prisoners who had been admitted around June 1993, and who had gone through the assessment process at the time of the audit, were not going to be reviewed by the National Review Committee until December, with the result that they would spend almost six months from the date of their admission before a decision was rendered.

One of the focal points of the audit was the adequacy of the programming in the Special Handling Units. As the audit report observed, "if inmates are transferred into the Correctional Service's high security category institutions because they need specialised behaviour changes, they must be assured adequate programming to assist them to make the necessary modifications in their behaviour. Only in this way should they be assured that they can obtain a reduction in their security again as quickly as possible." (p.19) Given that intensive programming was what was supposed to differentiate Special Handling Units from long-term segregation in 1977, and was reaffirmed in 1990 as a key element in the "new" policy, the 1994 audit's assessment of the CSC's progress was distressing.

Some of the needed programming is available in the SHU in the Prairies, however, the audit team found that there were programs noted as objectives on the inmates' correctional plans that were not available in the unit. Also, there were delays in delivering programs that had been included in inmates' correctional plans. These delays are due to the programs not being available, and one reason for this dilemma is a problem obtaining and keeping instructors. This is especially true for the Cognitive Skills course. Although the course was not available, it was noted as a stated objective on several correctional plans in the files. According to management, the staff in that unit are encouraged to develop correctional plans that include programs that the inmates need, rather than programs available in the institution . . .

Except for the school, the Special Handling Unit in Quebec has a distinct lack of personal development programs, as required by policy. Efforts have been made to put programs in place, however, the unit only commenced the Anger Management course on November 26, 1993, with plans to commence other programs such as dealing with substance abuse and Cognitive Skills programs, after the results of the Anger Management program has been assessed. Staff in the unit in Quebec also indicated that there were difficulties with the availability of instructors and available space for program delivery. (at 21)

The "distinct lack of personal development programs" at the Quebec SHU had a direct impact on the criteria used in determining recommendations for release from the unit. The official the CSC policy as set out in the Commissioner's Directive is that a prisoner's progress at the SHU is based on participation in recommended programming and success in addressing identified needs. However, in the absence of such programming, the reality in the Quebec SHU, as documented by the audit, was that "success for inmates incarcerated in the Special Handling Unit in Quebec is determined by their overall behaviour, rather than their participation in programs . . . The lack of basic programs in the Quebec facility to effect the necessary behavioural problems, especially regarding inmates' criminogenic factors, is in opposition to the stated policy for the Special Handling Units" (at 22). By contrast, in the Prince Albert SHU the recommendations for transfer were largely based upon prisoners' participation in programs identified in their correctional plans. However, the audit team noted that in Prince Albert, there were delays in recommendations for transfers to lower security for inmates who have not taken particular programs, even though those programs were not available in the institution.

Months after completion of the 1994 Audit, there was a remarkable development. A proposal was placed before EXCOM that the Prince Albert SHU unit be closed, that the facility be utilized for 160 maximum security prisoners, double bunked, and that prisoners confined in the Prince Albert SHU be transferred to the Quebec unit. The rationale for this proposal was that unprecedented growth in the prisoner population in the Prairie region had exceeded all projections and had given rise to a need for additional prison capacity. The proposal suggested that a single SHU unit could sufficiently deal with the number of prisoners who required this level of control, given that both the 1993-94 annual report and the audit had indicated that there were a significant number of cases being transferred to the units who did not meet the criteria of dangerous prisoners (in particular 48% of prisoners who were sent to the Quebec SHU for conspiracy or attempted escape). Furthermore, it was pointed out that "some SHU beds are presently being used to some extent to house segregation and psychiatric cases which RPCs cannot or do not want to handle . . . indications are that this type of inmate may constitute as much as 10% of the current SHU population." Even with this potential for reducing the number of unnecessary admissions to the SHUs, the proposal pointed out that to accommodate the anticipated combined number of prisoners from the Prince Albert and Quebec SHUs, some 30 segregation cells would have to be added to the Quebec Regional Reception Centre (which is adjacent to the SHU) and that prefabricated cells be considered for this purpose.

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