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July 1998: Postscript

Almost five years after my observation of Mike Csokaís marathon session in minor court at Matsqui, I conducted a lengthy interview with him at Kent Institution. In the intervening time, his career had taken off; from his position as a correctional supervisor at Matsqui he had been assigned to the Staff Training College, where he taught new recruits the full spectrum of courses, including case management, interpersonal skills, self-defence, and weapons training. After a two-year stint there, he transferred to Kent Institution, where he was the acting co-ordinator of case management. After winning a competition for that permanent position, he became acting unit manager for segregation at Kent. He wrote and passed the competition for unit managers in 1998.

Mike Csokaís career progression was a reflection of the high regard in which he was held by both staff and senior management. Over the course of my research I spent many hours with him, and developed a healthy respect for the way he discharged his onerous responsibilities. On several occasions I invited Mr. Csoka to U.B.C.'s Faculty of Law to address my seminar on Penal Law and Policy.

As I came to know him better, and as he shared more and more of his experiences, I became increasingly uneasy about how Mike Csoka would react to the critical account I had written of his handling of the Matsqui minor court docket in 1993. I worried that when he read it he would feel betrayed. In research presented later in this book, I also voice criticisms of his conduct of segregation review hearings. Although these criticisms apply to segregation reviews conducted by other unit managers as well, Mr. Csoka is the featured player because he was the acting unit manager for segregation during some of the major events that occurred. I decided to explain to Mr. Csoka what I had written about his handling of the minor court proceedings at Matsqui and his handling of segregation reviews at Kent in 1997 so I could get his reaction to my analysis. That exchange took place in July 1998.

I began by characterizing my description of the minor court marathon as a classic conflict between efficiency and due process and explained how, in my judgement, due process took a back seat that day. Mr. Csoka had no difficulty understanding why I might come to that conclusion, but he offered me his perspective on his conduct of the court hearings.

I look at it a little differently. I started my career working with inmates, first as a correctional officer, again as a case management officer, and then a correctional supervisor. I worked at Matsqui for seven and a half years. I knew the inmates I was dealing with, they were my responsibility. I get to know inmates. I donít know how -- itís a knack, an ability, or experience. I know the inmates that are going to lie to me and I know the inmates that are going to tell the truth. How I do that, I donít know, but Iíve been successful. Iíve never had an inmate charge me with harassment. Iíve never had an inmate come back at me. Iíve never had an inmate get mad at me after a court hearing because generally when theyíre caught and they know theyíre caught and youíre fair, they walk away, even though they lied to you.

With respect to the officers, same thing. I know the officers that just charge for the sake of charging, half the time they didnít really hear what they heard. And I know the officers that charge only when there is something significant.

I agree that efficiency did prevail that afternoon, but thereís a couple of reasons why it prevailed. One was I was told to get the job done and I did. Two, there was a large number of those inmates who were getting screwed out of transfers [to lower security] because these minor court hearings were hanging over their heads. I gave them a $5 fine or a warning, weíd move on; the inmate gets transferred. So a lot of times when we look at this, in your case when youíre sitting there watching us, it almost looks like thereís a bit of "letís just throw the law out." I guess maybe there is, but at the same time, itís also to benefit the inmates, not always to screw them.

The other aspect of that whole afternoon is that you probably assumed that as a correctional supervisor I had been trained to run minor court. The reality is I had never been trained to run minor court. In fact, at that point I did not even know that there were specific rules I had to follow based in the law, and that they were similar to those in major court hearings. Nobody ever told us that. As correctional supervisors we thought we go in, we hear the inmate, we look at the charge, so the officerís not on duty, I know the officer, I trust his offence report and so we go ahead. Was that a miscarriage of justice? Maybe it was, but at the same time, I still view myself as fair and so do the inmates. It may have been efficiency on my part but at the same time some of those guys were able to get their transfers because their charges were no longer hanging over their head. . .

On this issue of training, it was not until the fall of 1997 that Ottawa established any staff training in Corrections and the Law, and even then that was very general and didnít give any guidance to correctional supervisors holding minor court hearings. (Interview with Mike Csoka, Kent Institution, July 1998)

In the course of our conversation, I asked Mike Csoka for his current assessment of the CCRA, first reminding him of the opinions he had expressed during my first weeks of work at Matsqui in 1993; he had been quite sceptical then about the new legislation and concerned it would handcuff staff in their dealings with prisoners.

I will be honest with you, it does handcuff me, but at the same time it has its place and it has its purpose. If someone could tell me or show me that all managers and staff in the Service could be trustworthy to the point that they would do the job the way theyíre supposed to do it, we never would have needed the CCRA, but you canít. Does it handcuff me? Yes. Do I need it? No. Because I wonít screw an inmate, I wonít take advantage of something. There are times when I want to do certain things that the CCRA gets in my way, but it doesnít get in my way in the sense of what Iíd be doing was wrong or different, it just makes me go a big circle to get where I need to get and youíve seen me, Iím task-orientated. I want to go from A to B. It drives me nuts to go from A to C to E to F and then finally get to B, even though I know I could just go there and the inmates would understand that and they wouldnít scream and yell and say I was doing something wrong.

In Sector 4 I will return to my 1998 interview with Mike Csoka to review his comments on the CCRA provisions in relation to administrative segregation.

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Mike Csoka