Report of the Task Force on Security


"The countries bordering on Hudson Bay might serve as an English Siberia, where we might hold our convicts, instead of hanging them by thousands at home, or transporting them to corrupt the natives of our colonies. Convicts should always be sent to a country barren, and in a manner uninhabited, because there they cannot corrupt by their bad example; are secure from their former temptations; and must be industrious - and consequently have the best chance of reforming and growing good."

The Gentleman's Magazine
New Series No. 24
November, 1754

Canada never did earn the dubious distinction of serving as a penal colony for England. Perhaps no one is more grateful for this than the Aboriginal people who, in fact, were living in and occupying this "barren" and "uninhabited" land. Nevertheless the principles of confinement enunciated by the author of this article almost two hundred and fifty years ago probably strike a strident chord with some Canadians today. Generally though, Canadian Corrections has not favoured banishment of its offenders to remote and forbidding landscapes, choosing instead to incarcerate them in prisons and penitentiaries. The conditions of confinement have largely reflected the prevailing mores of our society, although it is of interest to note that Canada's first penitentiary, constructed in 1835, continues to house upwards of three to four hundred inmates today.

The Task Force on Security was given the mandate "to develop a state of the art security framework that optimizes staff/offender interaction while promoting safe reintegration". Understanding this mandate in its fullest context required that the members of the Task Force reflect on the "people side" of corrections, remembering the stories of offenders, people like Martin...

  • Fifteen year old Martin Andrews slept fitfully under the steps in the basement of his southern Ontario home. Two gentle raps on the door at the top of the stairs woke him from his slumber. "Martin, can you hear me?" his sister whispered. Unfolding his slight frame he made his way stiffly and quietly up the stairs. "I'm here," he answered. An unwrapped peanut butter sandwich appeared under the door. "I'm sorry Martin. It's all I had time to make." "How long have I been down here this time Annie? I'm scared. Isn't he ever going to let me out?"
  • "I heard Dad tell Mom you can come out tomorrow. I'm really sorry. It's been three days." Martin heard Annie move quietly away, fearful of being caught.
  • Seventeen-year-old Martin stood quietly before the judge. "Martin, you were raised to adult court because the repeated interventions of the juvenile system have been singularly unsuccessful. You have now been found guilty of eight break and enters and one charge of aggravated assault. I am sentencing you to two years incarceration in a federal penitentiary." Annie wept quietly as the court officials led Martin away in handcuffs.
  • Martin's first few days in a medium security penitentiary in Kingston were uneventful. He was left alone in his cell most of the time, coming out only to answer questions about his medical history, his family history and his criminal record. As the months passed his adjustment to prison routine was marred by frequent conflict with other inmates. He had no friends. He began to carry a knife with him when he went to the yard. He tried to avoid contact with two inmates from another unit. They had beaten him on more than one occasion and had threatened to rape him. One evening he was dragged to a corner of the gym at knifepoint. Martin broke free and pulled out his own weapon. He stabbed his assailant and then couldn't stop. He stabbed him 15 times.
  • Martin's "victim" survived his wounds. But Martin received a ten-year sentence and was sent to one of Canada's two Special Handling Units. He was 18 years old when he arrived at the Prairie facility. He remained there for 18 months and was then transferred to the SHU in Quebec. Unlike the Prairie SHU, where he had participated in some programs, Martin could not involve himself in programs at his new home. The inmates were boycotting all programs. He even refused to see his Case Management Officer for fear that he would have to request protection. Over the next year the only person that he had any meaningful contact with was the institutional Chaplain. As their relationship deepened Martin revealed more and more about his past. He described a history of parental abuse, parental alcoholism, juvenile courts, foster homes, detention centres and finally the federal prison system. He revealed to the Chaplain that his greatest fear was that he would be placed in the same prison as his natural father, now serving a life sentence for murder. He also described the overpowering loneliness that had characterized his time in the federal system. Friendships with other inmates eluded him. He didn't know why. Until meeting the Chaplain, he never considered opening up to staff. Martin wept quietly in his cell the night he learned that the Chaplain was leaving CSC.
  • Eventually Martin persuaded prison authorities to transfer him to a maximum-security prison. He later revealed that on the day of his hearing for release from the SHU, he had fashioned a noose and hidden it in his cell. If the Review Board had refused to release him from the SHU, he intended to hang himself.
  • At the maximum-security institution Martin hungered for the type of relationship he had enjoyed with the Chaplain at the SHU. He began to engage in conversations with inmates and staff, tentatively at first. Through trial and error he discovered that some people, inmates and staff were actually interested in him. He was particularly surprised that some correctional officers would even sit down with him and make small talk. They had no motive. They didn't want anything from him. They weren't analyzing him. They just connected with him as one human being to another. He was visited by a prisoners self help group called Lifeline. Martin began to believe that in some as yet undefined way, his life had a purpose. He began to experience a sense of freedom, from what he wasn't sure. He involved himself in programs once again, this time with a determination to gain everything possible from them. He discovered a chaplaincy program that helped him define who he was in a way he had never understood before.
  • After nine months, Martin was transferred to a medium security facility. This led to a work release, then to day parole. Today, Martin is on full parole. He is gainfully employed and going to school. He has a girlfriend for whom he cares very deeply. Perhaps most importantly Martin is taking responsibility now for his own life in the context of his community. Why did this happen? Perhaps a prison chaplain who gave of his time and shared in his faith and correctional officers that cared enough to connect with Martin on a personal level, and Martin's own determination to benefit from what was offered to him made a difference.

