Chapter 2: Becoming a Prison Warden

I was born and raised in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Following my graduation from Abbotsford Secondary School, I attended Briercrest Bible College in Saskatchewan for two years, where I met my wife (who is from Minneapolis). I returned to British Columbia, started my undergraduate work at Simon Fraser University, and graduated in 1969 with an Honours degree in English literature.

At that point, I had three options open to me. I had applied to do graduate studies in English, and I had been accepted into several programs. I was also accepted into law school, and into the School of Social Work at the University of British Columbia. I'm still not certain why, but I chose to go into social work and graduated in 1971 with a Master's degree.

I already had some involvement with corrections, through two summers' worth of experience working for both the provincial and the federal correctional systems. But with the completion of my MSW, the scholarships that I had at U.B.C. required me to pay back some time in the Northwest Territories. I spent the next two years as a social work supervisor in the Mackenzie Valley area, living in the little village of Fort Simpson. My area of responsibility was the southern Mackenzie Valley, from the B.C. border up to Norman Wells, and all the communities that lie along the river. It was interesting and a great learning experience for me, because I was mainly working with Aboriginal people. I knew nothing about the First Nations' heritage. I was able to learn from some of the old folks and the Elders, and acquire some basic understanding of Aboriginal culture and spirituality. Had I not been there, I don't think that I would have had any opportunity to develop this understanding.

In 1973, when the Canadian Penitentiary Service was opening up the Regional Psychiatric Centre in my old home town of Abbotsford, they contacted me to see if I would be interested in coming as a social worker and setting up the program there. I accepted, and worked at the Psychiatric Centre for eight or nine months before I went on to the National Parole Service, which was a separate agency under the auspices of the National Parole Board. After a competition, I won the job of Assistant Warden, Socialization — responsible for correctional operations — at Matsqui Institution, where I spent approximately four years.

Helping to create the Correctional Service of Canada

In 1977, I had the opportunity to be part of a Task Force that was designed to integrate the Parole Service into the Penitentiary Service, and to create one agency for Canadian federal corrections — a major change. I spent the next year working on that particular project. It was a long, complex organizational initiative because it also involved changing all of the legislation that governed us. Previously we had been governed by two Acts, the Penitentiary Act and the Parole Act, which were combined into one Act called the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Being part of the Task Force was a tremendous working experience, and I had a significant hand in everything from policy to organizational studies. Although it's not always a happy event for the people involved, working with my colleagues, I learned a great deal about organizational behaviour.

I remained at Regional Headquarters in Abbotsford for almost ten years in various management jobs. I took on a number of initiatives during that period, including Project Officer involved in closing down the B.C. Penitentiary and opening Kent Institution. It was an intricate project, because we were moving staff and inmates from one institution to another in a co-ordinated and organized way — it wasn't simply moving from one place to the next. We had to make sure that staff were at the other end, trained and ready to go, and still maintain the second institution while it was being shut down. I was engaged in planning for the shutdown of the penitentiary, which for many of us was a symbol of bad corrections. There are old officers around who saw it as an important part of their life, and I'm sure they would find the criticism harsh, but most of us working in the business saw it as a place that really had no role any more in contemporary society.

I returned to Matsqui Institution in 1987 as Deputy Warden and worked there until about 1994. I briefly spent six months as the Acting Warden of William Head Institution, while they were awaiting the appointment of a Warden, and immediately following that came to Ferndale Institution in 1994 as Warden. It was an interesting facility for me because it was still in development, and it gave me a chance to incorporate several features I had learned over the years: from architecture and policy to program planning and rehabilitation initiatives. It's not very often that people get a chance in their life to develop a model and actually implement it, and I was very fortunate to be given that opportunity.

In the last year, I was also given responsibility for the Elbow Lake Institution, another minimum-security institution. The purpose was to integrate our two minimum-security institutions for more efficient management, and to initiate a project to make Elbow Lake Institution an Aboriginal-focussed facility. It will be geared to Aboriginal offenders, and have its programming and operations based on Aboriginal culture and spirituality. We hope that we will make the conversion to a fully Native-based facility by later this year. The project is well under way, and should meet our goals and expectations. It's a work in progress, and I hope it will continue. It should be a good model for what we can do in using an alternative-culture approach to working with people.

Career opportunities: entrepreneur, investigator and a code of conduct

During the course of my career, I've had several opportunities as a manager in the public service. I was able to complete the executive program at Queen's University in 1991, which was a useful experience for me because my fellow students were mainly private-sector executives. I learned a tremendous amount from that experience, which helped me to be more entrepreneurial in my work, especially in CORCAN operations (a Special Operating Agency of the Service that provides employment and training opportunities to offenders). It gave me a great deal of insight into how we could make much more effective use of our business side, and I was able to apply the knowledge in the development of Ferndale Institution.

Another opportunity was serving as the first harassment investigator in the Pacific Region. When the government introduced the current harassment policy, it was an attempt to create a more a respectful workplace, and to reduce some of the problems around general harassment and sexual harassment. Harassment could be anything. It could be boss versus employee, with issues about the abuse of power. It could be sexual harassment between people, although that was less and less the case. Generally it was simply bad behaviour between two co-employees. I had a number of years' experience with that position, which really had nothing to do with my work in corrections. It's just something you do.

I also worked with a small group of seven or eight people in drafting a code of conduct for the Correctional Service of Canada in the early 1990s. We were able to write up our work expectations of our employees, and tie them into a code of discipline that would allow us to make sure that we had control over the professional behaviour of our staff. We called it Standards of Professional Conduct for Employees, with a related Code of Discipline. It was an important piece of work in making the organization much more professional and accountable. The standards and code were adopted in 1993, and they continue to be in effect today.

