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I selected Kent as the second site for Justice behind the Walls because of its role as the Pacific Region’s only maximum security institution. Located at the eastern end of the Fraser Valley, just a few miles from the resort town of Harrison Hot Springs, Kent looks out to a panorama of forested mountain slopes. However, prison vistas are deceiving; they look very different when viewed from inside a cell.

A tarmac
A fence
Some glass
Another double fence
The trees
The side
Of a mountain

Some dusty shelf
In a forgotten corner
Of a vast
Inside their memory

("Lost Ones," one a series of poems that originated as a Creative Writing exercise in the University Education Program at Kent Institution, reproduced in 1992 [1992] 9/10 Prison Journal at 157)

Opened in 1979, Kent had a troubled first few years involving a series of violent incidents, including a riot and hostage-takings. The intensely hostile relationship between prisoners and staff lightened somewhat as the 1980s turned into the 1990s, although an undercurrent of violence continues to erupt periodically. One of the principal changes at Kent between the time of its opening and its twentieth anniversary in 1999 is the physical division of the institution into two populations, "General Population" (GP) and "Protective Custody" (PC). Initially, the number of prisoners officially designated as PC was quite small. They were largely men who had committed sex offences against children and brutal assaults on women, given evidence for the Crown against fellow prisoners or had been the victims of sexual predation within the prison. PC prisoners typically were segregated from the general population. In the 1980s the number of prisoners claiming protective custody rose dramatically for a variety of reasons, including the greater number of sex offenders being prosecuted and convicted and the institutional drug trade’s distinctive form of debt enforcement. This led the CSC to designate certain penitentiaries as PC institutions. Mountain Institution, situated on the penitentiary reserve adjacent to Kent, was one such medium security prison. At Kent, efforts to provide greater freedom and access to programs for PC prisoners led to the designation of several of the eight living units for their use. In 1987, a decision was made to split the institution literally down the middle, with four units on one side of the central courtyard being designated GP, and the four on the other side PC, coupled with the operational imperative that "never the ‘twain shall meet." Kent has henceforth been run virtually as two institutions, with different times of access to the common dining room, recreation yards and gymnasium, as well as two separate program regimes. When PC prisoners have access during lunch hour to the common interior courtyard, GP prisoners can observe but not touch their despised fellow prisoners through the windows of their units. The move between general population and protective custody is irreversibly one-way. A prisoner in GP can "check-in" -- become a PC prisoner and move to the other side of "the House" -- but there is no going back. However, prisoners who can only glare from opposite sides of the courtyard at Kent sometimes find themselves side by side down the road, in one of a number of medium security institutions that practise "integration" of populations. In these prisons, GP and PC prisoners are expected to live together, if not in friendship, then at least without overt hostility. Mission and William Head are two such integrated mediums in the Pacific Region. Matsqui is too hardcore to accept integration, and thus only GP prisoners can move from Kent to Matsqui.

The split population at Kent had direct implications for the issues under inquiry in Justice behind the Walls. During the period of my research, half of the segregation unit at Kent held PC prisoners who sought refuge there after burning their bridges in the PC population. Protecting the rights of such prisoners not to be subject to lengthy segregation is one of the most intractable problems facing the Correctional Service of Canada.

There is one other institution in the Pacific Region that, although not the site of my research activities, nevertheless features throughout the book. This institution, opened in 1974 as the Regional Psychiatric Centre, fulfills a number of functions within a maximum security perimeter. First, it is a psychiatric hospital to which prisoners who are mentally ill or otherwise disturbed can be sent. Some prisoners, for example those diagnosed as schizophrenics, spend their whole sentences in this institution. Others are sent there temporarily, for example after a suicide attempt or a psychotic breakdown, and kept until they are deemed sufficiently recovered to be returned to a regular prison. The institution is also the site of a number of intensive treatment programs for violent offenders and sex offenders. During its history the institution has been known as the Regional Psychiatric Centre (RPC), the Regional Medical Centre (RMC), and most recently the Regional Health Centre (RHC). Because of the different time frames of the events presented in Justice behind the Walls, the institution is referred to in the text by the name it had at the relevant time.

The Regional Psychiatric/Medical/Health Centre is not the only thing that has changed its name over the years of my research. Wardens became Directors and then reverted to wardens; Case Management Officers (CMOs) have become Institutional Parole Officers (IPOs). While I have endeavoured to give people their appropriate titles the change from CMO to IPO that officially took place in January 1998 has not yet permeated the everyday language of the penitentiary; hence, many staff and prisoners in their interviews with me continued to use the old titles.

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Entering Kent Institution