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location: publications / books / Justice Behind the Walls / Sector 3 / Chapter 2 The Disciplinary Process at Matsqui / September 1993: Minor Disciplinary Court -- Due Process Gets a Rough Ride

Mr. Csoka then read the second charge Mr. Lloyd was facing, in which it was alleged that he appeared for breakfast inappropriately dressed, was told to go back and change, and then became "abusive with the staff, loud and aggressive and anti-authoritarian." Mr. Lloyd pleaded not guilty. He said that he had not been anti-authoritarian and he probably had a very different idea of what that meant than the officer did. In any event, Mr. Lloyd said that the incident had happened before he started going to work and so there was no requirement for him to be in work clothes. Again, no officer was called to give evidence before Mr. Lloyd was asked to leave the room. His guilt was assumed, because the discussion immediately focussed on what the appropriate sentence should be. It was recommended that, since he had had difficulty with the first fine of $10, he should be given a weekend of lock-up in the hole for this offence instead.

Mr. Lloyd was brought back into the room and told that he had been found guilty but would not be fined for the second offence; instead, he would be on weekend lock-up, to be served in segregation. Mr. Lloyd immediately responded, "How do you find me guilty -- where is the evidence?" Mr. Csoka read the description of the offence written by Officer Charles and commented, "I know Officer Charles, and he is not going to lay a charge unnecessarily." Mr. Lloyd then got up and started swearing, calling Mr. Csoka "You fucking piece of shit." Just as he was at the door, Officer Moran blocked him and said, "You are very close to going up to the hole right now." Mr. Lloyd replied, "Just let me get out of here before I lose my cool." He was allowed to leave the room. As soon as he was outside, Mr. Csoka said, "I want him in the hole now." When Officer Moran suggested that they get him at the 4:00 p.m. lock-up, Mr. Csoka responded, "I don't want him running around getting all steamed up, so they should go and take him up right now." The two officers then left and went down to Mr. Lloyd's cell, where he was handcuffed behind his back and taken up to segregation. I accompanied them to observe this. There were about a dozen prisoners gathered around the control bubble watching, and I heard comments to the effect, "They're throwing everyone up in the hole this afternoon."

Even though Mr. Lloyd had pleaded not guilty to both charges and disputed the allegations, neither of the charging officers was called to give evidence, and Mr. Lloyd, like the other prisoners, was denied the opportunity to question witnesses. In assessing Mr. Lloyd's plea of not guilty in the first instance, Mr. Csoka rejected the plea's credibility by reference to what Mr. Lloyd had told the Segregation Review Board the week before. However, Mr. Lloyd's statements at that time, in which he apologized for losing his cool, did not necessarily amount to an admission of guilt. In any event, they were likely made to facilitate his early release from segregation. In the cases of Mr. Lloyd and Mr. Jones, Mr. Csoka's responses after the hearing left no doubt that, in discharging his adjudication function in minor disciplinary court, he was acting first and foremost as a keeper. As a result, not only were two prisoners sent to segregation but the due process of law was also banished.

Mr. Csoka next dealt in swift succession with a number of cases in which prisoners were charged with refusing to work or leaving work without reasonable excuse; the offence reports stated only that the prisoners were still in their cells after the 8:30 a.m. labour count. Most of the prisoners pleaded guilty and were given either a warning or a small fine, depending upon whether or not they had any prior disciplinary record. Because 3:00 p.m. marks a shift change in the prison, the officers who had been assisting Mr. Csoka left the institution at that time. Normally Mr. Csoka too would have gone off shift, but he decided to continue with the disciplinary court in order to clear the backlog. He was joined by Officer Van Vugt, who had just come on shift. I left the hearings for about half an hour to attend to some other business, and by the time I returned the docket had been cleared except for the final case involving Mr. Johnson.

