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The Smith Case

The last case of the May 11, 1994 Board involved a remarkable discussion of private family visiting policy centering on the application of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Mr. and Mrs. Smith had had a number of private family visits when an issue arose as a result of some arguments between them. The Visits Review Board determined that the P.F.V.'s should be suspended and they should have a three month period of open visits that would be monitored, at the end of which time a decision would be made as to whether they should have their private family visits restored. Zender Katz, the institutional psychologist, was provided with a tape of one of their open visits, which he was told was fairly representative of the couple's interaction in the visiting area, and was asked his opinion on whether they should have their private family visits returned. Mr. Katz was at the meeting and began by saying that in his opinion that was the wrong question to ask; the right question was whether there were any grounds to deny them private family visits. Mr. Katz said that he had carefully reviewed the tape and that what it showed was that the Smiths were embroiled in an emotionally abusive relationship, but one which was characterized by much empathy on both sides. By this he meant that Mr. Smith would verbally criticize his wife until she was reduced to tears but would then demonstrate an empathic understanding of her situation which would allow communication to continue; Mrs. Smith for her part did much the same thing. Mr. Katz reported that there was nothing in the tapes that indicated that Mr. Smith threatened violence or had used violence against his wife. On the basis of the tapes he could not conclude that Mr. Smith was likely in the future, in the context of private family visits, to physically assault his wife. However, Mr. Katz went on to say that the other material he had reviewed was Mr. Smith's file; This showed that he had physically assaulted his first and had murdered his second wife, although he had appealed the murder conviction. Mr. Katz concluded that having reviewed this history together with the tapes, he was still not able to say that there was anything raised in the interaction between Mr. and Mrs. Smith, as revealed in the tapes, that could justify denying them their private family visits.

V&C Officer Galloway, who had observed the couple during the three months of their open visits, reported that on almost every occasion, at some point during the visit, Mrs. Smith was in tears and Mr. Smith would be glowering at her, but by the end of the visit they were friends again. Mr. Katz said that part of the problem in this case was that the couple were under intense scrutiny and he was of the view that if every prisoner and his wife were subject to the same scrutiny as the Smiths you would probably find as much to be concerned about as in their case. Unit Manager Shadbolt, who chaired the review, asked whether Mr. Smith might feel it necessary to punish his wife for the loss of the private family visits over the last three months, because he would see it as caused by her behaviour. Mr. Katz said that he felt that it was more likely that he would give her the credit for their return. However, he did think that steps should be taken to ensure that Mrs. Smith, if she was in fear, had a safe avenue of escape. This could be done through telephone calls to her in which she was asked the question, "are you safe", to which she could give a "yes" or "no" answer. Mr. Dick questioned if it was felt necessary to give her this avenue of escape, how could Mr. Katz say that he did not feel that she was at risk. Mr. Katz's response was that he was not saying that she was not at risk, any more than he could say that any woman who is involved with a husband who had a previous history of physical abuse was not at risk, but in that situation the appropriate thing to do was to provide an avenue of escape. Even though Mr. Smith had a history of physical violence against his previous wives, he had not assaulted his present wife. Mr. Dick said that there had been one previous incident of assault during a private family visit. Further discussion revealed that this was not based upon anything which Mrs. Smith had said to the institution, but rather something she had said to someone else which was conveyed to the institution. Mr. Katz said this was hearsay and there was nothing in the conversations he heard on the tapes that suggested expressions of violence.

Ms. Shadbolt reminded board members that the institution had to make sure that they had taken all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of the visitor. Mr. Katz suggested that in the community in a situation like this, where a woman, even though she was aware of the violent history of her husband, decided that she wanted to live with him, all that could be done was to ensure that she was fully aware of the situation and that she did have an avenue of escape if something did happen to her or she felt threatened. This was what he was suggesting should apply in this case. Mr. Katz acknowledged that Mr. Smith had been an assaultive husband in the past and people did not change that quickly. Ms. Shadbolt immediately responded, "having said that, how can we then allow him to visit her in the private family visit?" Mr. Katz's reply was, "The question is whether we have sufficient evidence to deny him on the basis that he will assault her in a private family visit situation." His previous history indicated that his violence took place after he had drunk a considerable amount of alcohol over a period of time. How likely was that to be the situation in a private family visit?

Mr. Dick then read out that part of Commissioner's Directive 770 which deals with private family visits.

23. Inmates are eligible for private family visiting except those who:

(a) are at risk of becoming involved in family violence

He then continued, "the question is can we recommend to warden that Smith should get his PFVs back subject to mechanisms to control the risk to the visitor. I do not think I could make that recommendation." Mr. Katz responded: "I didn't think I could recommend denial based upon the evidence I have heard and seen." As for mechanisms to control risk, he suggested putting panic alarms into the rooms of the private family visit trailers that would provide another avenue of escape. Ms.Galloway said that this was probably a good idea, not just for the Smiths, but generally in other cases where the staff had some concerns.

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Open Visiting Area, Kent Institution