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The Organization of Justice behind the Walls

Justice behind the Walls is divided into six parts, which I have called Sectors -- prison terminology for the different areas of an institution. Sector 1 begins with an overview of the social and historical scholarship that has invigorated the study of imprisonment. I then review the contours of organizational change in the Correctional Service of Canada over the past twenty years, a change spearheaded by an aspirational Mission Statement, a new model for institutional management and a research-based cognitive model for prison programs. I end Sector 1 by charting the principal developments in the interface between corrections, the courts and the Constitution of Canada. Since this book is intended to reach not only lawyers, judges, prisoners, correctional staff, law students and criminology students, but also concerned members of the public, I endeavour to equip readers with a working knowledge of the evolution of contemporary corrections law, including the key concepts in administrative law, such as the duty to act fairly, the impact of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the genesis of the 1992 Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

Sector 2 of the book moves to the reality of life inside Kent and Matsqui Institutions. The guiding voices here are not criminologists, the Commissioner of Corrections or the Supreme Court of Canada, but those of the correctional officers and prisoners whose lives intersect as the keeper and the kept. The warring elements of repression and rehabilitation are represented physically in the geographical proximity at Matsqui of the segregation unit and an Aboriginal sweatlodge. They are also expressed dynamically in two events that occurred during my first month of research at Matsqui, one culminating in a powwow, the other in "Operation Big Scoop," a crackdown involving the segregation of thirteen prisoners. By tracking the manoeuvres of Operation Big Scoop, I open the first window on the relationship between operational reality and the law. Sector 2 also opens a window into the world of maximum security. By chronicling a prison killing and the subsequent court proceedings, I expose the harsh lessons of survival in a maximum security institution, revealing how the same evidence that demonstrates justifiable self-defence in the eyes of the law, can, in the eyes of correctional authority, be considered a justification for harsher punishment.

In Sector 3 of the book I return to the questions that first took me to the gates of Matsqui Institution in 1972 to study the internal disciplinary system, a private criminal code to which only prisoners are subject. I trace a historical path from a time, not so long ago, when prisoners to be disciplined were marched into the warden’s office and required to stand on footprints painted on a concrete floor, to the contemporary disciplinary system, presided over by independent judges, in which the footprints of justice are etched in the due process of law. Based on my observations of over five hundred hearings I present samples from the weekly docket of disciplinary court and offer my assessment that although independent adjudication has resulted in greater fairness, faultlines remain. Because Justice behind the Walls seeks to provide more than just a history and ethnography of imprisonment, Sector 3 sets out what I see as the necessary legal and administrative reforms to the prison disciplinary process.

If the disciplinary process is the leading edge of prison justice, its hurting edge is what is euphemistically referred to as "administrative segregation," the subject of Sector 4. Under very broad discretionary powers given to wardens, a prisoner may be placed in administrative segregation, there to be confined in a cell indefinitely for twenty-three hours a day without the necessity for either a formal disciplinary charge or a conviction in disciplinary court. Because the time in administrative segregation can extend to months, even years, it represents the most powerful form of carceral authority; historically, it has also been the most abused. In Prisoners of Isolation, I revealed how the regime of solitary confinement, conceived by the founders of the penitentiary as a humane response to the abuse of power, had become by the twentieth century the very epitome of that abuse. In 1974 I helped a group of prisoners who had spent years in the "Penthouse," the solitary confinement unit atop the B.C. Penitentiary, challenge the conditions of their confinement as cruel and unusual punishment in the case of McCann v. The Queen. Yet, despite the apparent victory of a declaration by the Federal Court of Canada, the CSC’s mean-spirited interpretation of the court's judgment resulted in only minimal change.

In the face of the CSC's abvious inability to reform itself, Prisoners of Isolation set out a reform agenda in the shape of a Model Segregation Code, the centrepiece of which was independent adjudication. Sector 4 of Justice behind the Walls travels further along this path, tracking legal developments in the segregation regime that culminated in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Based on my observations of the segregation review process at both Matsqui and Kent, my judgement on how far the CSC has come in curbing the abuses of segregation is not favourable. Neither was that of Madam Justice Louise Arbour, whose inquiry into events at the Prison for Women in 1994 concluded that the CSC had developed a culture with little respect for the Rule of Law and the rights of prisoners. That report also recommended that a system of independent adjudication be introduced to establish a fair and just segregation process.

The CSC’s response to the Arbour Report included establishing a national Task Force on Administrative Segregation. In Sector 4, I chronicle the work of this Task Force and its principle recommendations: first that the Correctional Service of Canada enhance its internal capacity to ensure full compliance with the law, and second, that the Service conduct an experiment in the use of independent adjudicators. The Commissioner moved on the first recommendation, but rejected the second. To test the Commissioner's confidence in the CSC's capacity for internal reform, Sector 4 concludes with a review of events at Kent in the two years following the Report of the Task Force on Administrative Segregation, including the "Deadly July" of 1997 during which one prisoner was killed and another narrowly escaped death.

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The Fence at Matsqui