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If the 1994-95 annual report demonstrated that the new organisational structure had not improved the CSC's capacity to either render timely decisions on SHU reviews or improve program delivery, the 1995-96 report was even more disturbing. Progress in timeliness was measured by the fact that the number of cases which were not reviewed within the required time frame of 120 days from the date of admission declined from 57% to only 41%! On the program front, the good news was that the Quebec SHU had significantly increased the number of sessions it offered for Anger Management and had added some programs in Substance Abuse and Emotions Management; the bad news was that in the Prince Albert SHU in the latter half of 1995 the prisoners, having been informed that the unit was going to be closed and they would be moved to Quebec, refused to participate in any more programs. As a result the programs had to be terminated at the halfway point.

In May of 1996, a second audit of the Special Handling Units was completed. Although some progress was noted since the 1994 audit, serious problems persisted with the units still not meeting the objectives articulated in the Commissioner's Directives. For example, as in 1994, the auditors questioned whether a number of prisoners who had been admitted to the SHU met the definition of a "dangerous inmate":

Two inmates were admitted to the units because of the sensationalism of their offences. These two inmates are seen as escape risks and would present a grave threat to the public if they escaped. There is no indication on file that they present a risk to other inmates or institutional staff.

One inmate is currently under assessment at the Quebec SHU for attempted escape from Kingston Penitentiary. No violence was involved in the escape attempt and the inmate turned himself into staff soon after he was noticed missing. (Report on the Audit of Special Handling Units, Accountability and Performance Measurement, May, 1996, p. 6)

With respect to compliance with the requirement in the Commissioner's Directive that the assessment process be completed within 90 days, the audit found that of the 21 files reviewed, only 7 had been completed within that time frame, which resulted in the review by the National Review Committee of these cases also exceeding the 120 day window. With specific reference to the requirement in the Commissioner's Directive that a correctional plan be completed within the 90 day assessment period, the audit found that 33% of the sample reviewed had not been completed within that time; in the Quebec Unit the percentage was 40%. The audit, while observing on the one hand that the range of programs offered in the SHUs had improved since the 1994 audit, confirmed that there were serious problems in the implementation of appropriate programs to address the needs of those prisoners in the SHUs. These difficulties were attributed to a number of factors: a boycott of programs by some prisoners, initially in Quebec and later in Prince Albert; the difficulty in finding enough compatible prisoners to meet the minimum required number of participants for a given program; the restrictions on the physical facilities suitable for programs since the SHUs "were not designed with the intent of providing programming" (p. 2); and the lack of programs specifically erected to the criminogenic factors of the current population. The 1996 audit further highlighted the difficulties that could be expected due to the anticipated closure of the Prince Albert SHU.

In addition to a need for increased program space, there are other factors that will need to be considered with a respect to programming when the two SHU populations are merged, particularly:

* a higher proportion of English speaking offenders;
* a greater mix of incompatibilities within the population;
* a higher proportion of Native offenders; and
* a higher number of offenders with mental health needs. (p. 21)

The Correctional Investigator's office has, since the establishment of the Special Handling Units in 1977, maintained both a scepticism as to the necessity for these units and a continuing criticism of the failure of the units to live up to their policy objectives. George Poirier, the Director of Investigations for the Office, has been primarily responsible for maintaining a watching brief on the operations of the units. Following receipt of the report of the 1996 audit and the 1995-6 annual report, he expressed this opinion on the reality of change:

The most striking aspect of the May, 1996 audit and the SHU annual report is the ineffectiveness of the programs offered to the inmates housed in the SHU's . . . The annual report confirms that because of the mix of populations combined with problems of incompatibles that the delivery of programs is difficult if not impossible within the units . . . The SHU's remain nothing more than segregation units.

The audit reports that the programs offered at the SHU's do not necessarily meet the identified needs of the inmates. For instance, there are a number of individuals housed in these units that have serious mental health problems and they have no treatment available within these units. The same can be said for at least six individuals identified as sex offenders. In addition, there are no programs designed specifically for SHU offenders, the programs offered are the same as those offered in other CSC facilities. Add to this the lack of employment and we can almost conclude that for most offenders, twenty one hours of cell time is the major rehabilitative program offered at these units.

Both the Annual Report and the Audit raised the question of the closing of the prairie SHU and the transfer of offenders to the Quebec units. The CSC must look at this situation realistically. The Quebec SHU cannot deliver programs now because of its mix of populations and its physical limitations. Add thirty or more offenders, primarily English speaking and who do not want to be there in the first place and I do not see a short term improvement to the situation. All this and then add the question, do they have staff that can adequately provide services, never mind programs in the English language?

I maintain that in spite of annual SHU reports and audits, that until such time as the National Review Committee gives direction to these units, respects time frames, reviews admission criteria and seriously reviews alternatives to initial SHU placement, that these units, or the soon to be unique unit, remains nothing more than disguised segregation units that lack meaningful programming and employment opportunities. (Memorandum from George Poirier)

The 1996-7 Annual Report on the Special Handling Unit, prepared in May 1997, a year after completion of the April '96 audit, reported that on the issue of timeliness of reviews by the National Review Committee, that for 1996-7, almost a quarter (23%) of the cases were still not reviewed within the 120 day period. The report took some comfort in the fact that this represented a decrease of 18% in the rate of non-compliance compared to the year before (41%) although quite properly making the further observation that the objective, indeed the requirement, in the Commissioner's Directive was one hundred percent compliance (p 11).

On the basis of the official paper trail alone, and despite the bland and bureaucratic language of the annual reports and audit, the condemnation of the Correctional Investigator's Office that the new Special Handling Units, operating under the new improved 1990 policy, "are nothing more than disguised segregation units that lack meaningful programming and employment opportunities" is fully justified.

Although the CSC's paper trial is indictment enough of the SHUs continuing failure, year after year, to both measure up to their official purpose and to operate in full compliance with the law, they provide no picture, indeed not even a small glimpse, into what life within the units is all about. Symbolically, the absence from the official paper trial of any sense that the containment provided by the units is that of real people, actually captures the basis for prisoners' condemnation of the units, flowing from the way in which they deaden the concepts of human dignity and respect for individuality.

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