location: publications / books / Justice Behind the Walls / Sector 6 / The Grievance System -- Through the Eyes of a Prison Ombudsman

The Grievance System -- Through the Eyes of a Prison Ombudsman

In Sector 1, I traced the legal and administrative provisions establishing the Office of the Correctional Investigator (CI) and the inmate grievance process. Since 1973, the CI has produced an annual report which is filed with the Solicitor General. The dominant theme of these reports has been the CSC's lack of responsiveness, both internally and externally, to the CI's recommendations. Inger Hansen (now Judge Hansen) served as Canada's first Correctional Investigator, from 1973 to 1976. She was succeeded by Ron Stewart, who has held the position ever since. In his first report, Mr. Stewart addressed this lack of responsiveness:

There is an overwhelming tendency within the Service to "cover" for one another, a practice which makes the job of the Correctional Investigator more difficult than it should be. There is less difficulty when a recommendation is applied to the grassroots level; the response received from the institutions is usually fairly good. A problem occurs when an ombudsman is not successful at this level and must move up the administrative ladder.

The director [warden] and other supervisory levels are often caught in the trap of having to back staff to retain support. This attitude is detectable even in Ottawa. There is no doubt that in any organization it is desirable for supervisors to support employees, but not when it perpetrates mismanagement and poor administration. This office dealt with cases where even the most simple recommendations met opposition. It often appeared that administrators were reluctant to make a change because it was a change. I am under no illusion that a recommendation by this office is the ultimate answer but I am troubled when a recommendation is rejected because clearly either my letter was not read or not understood. Frequently, the replies bear no relationship to the problems described in my letters. ( Annual Report of the Correctional Investigator, 1977-78 [Ottawa: Information Canada, 1978] at 3)

The first annual report of the CI, in 1973-74, had contained extensive discussion of the conditions in segregation and recommended a special study on its use. A decade later, the 1984-85 report focussed on double-bunking.

One of the most serious problems that we have encountered is that of double-bunking and especially in segregated cells where in some cases inmates are confined for more than 23 hours a day. Life in a segregation or dissociation cell is hell at the best of times; however, we are aware that in some institutions because of staff shortages they are unable to provide such basics as daily showers and the minimum one hour exercise per day for inmates in these special cells. The problem is of course compounded when these cells hardly big enough for one man are double-bunked.

I recommended:

(a) that the Correctional Service of Canada review its present segregation/dissociation operations to ensure that they are in compliance with the requirements enunciated in the Commissioner's Directives;

(b) that the Correctional Service of Canada cease immediately the practice of double-bunking in segregation and dissociation areas.

After a lengthy delay of almost three months we received from the Inspector General comments of the Deputy Commissioner Offender Programs but there was no mention of the review we had recommended. Instead we were advised that the last six months had been spent drafting explicit policies and guidelines regarding administrative segregation which included minimum standards for showering, exercise, visits, etc. As well, to ensure compliance, [that] a "Manager, Administrative Segregation" had been appointed at the National Headquarters and that a Regional Co-ordinator had been appointed in each Region to assist in the implementation of the new policies and procedures. Also, that workshops had been held to familiarize staff and that future monitoring would address the type of problem outlined in the recommendation.

As for the second part of the recommendation, it was agreed that double-bunking in dissociation was undesirable, that the issue was to be presented to the Dissociation Policy Board for consideration and that we would be advised of the status of part (b) by October 31, 1984 . . .

[In March 1985] I was advised that the Senior Management Committee had approved in principle my recommendation but that it would probably take a long time to resolve. Would I consider the matter complete? However after reading a copy of the Senior Management Committee minutes which indicated that double-bunking was not about to cease I certainly was not about to consider the matter closed.

It is interesting to note that according to the Correctional Service of Canada statistics there were 124 inmates double-bunked in segregation when the recommendation was made in June, 1984. As of January 30, 1985 that number had increased to 198.

It still remains my position that it is inhumane to lock two people up in one cell twenty-three hours a day, especially when you have cells in the general population which are not double-bunked and so I re-submitted the matter, this time to the Commissioner of Corrections.

Unfortunately, the recommendation has not been implemented because of the acute shortage of cells in most institutions. ( Annual Report of the Correctional Investigator, 1984-85 [Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada, 1985] at 19-20, emphasis added)

A careful reading of the passage I have italicized is instructive. The reform offered to the Correctional Investigator in 1984 to address systemic problems in administrative segregation was the appointment of regional and national co-ordinators and staff training workshops. Fast-forwarding a dozen years, we find that the Commissioner of Corrections, faced with his own Task Force's report documenting continuing systemic problems in segregation, rejects the recommendation for an experiment in independent adjudication in favour of the appointment of regional co-ordinators of segregation and more staff training workshops.

Page 1 of 3