1:30 p.m. - The Tracking Meeting
In the afternoon I met with Warden Brock to confirm that it would be
appropriate for me to come to the tracking meeting. He said he had no
difficulty with this, as he recognized that the more I knew about institutional
life, the more informed my assessment of the overall situation would be.
Some lawyers he had dealt with heard only the prisoner's side of the story,
he said, and so they never had anything to balance it against. He believed
that the traditional way of looking at prison society as "them and us"
was outdated. Within the prison community there were diverse interests
both among prisoners and among staff; as warden, he saw himself in the
role of a mayor, making political decisions in the context of competing
choices, although he acknowledged that the warden of a federal penitentiary
had an enormous amount of power, probably more than most mayors. His objective
this particular week was to change the culture of Matsqui, particularly
the lack of respect being shown staff and the high levels of drug and
alcohol use. His strategy was to identify and remove from the general
population the 5 to 10 per cent of prisoners who caused most of the problems;
this strategy had been successful at Mission, when he was warden there,
in changing the climate of the prison. After removing the troublemakers,
there had been a noticeable reduction of tension, he said; people smiled
more and there was a general easing of relationships.
The outstanding questions for me were whether this strategy would be
carried out in a way consistent with the law and the duty to act fairly,
and whether it would properly balance the institutional interest in maintaining
a peaceful institution with the rights of prisoners. The meeting that
afternoon would provide the answers.
The tracking meeting convened at 1:30 p.m. in the Officers' Trailer.
There were about forty staff members, with a very heavy concentration
of correctional supervisors, CO-II's and CO-I's. Only three of nine case
management officers attended -- one from each unit -- together with the
co-ordinator of case management. Also attending were a number of senior
administrators, including the warden, the assistant deputy warden, and
some heads of divisions.
Warden Brock started the meeting by explaining the purpose of the afternoon's
session. He talked about the "biorhythm" of an institution, its ups and
downs, and said that he wanted to "take the head off" an arrhythmic cycle
to reduce tension. There had been lately at Matsqui an increase in assaults
on staff and on prisoners. The level of mouthing off by prisoners to staff
had increased, and he wanted to cut this off before it reached a crescendo.
Every six to nine months the anti-social part of the prison population
established a highly negative influence on the culture of the institution,
he said. He was not interested in hard evidentiary proof of anything;
he was more interested in the gut reactions and instincts of the participants
as experienced officers who dealt directly with prisoners and were aware
of their associations. Their collective task was to see what they could
put together on the people who were identified as troublemakers.
The IPSOs had taped to the walls some large pieces of paper bearing
prisoners' names. These were the prisoners the IPSOs had identified from
their files as the "wheels" -- those who had the most influence and caused
the most problems at Matsqui. The purpose of the exercise, as described
by the warden, was to get everyone's input into whether these were indeed
the problem prisoners, to list their associates, and to identify other
troublemakers. This would create a large list of names that later could
be whittled down to the maybe twenty prisoners about which there was agreement.
A staff member asked whether the purpose of the exercise was to identify
the twenty most influential or most disruptive prisoners. Although Warden
Brock did not give a clear answer, he did talk about the need to identify
those prisoners who raised the tension level in the institution. As he
put it, "Who are those people who, when they walk down the range, there
is a chill?"
The warden, in elaborating on his strategy, said that individual plans
would be developed in relation to these twenty or so prisoners. In some
cases, the best way to respond would be to remove the leader of a group
by a transfer. In other cases it might be better to go to the second or
third man in the group because, if the leader was removed, the person
or persons who replaced him might be even worse. Another factor to be
considered was getting "the best bang for your buck." As he put it, "We
will have to spend a lot of resources in order to transfer someone to
higher security, particularly in terms of the case management staff who
would have to prepare the packages." However, transfer was not the only
option. Some people might be "boxed" in segregation. Once there, they
could be told that the institution knew what they were up to, and that
might be enough to bring them around. In other cases, warning them could
be combined with a behavioural contract prior to their release to the
population. As to the segregation strategy, Warden Brock said, "Our people
upstairs [in the segregation unit] have obliged us by making thirteen
beds available, so that is not a problem." It became clear to me that
the decision of the Segregation Review Board earlier in the day to release
a number of prisoners from segregation had been made in order to create
room for the anticipated new arrivals.
For the next half hour or so staff members peppered the IPSOs with names
of the associates of the men identified on the walls. It was a free-wheeling
affair in which some prisoners were identified not by their name but by
the range they were on and what they looked like. In some cases, a prisoner
was identified by one staff member, and then information about him was
confirmed by other staff. In other cases, staff members disagreed among
themselves about the involvement of prisoners. This did not, however,
prevent those prisoners' names from being placed on the lists. One correctional
officer made the point that none of the prisoners identified initially
by the IPSOs were members of the "French Connection," and a separate list
was created for francophone prisoners. Another list was then put up for
white supremacists, and this list included a couple of Asian prisoners.
This raised a query from one staff member about how an Asian person could
be part of the white supremacist group. The answer given was that it was
"a business relationship." Another group identified was referred to as
the punks or "shitheads." I asked Mike Csoka, who was sitting next to
me, what the difference was; he said that shitheads did not take care
of their appearance or their cells. A number of inmates were quickly added
to this list.
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