Mr. Johnson faced several charges of refusing to work or leaving work, all of which involved allegations of sleeping in. He requested an adjournment in order to get medical certificates; these would show that his offences had resulted from stress due to the recent death of his mother and the loss of his appeal against his conviction. Mr. Csoka told Mr. Johnson that there was no need for an adjournment, because he could take Mr. Johnson's stress into account in his sentencing. Mr. Johnson said he was not prepared to go ahead because he had asked to have his CO-II present. Mr. Csoka responded, "That's a good reason for an adjournment," although he did not indicate that he was prepared to grant it. Officer Van Vugt then said to Mr. Johnson, "Look at this from a corrective, not a punitive, point of view. How can we get you to go to work? I know about your mother and about the appeal, but lots of guys lose their appeal, and you still have to go to work." Mr. Johnson responded that he had been in Matsqui six months but still had not received a correctional plan, which was required to be completed within forty-five days of his admission. That was the reason he wanted his CO-II there, because she was the one who was supposed to have prepared his plan and as of yet he had not seen her. Officer Van Vugt responded, "You're always minimizing the problem." Mr. Csoka interjected at this point, "The bottom line is we are going to deal with these charges today." Mr. Johnson said he was not going to enter a plea, to which Mr. Csoka replied, "We've got a box even for that" -- referring to the fact that, on the face of the disciplinary sheet, there are three boxes under the general heading of "Plea," one of which is "Refuses to plead." Commissioner's Directive 580 provides that where a prisoner refuses to plead, the hearing shall be conducted as if the plea was not guilty.

Mr. Csoka read out the first charge and asked Mr. Johnson whether he had any explanation in response. Mr. Johnson gave every indication at first that he was standing mute to the charge. However, within a short period of time he again began complaining that his CO-II was at fault in not preparing his correctional plan. Officer Van Vugt advised him that he should put in an official complaint. Mr. Csoka became visibly upset at this point and exclaimed, "Youíre not dealing with the charges." He then read out the second charge. Mr. Johnson pleaded not guilty to this charge, saying he was at work on the day in question. A third charge of not working was then read to him, to which he entered no plea but pointed out that there was no officer present to give evidence. Mr. Csoka responded, "You did not request a witness." Eventually, Mr. Johnson said, "Fuck, Iíll plead guilty to all of the charges." He again pointed out that all three charges arose because of the stress he was under, which was aggravated by not receiving his correctional plan. When he had gone to see his case management officer about this, he was told to see his CO-II, and yet she was not available to him. In support of his explanation that the charges were stress-related, he said, "Look at my institutional record over the last five years. I havenít missed a day of work until this." Following the usual procedure, Mr. Johnson was asked to leave the room, and a fine of $20 was agreed upon as his sentence.

Mr. Csokaís denial of an adjournment in this case was unreasonable, because Mr. Johnson wished to show medical certificates not simply to mitigate his culpability but to present a defence that he did not refuse to work or leave work "without reasonable excuse." Furthermore, it was apparent that Mr. Csoka did not take Mr. Johnsonís stress into account in his sentencing, because Mr. Johnson received the heaviest fine of any of the prisoners whose cases were heard that afternoon -- including those who, like him, faced multiple charges stemming from sleeping in during the labour count. As in the other cases, no witnesses were called to substantiate the charges, and when Mr. Johnson requested the presence of a charging officer, Mr. Csokaís response was that Mr. Johnson had not requested the witness be present. This represented a complete reversal of the legal onus upon the institution to call witnesses to substantiate a charge when a prisoner pleads not guilty or is deemed to have pleaded not guilty because he refuses to enter a plea. It was not Mr. Johnsonís responsibility to ensure the attendance of the charging officer. This reversal of onus, while inconsistent with the CCR Regulations and the Commissionerís Directives, was consistent with Mr. Csokaís presumption of guilt.

In the course of a three-hour session, Mr. Csoka had disposed of thirty-eight minor disciplinary charges. Pleas of guilty had been made in twenty-three of these cases. However, as in Mr. Johnsonís case, some of the guilty pleas were the result of resignation or exasperation. Of the fifteen cases in which not guilty pleas were entered, only two cases resulted in not guilty decisions.

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Wally Van Vugt