Research and early automation

I feel that I had a little bit to do with the original seeds of promoting research, and certainly with getting it going. The Correctional Service of Canada never really had a research capacity, and didn't encourage it. But in this region, I inherited a leftover from the old days of Matsqui Institution; when it became a medium-security institution and closed its treatment facility for heroin addicts, a small component was left behind. That group wound up reporting to me, and I made an effort to keep the research going although it was not really part of the organization. Nor was research on treating heroin addicts all that well received. But we thought it was important to look seriously at the knowledge that was coming out of the universities and elsewhere, to try to apply it to our work.

So I maintained a research unit for a number of years, and developed the first research policy, including the ways that proposals could be put forward and managed, particularly by students. Up until then, there were no procedures for graduate students wanting to do a thesis that involved us, for example. We had to develop a code of ethics and other guidelines necessary to do good research. Eventually, research did get its place in the sun, but not until recently. We had one Commissioner who actually objected to research being part of corrections; his tenure with us was very brief and not very distinguished, and fortunately we got back on track. We now have in Canada one of the best research capacities of any correctional organization in the world. It was started initially by Frank Porporino and is currently being handled by Larry Motiuk, a very competent researcher. They have developed a powerful research staff, and their journal, Forum on Corrections Research, is highly respected — I think it has had a tremendous impact on corrections around the world.

Another area in which I was able to make a contribution was in encouraging students. I have always tried to contribute by getting students summer jobs in programming or field placements to give them exposure to correctional work. Over the years, I have seen some of these students develop into very competent professionals in their own areas, some of whom are now administrators in their own organizations, and some are academics. I think of people like Steve Hart at Simon Fraser University, a well-respected forensic psychologist who cut his teeth in corrections, working with us as a grad student.

I believe that I inherited the first computer the Correctional Service of Canada ever owned. It was part of the research unit, and of course it was an antiquated piece of equipment — one of the old-fashioned ones with cards. But I had several people in the research unit who were computer-knowledgeable, given the era, and they kept promoting automation. I may have been the first person in the federal government to have a computerized office. I couldn't swear to that; all I know is that it was illegal to have computers, because in those days computers were considered to be those great big Univac machines. Under the Treasury Board's regulations, there was no provision for buying computers, so we had to find all sorts of creative ways to buy those first word-processing computers for our support staff.

We were about two to three years ahead of the pack in introducing computers at Regional Headquarters here in British Columbia. We actually had most of our office automated long before the rest of the country started to think about it. We prepared our Region for the inevitable: the total domination — almost the tyranny — of automation, and the high-tech influence that drives everything we do.

Setting up a reception assessment process

I had a significant hand in one other area: establishing the reception assessment centre at Matsqui Institution. My experience in working with new offenders coming into the system is that it was rather piecemeal — the kind of assessments that we did were random and uncoordinated. It wasn't that there were not some good assessments, but there was no standard for doing them. Neither was there a standard way of collecting good information: judges' comments, police reports, previous criminal information, case histories, social histories and criminal profiles.

We would make assessments without complete knowledge, and then we would discover information after the fact that would have a tremendous impact on knowing a little more about that offender. A classic case would be dealing with someone convicted of breaking and entering; we would treat him as just a typical break-and-enter artist, only to find that he had a previous history of sexual assault. We would realize that the purpose of his breaking and entering was not just property-related, but may be something much more harmful, involving sexual fantasies. We had a number of similar incidents, and we recognized that we had to be more prudent in how we collected our information.

About 1989, at Matsqui, we put a team together to design and develop a reception assessment process that would deal with every offender in exactly the same way, with access to the same kind of psychological and criminal profile assessments and social histories. The most important part was to ensure that the documentation we collected was complete, and that we were getting our source documents on a timely basis. The reception assessment centre determined where an offender would be placed, what kind of programs he would be put into, and what kind of correctional treatment plan (as we called it in those days) would be applied to him. We did it without any money or additional resources. I simply convinced the staff that it was a good thing, and we reordered our priorities and got the project on the way. It was an opportunity to start a facility that has proved its merit and improved the quality of the work we do in corrections.

Today, it continues in a much more sophisticated way than it did in the early days. It's better funded and organized, we have a competent and well-organized reception assessment centre that serves this region, and now I think it is done in essentially all regions across Canada. When we started, it was a 12-week process, but now they have reduced it to eight weeks. That's partly because of automation and a much quicker response in getting documentation. Every offender who is sentenced goes through the facility at Matsqui Institution. During that eight-week period, the inmate is held in a specific holding unit until he has completed assessment and is sent to the most appropriate facility for him.

The level of documentation in a current file is sophisticated, and the risk-assessment tools that we now apply are equally sophisticated. Using a number of factors, we measure the inmate's potential for violence, potential for risk, areas of criminal thinking and levels of addiction, all with a view to identifying the kinds of initiatives that are appropriate for that individual. There are a number of things that we can do now that we didn't have the capacity to do before. Part of that is based on our research, which gives us a tremendous amount of information about how we can do things better. And we developed actual tools. We use what would be called in the insurance business actuarial risk-assessment tools, which are documents that will give specific, base-line scores as indicators of the inmate's risk of violence and risk to reoffend in particular areas, for example, or that measure the degree of sexual deviancy. The person's social history enters into it, including everything from family and origin right through to education, employment history (if that exists) and substance-abuse history. We also prepare a criminal profile, which looks at the pattern of criminal behaviour unique to the offender.

In summary, I think I am a bit of risk-taker. Although I am a very conservative person, I have looked at the research and tried to make prudent decisions accordingly. I push the envelope, but my colleagues have always been very supportive.