Chapter 4: Security Technology

The second trend that we are witnessing, somewhat related to the shift in organization, is what I would call the shift in architecture and security technology. In other words, what do our correctional facilities look like? There is a huge divergence in correctional facilities in Canada, North America and around the world. We still have in operation many of the old traditional prisons. Simultaneously, we have a number of very contemporary, innovative and newer models of operating. It makes for confusion among the public, because it doesn't look as if it's a cohesive organization when you have so many different bits and pieces to it.

In Canada, in the past 30 years, we have moved away from the classic prison, which was the traditional model of cellblocks that were designed for the easy management of people — so that you could order them, march them in line and get them into their cells with the least amount of difficulty and provide a level of security with the fewest number of personnel. They were not designed at all to accommodate human change, or to address a number of the criminal behaviours that these people brought into prison with them. We are more concerned about efficient incarceration. A whole generation of facilities exists — or did exist — which were probably efficient in the incarceration part of their work but certainly contributed little to anything else.

The changes started in the late 1960s, with the construction in Canada of a number of new institutions across the country. They included Matsqui in British Columbia, Drumheller in Alberta, Cowansville in Quebec, and Springhill in Nova Scotia. They were designed to be much more accommodating of contemporary corrections and corrections programming, but they still followed a cellblock model where a large number of offenders were housed in groups and managed in a rather consistent routine. While this was happening, some of the older facilities like B.C. Penitentiary and Laval in Quebec were actually shut down. They were symbols of the old era of corrections. That first generation of new institutions — which is still in operation — didn't anticipate the direction of the organization down the road, and particularly the move to different models. Nor did it anticipate some of the values and principles that were to become part of us in the future. So we continually have to readjust those facilities.

At the same time, security technology has become incredibly sophisticated. The perimeter detection systems that are now in place have all but eliminated escapes from our institutions, a striking change from the days when people were able to figure out ways of getting out of the old Bastilles. The current technologies that we employ, including closed-circuit television monitors, infrared and other security components, have dramatically improved our ability to control people. We can observe and contain in ways that we were unable to do before. It has had a positive impact, reducing a large number of the incidents that we have historically experienced. It has helped to reduce the level of violence in institutions, although there is still a long way for us to go in terms of good management.

Our current experience is to move much more in the direction of modularizing prisons, so that we don't have large numbers of people who are entrenched in criminal thinking locked up together, reinforcing each other's bad ideas. Clearly, that is one of the ideas that lies behind the development and construction of our new medium-security institutions. We have broken up the facilities into very small modules, which allows for better control. It breaks up the gang mentality that is part of traditional corrections, and makes it much more effective for staff and inmates to interact in order to create an environment that is less prone to criminal thinking and behaviour.

Contraband control and drugs

A major concern in corrections management, probably the one that occupies more of our time than anything else, is contraband control and the management of drugs. Most of our offenders commit offences because substance abuse is a factor. Depending on that factor, their risk to the public has much to do with their addiction. For us to be effective in our work, our priority must be to manage their addiction and the introduction of drugs into institutions, which is a historical and chronic problem. It is the major security issue we face, and there is no simple answer.

We know that 80 per cent of our offenders either abuse substances or are in prison because of substance-abuse-related crime. Our primary problem is not only the interdiction of drugs, but also how we work with people to reduce their need and dependence on drugs. There has clearly been an effort to improve our interdiction technology. We have high-tech electronic drug detection as well as drug-sniffing dogs, but they will never eliminate the introduction of drugs. As sophisticated as our technology gets, it seems that offenders have the ability to figure out counter-strategies and other ways of gaining access to drugs.

It's a continuing concern when you are trying to balance the invasiveness of high technology within the expectations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For example, when visitors come in and we know that there is a possibility that they are importing drugs into the institution, we must be very careful. You can accuse somebody of importing drugs, but the consequences of what they do are severe. It's not only that drugs create physical and psychological problems for the people who are using them. They are also the source of almost all the major violence and conflict in prison. You don't want to treat the issue lightly, but it's one of the great paradoxical issues that we've had to deal with. How do we manage it in such a way that it is effective? The public sometimes holds us to ridicule and asks why we can't just stop it. The truth is that as long as there is public access to prisons, the ability to stop it 100 per cent is just not there.

