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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 He believed that the traditional way of looking at prison society as "them and us" was outdated.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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