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Assessing Assessment at the SHU

On September 5, 1994, Gary Weaver was transferred from Kent to the Special Handling Unit at Ste.Anne-des-Plaines, Quebec. Since the introduction of new "Mission-driven" policy directives in 1990, the first three months after admission to the SHU are designated an "assessment period". The Directive in force at the time of Gary Weaver's transfer required that "Each inmate transferred to a Special Handling Unit shall undergo a comprehensive assessment to determine an appropriate intervention strategy and the required level of control." Based on this assessment a detailed correctional treatment plan was to be developed to address the prisoner's violent behaviour, and other criminogenic factors. Both the assessment and the treatment plan were to be completed within the initial three months period. Within one month of the assessment's completion the SHU National Review Committee was required to review the recommended treatment plan to determine if the prisoner should remain in the SHU or be transferred to another institution. ( C.D. 551 , October 29, 1993. The latest version of the C.D dealing with the SHU, CD 708 dated 2007-9-18 extends the assessment period to four months).

By the time Gary Weaver was transferred to the SHU in September 1994, he had already spent six and a half months in segregation at Kent. Once transferred, he was placed on the assessment range, which also operated as a twenty-three-hour lock-up. His comprehensive assessment and correctional treatment plan were not completed within the three months specified by the Commissioner's Directive. On January 19, 1995, a progress summary and a correctional plan were produced; they concluded that it was not necessary for Mr. Weaver be detained in the SHU and recommended his return to Kent. In a decision dated February 27, 1995, the National Review Committee approved that recommendation and "strongly encouraged [him] to participate in institutional programming to address criminogenic needs." On March 8, 1995, Gary Weaver was returned to Kent. He had spent his entire six months away on twenty-three-hour lock-up, bringing the total duration of his segregation at Kent and the SHU to almost thirteen months. After his return to Kent, Gary Weaver showed me a letter he had written to his case management officer in the SHU after receiving her progress summary. It read in part:

In approximately 138 days I had been interviewed for "assessment evaluation purposes" for less than eight full hours. Add 138 hours for one hour a day fresh air and you can conclude that out of 3,312 hours, I spent 3,166 hours in my cell during the assessment evaluation period all by myself, and doing what, being assessed??? I certainly don't think so, and I can't imagine anyone else thinking so either. I never once refused an interview and you can see in my files that I asked to see you a lot more than you asked to see me. The same thing goes for the psychologist. I saw the psychologist for about 20 minutes shortly after my arrival here in the first week of September, 1994. Even with having sent two or three requests in writing or verbally through you asking when I could see her for the assessment evaluation and psychological testing, I never saw her again until the second week of January 1995. For those four months of no psychological interviews was I being psychologically assessed? (Letter from Gary Weaver, February 20, 1995)

Although Gary Weaver's letter focussed on the inadequacy of the SHU assessment process, it also outlined his reaction to his treatment in the SHU:

You have made comments based on visual observations of me here, for example, the day you watched the guards escort me over to the interview area, you commented about my face being in an awful knot as though it was really unusual. I want to explain something to you. For the way I've been treated for more than twelve months it wouldn't be very realistic for you or anyone to expect me to come out of my cage whistling zippity-do-da . . . especially when I'm about to be handcuffed before I am escorted by three guards as if I am a rabid animal. Nor do I think for one second that any of this is necessary or fair. Why am I handcuffed everywhere I go? Why are all of my interviews conducted behind shatter-proof glass as though I have some kind of disease? (Gary Weaver letter)

In an interview with me in April 1995, Gary described a dramatic escalation in the level of violence at the SHU since he had been there in 1992. He described stabbings in the exercise yard and the showers, even though both areas were supposedly under surveillance; one incident even took place during a lock-down.

Super maximum security during lock-down and a guy almost got killed. That was on my buddy's birthday. I was sitting there, it's Sunday, ice cream day. That's psychological damage to me. I've got to listen to his blood-chilling screams and shots going off. (Weaver interview, April 25, 1995)

Serious threats had been made against his own life, and once again he found himself having to prepare to meet violence with violence.

You've got to think murder because there's no way out in a place like that. Every time you get your meal you've got to wonder if somebody's in the shower waiting to stab you. (Interview with Gary Weaver, Kent Institution, April 25, 1995)

Gary told me that in addition to the stabbings, some compression bombs made with pop cans had exploded in the unit. And it was not only the level of violence among prisoners that undermined the ideal of the SHU to help prisoners become "pro-social." Gary described an incident in which he and other prisoners were moved from the assessment unit to segregation to enable some renovations to be made after bullets were discovered behind a toilet bowl:

This PC [Protective Custody] was in the hole. He was there the last time I was in the Quebec SHU. This man's gone. He comes out and throws shit at people through the bars. I mean, he breaks everything he gets his hands on, he screams almost twenty-four hours a day. The guards go down and fire-hose him and gas him and kick his face off on a very steady basis, and as much as I don't like PCs, what the fuck are they doing? That's a human being in that cell. (April 25, 1995)

The distance between what actually faced him and what should have been happening to Gary Weaver during his assessment phase at the SHU could not have been greater. Gary Weaver had been sent to the Quebec SHU to undergo a comprehensive assessment and to develop a correctional treatment plan to assist him "to modify his behaviour . . . and become pro-social" (C.D. 551, October 29, 1993, para. 5). What he encountered instead was the most violent, anti-social environment in the entire prison system, where the principal lessons to be learned were how to survive a raised blade or an exploding pop can. The Quebec SHU had not only become a more dangerous place than it had been in 1992, but in that time it had also become physically more confining.

They used to have real nice cells where the windows went from the floor to the ceiling and you could stick your arm out. Cats could come in and so it was pretty cool. Everyone buys special food for the cats. Then they found some bars cut and knives in the windows so they changed the windows. You can still crank the window open but now you've got three or four layers of wire screens that have little tiny holes. Not only can't the cats come in, but you can't even get air in there, and what you see out of the window is just so distorted it's not worth the look. (Weaver interview, April 25, 1995)

Even the one positive thing Gary Weaver had learned in the Quebec SHU in 1992 was now denied him. Because some prisoners had used paints to cover up the windows in their cell, all painting material was removed. Denied an opportunity to create a natural world inhabited by wolves and eagles, Gary Weaver was left to cope with an unnatural world from which even the cats of Ste. Anne-des-Plaines were excluded. His experiences in the "Mission-driven" Special Handling Unit, and the experiences of many other prisoners, justify the judgement of the Correctional Investigator that the SHU remains little more than disguised segregation, whose real purpose is to intensify the pains of imprisonment.

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