We have the authority to conduct searches of visitors and others whom we have good and probable grounds to believe are transporting contraband. How we choose to use that authority is open to debate. We have searched people in the past, including strip searches, and we have been subject to a number of lawsuits testing the law on that matter. The decisions have confirmed our authority and ability to conduct searches. They have questioned our procedures, and whether the actual practice is in compliance with the law. In some cases, it was found we were not. We had to improve, and ensure the rights of everybody involved much more carefully.

It is demeaning, especially for women who have been coerced into transporting contraband. Often, they are the true victims, feeling that they have no choice but to involve themselves in this activity on behalf of their relatives, spouses or boyfriends. Even parents and infants are being used for transporting drugs. It's demeaning to everybody, and it's very difficult to try to manage in a dignified and appropriate way. I don't have too many answers. I think you do whatever you have to do to enforce interdiction. My inclination personally is to move away from searching people, and instead deny them access on probable and reasonable grounds. I think that's the trend we're moving toward. If we have very strong beliefs that people are involved in major drug transport, we should contact the police who would then take over any investigation of the matter. We still do some interdiction where it is obvious to us that someone is in violation of the law, and occasionally we will do searches. But our inclination is to move away from that and involve the police because it is now criminal behaviour, and it is much more a police matter.

It is hard to know for sure whether staff are involved in this behaviour. Over the years, we have discovered a number of employees who have become trapped and involved in the process. It's less now than would have happened previously. Over the years, we have learned a lot about the kinds of scenarios that put employees at risk for this behaviour. Our training strategies for our officers and staff have improved, and really focus on the potential risk that they represent. That means for all staff: not just correctional staff but contractors and others who work with us, so that they have a clear picture of the various scenarios they might encounter and learn ways of avoiding those kinds of situations. It's not always 100 per cent successful; there are situations that arise. In our experience, that kind of behaviour has diminished substantially over the years, so that staff as a source of contraband is a much smaller part of the problem than it might have been a few years ago. Our own internal intelligence works very strongly to prevent that sort of thing from happening.

Security technology and substance abuse programs

The down-the-road solution is to have a much better understanding of our offenders individually, particularly those involved with drugs. We have to understand the nature of their specific drug involvement and their drug-use patterns, and to develop some good knowledge about them as individuals. Once you know them, observing and managing their behaviour becomes much easier. One of the techniques we have learned, particularly at Ferndale, is to use intensive supervision. We target those individuals who at any given time are having a great deal of difficulty with their drug problems. We hold them under close observation, and work with them intensely so that their opportunities and their interest in that behaviour diminishes. Our ability to observe people in drug-using behaviour is good: everything from watching sleep cycles to their associations. Quite frankly, it doesn't take very much to figure out when somebody is involved with drugs. It seems far more efficient to target those individuals and give them good reasons to quit. If they don't quit, they know that they are going to suffer the consequences, which usually means a higher level of security until they manage their drug behaviour.

The other technique that we use is urine analysis, both random and based on probable and reasonable grounds. It defines very carefully the parameters around which we work, and it allows us proactively to deal with the whole substance abuse issue, both with random testing and as part of an individual's particular program. It helps offenders who are committed to a substance abuse program to stay on the program; one of the requirements is to provide urine for analysis. It's an interesting dimension of security technology, one that is still fairly expensive, cumbersome and slow, but improving. As we gain more experience, the companies with whom we work are going to become much more efficient. It is not foolproof, but it would take so much effort to defeat it that most people don't have the energy to try. Often, we catch people who are trying to manipulate their samples, and it becomes obvious immediately. It's as close to foolproof as you can get. Occasionally, you get beaten, but normally it's not possible.

