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The Newsome Case -- Fairness in the War Against Drugs

Mr. Szeto and Mr. Newsome were transferred to Kent from RPC. The two prisoners were both facing charges of contraband found in their cells at the Regional Psychiatric Centre (RPC). Mr. Szeto’s case was heard first. His offence report read: "While conducting a search of Szeto’s cell the following contraband was seized: one small piece of paper folded up containing what I believe to be heroin." Mr. Szeto sought and was granted an adjournment in order to consult with his counsel. Mr. Newsome’s case was then called. His charge read: "Acting on information received, inmate Newsome’s personal belongings were searched and the following items of contraband were found inside of the paddle control of his Nintendo game: (a) one home-made modified hypodermic needle and syringe, (b) one small package containing 0.6 grams. The package consisted of a saran wrap on the outside; grey with black printing paper; a white powder which tested positive for heroin."

Mr. Newsome said that he was pleading guilty but wanted to make a statement. He and Mr. Szeto had come to Kent charged with possession of heroin. The fault lay with him, not with Mr. Szeto who, while he had been tempted to use heroin, had stayed away from it. Because Mr. Newsome was leaving the RPC to return to his parent institution, Mission, he gave a heroin paper to a third party at the RPC with a note to Mr. Szeto saying that this was a present which he could use for himself or give to someone else. Mr. Walters said that this was very relevant information in relation to Mr. Szeto’s charge and no doubt Mr. Szeto would be wanting to call him as a witness when his case was heard.

The institutional advisor was asked for a recommendation as to sentence and said that after consultation with the RPC, she was recommending a sentence of 30 days segregation and a fine of $15. Mr. Newsome responded that he had already been punished. Before this charge he was supposed to be going back to Mission, a medium-security institution, and was now at Kent where he had already been kept in segregation for a week. An inquiry was made as to his previous offence record and it indicated that he had no previous convictions for possession of drugs. Mr. Walters said that he would treat this as a first offence and would give him one week credit for the time spent in segregation, plus a couple of extra days credit for the fact that he was no longer at a medium-security institution. He therefore imposed a total of 21 days segregation, stating that was the normal sentence at Kent for a first offence for this kind of charge. But this offence did not arise at Kent. Had Mr. Newsome been transferred to Matsqui he would have received a sentence of 30 days suspended for 90 days, which is the Matsqui tariff for this type of offence. Having been subjected to the more onerous consequence of transfer to higher security, it was unfair that he should also be subjected to the higher Kent tariff for an offence which arose at the RPC.

Mr. Newsome’s case precipitated a discussion about the role of the maximum-security institution in the war on drugs. The institutional advisor explained that institutions like Elbow Lake, the RPC as well as Mission were sending prisoners back to Kent for drug use. She felt that this was not a proper use of maximum-security unless the drug use was related to trafficking or muscling drugs. Simple use is such a common problem throughout the region in all institutions she could not see why drug use alone rendered a prisoner unmanageable in lesser security and required transfer to maximum-security.

The extent to which the war on drugs overshadowed almost all other considerations is born out by a review of Mr. Newsome’s involuntary transfer. Mr. Newsome was serving a 15 year sentence for robbery which began in 1986 and his statutory release date was April 1997, some three years away at the time of his transfer. Mr. Newsome had completed the Violent Offender Personality Disorder program at the RPC and was awaiting transfer back to his parent institution, Mission medium security, at the time his charge of possession of contraband arose. The progress summary supporting the involuntary transfer to Kent contained the following assessment of Mr. Newsome’s performance while at the RPC:

The treatment team met on 94-03-20 to discuss, with Mr. Newsome, his overall progress in the Violent Offender Personality Disorder. The team agreed that Mr. Newsome was subject to angry outbursts when he first arrived at the RPC. However, as he continued with the morning psychotherapy sessions he started to gain control over his anger and, consequently, these outbursts. As the morning psychotherapy sessions progressed, Mr. Newsome started to open up, sharing his feelings and thoughts. He is also less rigid now compared to when he first arrived.

In the afternoon modules the treatment team felt that Mr. Newsome was very attentive. It is felt that he has benefited from all the modules, especially the REBT. He has learned how to deal with and control his feelings of anger. Overall the treatment team is in agreement that Mr. Newsome has exhibited a positive change, his anger seems to be much more in control.

Mr. Newsome’s identified criminogenic factors have all been addressed throughout the program. All of Mr. Newsome’s criminogenic factors will continually have to be monitored and we will have to pay special attention to his emotional stability (anger) and substance abuse.

The treatment team’s original recommendation was that Mr. Newsome return to Mission Institution and attend a follow-up group. However, because of the discovery of the hypodermic syringe and the paper containing heroin, "it is believed that Mr. Newsome was attempting to import drugs into Mission Institution" and that "given these recent developments, Mr. Newsome’s institutional adjustment is now considered high" and "due to his recent drug involvement, it is evident that Mr. Newsome needs additional substance abuse programming." Therefore, having regard to a high institutional adjustment factor and a high public safety concern, both of which were based exclusively upon the single episode of being in possession of the syringe and the paper, he was deemed a maximum-security prisoner. No consideration was given in the progress summary to whether a return to Kent Institution would likely undermine the treatment gains Mr. Newsome had made, nor whether his substance abuse could be equally addressed by his participating in substance abuse programs back at Mission, or at least at another medium-security institution such as Matsqui.

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