Martin's story is not unusual in terms of the pain he experienced in both his personal life outside of prison and the fear, loneliness and anger he experienced while incarcerated. But the Task Force was acutely aware of the reality of prison life as experienced by people who work inside prison walls ...

  • Jim Kane's graduation from CSC's staff college was not as fulfilling as his graduation from the Justice program at the local community college. In the first instance the course content was a disappointment, a rehash of much of what he had already been taught. Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, he was disappointed in what he perceived as a double message by some of the instructors. "This is what the book says, but this is the way it really is." He questioned whether this was a reflection of poor organizational policy or whether a few instructors were simply grandstanding, trying to impress the class with embellished "war stories".
  • Jim's dilemma was only heightened when he reported for duty at a maximum-security penitentiary. If ever there was a place where the messages were mixed, it was here. Some of his colleagues impressed him with their ability to blend their security functions with their casework responsibilities. Others seemed to shy away from their security roles, focussing almost to a fault on programs and casework. And there were others who had no respect for CSC or for inmates. They intimidated him. They spoke against the administration and made it clear that he could have only one loyalty and that was to his fellow officers. "What happens here stays here. Don't forget it. If you do, you're on your own."
  • Jim had grown up in a typically middle class family. He wasn't sure where his interest in the justice system had come from. But his personal values were important to him. He had a strong sense of what was right and what was wrong. He believed in justice, fairness and equality. And he was very much aware of societal injustices, poverty and the plight of those less fortunate than him. But he was ill prepared for the harshness of life inside a prison. Inmates routinely asked for and received protection. Those who tried to tough it out were often unsuccessful, becoming the victims of assault. Staff searches often resulted in weapons finds and it seemed that not a week went by without a drug find or information about potential drug transactions taking place.
  • Jim was pleased when his promotion to CO2 gave him the opportunity to work more closely with inmates on the unit. He took pride in his ability to manage his duties well while becoming more involved with Parole Officers in the development of correctional plans for inmates. He realized early on that if his opinions about transfers and release plans were to have any weight at all, he would have to know the inmates well. But his efforts in this regard were frustrated by many factors. For one thing the turnover of inmates on the unit was extremely high. He had little opportunity to get to know anyone well, what with the discharges, transfers out and requests for protection. And he was dismayed with the apparent unwillingness of the administration to deal with aggressors. He disagreed with certain policy issues, particularly those that seemed to offer more protection to inmate rights than the needs of staff. Why, for instance could inmates choose to opt out of work and programs without any immediate consequence? Jim's desire was to make a difference not only in the lives of individual inmates but in the organization as a whole. But he felt powerless on both fronts. And it disturbed him greatly not to be able to make a difference, especially in the face of the risks that are inherent in the business. Jim had never been hurt, but he had been threatened. And he knew that enough of his colleagues had been hurt that it was not without some urgency that changes take place. When asked to enunciate what changes he would place at the top of his list, Jim's response was succinct. "We have all the paper and all the policy we need to make this system run well. And we have leaders in the upper echelons who are smart and dedicated people. But they, the leaders, don't work well together. No one seems to know what anyone else is doing. If CSC is ever going to work well, our leaders are going to have to come together as a team. Otherwise those of us at the bottom will pay too high a price."

These two stories provide very different perspectives on the issue of security in the Correctional Service of Canada. On one hand the Task Force was mindful of the need to develop a security framework that did not impinge upon the right of those incarcerated to be treated humanely while providing the best opportunities for positive change. On the other hand we were also strongly impressed with the need to develop a framework that would provide our staff with the opportunity to give of themselves fully to the purposes of the organization without undue fear for their safety in this most difficult of environments.

In grappling with the issue of security the Task Force identified the need to provide a clear framework for the future. Distinguishing between what is and what could be, required that we reach beyond our own paradigm and open our minds to possibilities that might otherwise elude us. Thus it was with great anticipation that we embarked upon a voyage of exploration and discovery. We determined that only by creating opportunities for dialogue with academics, partners in the Justice System, and with our own staff would we begin to unlock our vision for the future. We traveled extensively in Canada visiting many institutions and parole offices. We traveled to many other countries visiting penitentiaries in Israel, the Netherlands, Germany, France, England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand. Everywhere we went, we went with inquiring minds. We sought not so much to validate our own views of corrections as we did to discover excellence in our field.

"If we do what we've always done, we'll get what we always get."

- Ken Peterson