There are some deficiencies. For example, it's easy to detect THC from marijuana because it stays in the system for as long as 30 days, whereas products like heroin and cocaine metabolize much more quickly and therefore move through the system much faster. Somebody could have used heroin or cocaine, and 72 hours later, it may not be possible to detect the abuse, whereas we could detect THC. Marijuana is certainly a lesser concern for us than the harder drugs. Offenders often argue that they switch from THC and use the higher drug simply because it's less detectable. I don't know if that's true or not, but it's an argument they give us from time to time. In any case, it is an example of the kind of technology available in corrections that changes the way we do our work.

Systems automation

The other major change in technology is automating all our systems. It has made the management of offender information much more comprehensive and detailed, and allows for analysis that was never imagined before. It's very expensive: it can very quickly run into billions of dollars to develop a system and if you make mistakes along the way, costs are prohibitive. It can be devastating if not managed carefully. The other side is the continuing need to train employees in rapidly changing technology. It drives everybody nuts trying to keep up with where the techies are going; the complaint is that the systems are designed to meet the needs of the technology folks, as opposed to the needs of the ones who are actually doing the work.

All of our offender-related information is documented both in narrative and in quantitative ways. It allows us to identify all blue-eyed, 33-year-old offenders who commit breaking and entries, are cocaine-addicted and are serving sentences of 2.5 years, and where they are, what they are up to and what programs they are involved in. Not only do we have specific documented information on each offender, we can accumulate huge amounts of quantitative data that allow us to perform previously impossible analyses. It allows us to measure a program's effectiveness: the success that we are having with particular groups of offenders. It's almost mind-boggling. You could find yourself so addicted to the analysis and the manipulation of data that you are unable to get on with the real work. It's a trade-off. As with any modern organization, we have to have a good grip on who we are dealing with, the truth of the nature of the cases we confront, and whether we can't be more precise in categorizing our offenders. That would help us in our strategic planning and our delivery of programs.

Analysis, common sense and intuition

Common sense is always the starting point. I am reminded of a colleague of mine, a great academic and researcher. He has the ability to produce excellent research designs, and comprehensive and meticulous methodologies, but he often comes up with the wrong conclusions. I'm not sure how we define common sense; I think it's the corporate memory of many things that you hold in the back of the mind. It integrates information in a way that is not necessarily ordered and precise, but it's where the wisdom is contained, and suggests the right question about whether something makes sense. If not, why doesn't it make sense? On the other side, good analysis does affect our wisdom as well. There are a number of things we hold as common truths, which are nothing more than what I would call corporate myths or organizational myths — things that we have come to believe are true and have held as cherished parts of our common sense, but which don't hold up to scrutiny. So I think the gate swings both ways.

Intuition is a very powerful thing. I am absolutely convinced that all the technology in the world will never replace intuition. We have debated this with a number of researchers and others. Why is it that intuitively we know certain things, without detailed analysis? I have had an interest in the field of psychopathy for a number of years, and I know some of the science in that area of research. I know that personally I have a reasonably good intuitive ability to identify psychopaths, based on brief conversations, whether they are offenders or folks I meet in the community. So I raised the question with my colleague: why is that after his years of experience he did not acquire that intuition? In part, it's the unconscious collection of information about things that you know, integrated at such a high speed that you are not rationally thinking it through. It may be picking up on physiological and behavioural cues that you come to associate with that particular character disorder. After a while, when you see those cues you are able to make an intuitive judgement quickly. The benefit of science is that it often explains why intuition has worked. It helps to describe some of the behaviours that you have unconsciously become sensitive to, and why.

Intuition is just an accumulation of experience. It is so well-integrated into your brain that it doesn't lend itself to logical analysis. We are much more efficient in our unconscious thinking than we are in our conscious thinking, because in unconscious thinking, we are able to build many variables simultaneously, whereas when we think logically and rationally, we're usually able to deal with very few in an organized kind of way. Intuition is the art of the business, as opposed to the science. The two are not necessarily divorced, but are different sides of the same coin. All correctional practitioners of long standing have come to the conclusion that the art of our work is just as important as the science, but neither can be ignored. Any technology that we embrace has to link with our corporate knowledge, our intuition and the common sense that we bring to the work.