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

This proposal was accepted by EXCOM and in February 1995 the decision that the Prince Albert SHU would be closed was communicated to the staff at Prince Albert. That announcement coincided with a three day visit I made to the unit. Just prior to my visit, I had reviewed the annual reports from 1991 to 1994, as well as the 1994 audit. The consistent theme of all these reports had been that the policy objectives re-articulated in 1990 -- that the SHUs should become more program intensive and that the concentration on static security be reduced in favour of more prisoner/staff interaction -- had been better fulfilled in the Prince Albert SHU than in the Quebec unit. If, then, a decision was to be made that the units be consolidated into one, the expectation from a policy and performance perspective would point to the closing of the Quebec unit which had, and was still, experiencing great difficulties in providing programs. Indeed, when I spoke with the staff in Prince Albert, they all questioned why was it that their unit was being closed since they had done more to bring themselves in line with the SHU policy. Their questioning was well justified since the closing of the Prince Albert unit had nothing to do with fulfilling SHU policy objectives and had everything to do with providing more cell space for the Prairie region. This was, in one way, a repeat of history. In 1977 the SHUs had been brought into existence even though the policy objectives articulated in the Vantour-McReynolds report for specially designed units and specially designed programs were not at hand; almost 20 years later the two new units were consolidated in favour of the one which was the farthest away from implementing the 1990 policy requirements.

When the decision was originally communicated to the staff at Prince Albert they were told that the closure would take effect later in 1995. In fact, that date was pushed back several times and it was not until the late summer of 1997 that the last SHU prisoner was transferred from Prince Albert to Ste.-Anne-des-Plaines. In the meantime, there was another change in CSC organisational policy which had an impact on the SHUs. This development was described in the dense language of strategic planning in the 1994-95 report on the Special Handling Units.

In the past, while the SHUs were located in the Quebec and Prairie regions, the flow of inmates to and from these facilities was very much an NHQ matter, over which tight functional corporate control was exercised. The advent of the Long Term Operational Plan (LTOP) provided the Service with a means to revisit a number of assumptions in respect of the SHUs. LTOP called for greater corporate participation on the part of the operational unit heads, and reduced NHQ involvement in operational matters.

To better accomplish the corporate priority of reduced institutional violence while increasing field corporate participation, the Commissioner delegated his corporate responsibility for SHU placement and release to the Assistant Deputy Commissioner-Atlantic as Chairperson, National Review Committee (SHU). The pending reduction to one SHU facility will simplify the delegation of the Commissioner's authority and facilitate the corporate participation of the primary stakeholders, the maximum security wardens, in the process. At the same time, the new structure of the national review minimises the involvement of NHQ in the operation of the review process. In this sense, while the reduction of inmate violence is clearly a corporate priority, the means for achievement are generally local in nature and require full operational participation. (Special Handling Units: Annual Report 1994-95 at 1)

Roughly translated, this meant that National Headquarters would play less role in the review process and that the wardens of maximum security institutions would play a greater role in determining admissions to and release from the SHU. What was the actual impact of this corporate reorganisation on the other "primary stakeholders" in the process -- the prisoners? Both the audit and the 1993-94 annual report had described the delays in holding the National Committee's review of cases within 30 days of the completion of the assessment. The 1994-95 report described how reorganisation affected this significant problem.

During the reorganisation that took place in the CSC in 1994-95, some changes were made to the membership of the National Review Committee. The uncertainty of the membership in the National Review Committee during this period caused some delays in the meetings held at the Prairies SHU. For example, no review took place in the Prairies SHU between October 12, 1994, and February 1, 1995, which was the first meeting of the newly constituted National Review Committee . . . These delays in meetings of the National Review Committee therefore account for the large number of cases which were not reviewed within the required 120 days (90 days for assessment and 30 days for review by the NRC). (at 17)

In fact, 31 of the 54 cases (57%) took longer than the 120 days and 10 of these (18%) took longer than 150 days. (at 18)

In light of the decision to maintain only the one SHU in Quebec, it would have been reasonable to assume that a major effort would have been made to significantly improve the Quebec SHU's performance in the delivery of programs. The 1994-95 report, while observing that the Prince Albert SHU had made major progress in the last few years in this area, laments that "the same situation is not occurring in the Quebec region." The reasons given are "difficulties to form groups of three to five compatible inmates at the level of language and status (regular or protective population); lack of interest by the population and current lack of space to deliver these programs" (at 20). The result of these difficulties in 1994-95 was that the only programming that went on in the Quebec SHU was the school which had a capacity of 24 prisoners, four sessions of Anger Management involving four inmates in each session, and psychological counselling which involved 20 prisoners.

Page 3 of 4