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Posts Tagged ‘abuse of solitary confinement’

“Five years after Ontario vowed to curtail its use of solitary confinement, average inmate stays in segregation cells have grown longer, with one prisoner in Ottawa remaining in isolation for at least 835 days, according to newly released provincial data.

The statistical snapshot shows that solitary confinement, the prison practice of isolating inmates for 22 or more hours a day without meaningful human contact, remains a central component of provincial jail operations. It also raises questions about the commitment of the new government of Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford to pending legislation that would severely limit its use.

The most glaring figure comes from the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, where government spreadsheets indicate a Muslim man with mental-health issues, between the ages of 35 and 39, was housed in solitary for at least 835 days. Little more is known about him. United Nations guidelines recommend 15 days as a limit for segregation placements to prevent lasting mental and physical harm. Earlier this year, the previous Liberal government passed legislation that would enshrine those 15-day caps, but it has yet to be proclaimed by the Lieutenant-Governor.” 

– Patrick White, “Length of solitary stays increasing in Ontario prisons, including 835 days for one inmate.The Globe and Mail, November 5, 2018.

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01:56 Matt: I’m noticing that you’re saying segregation, you’re not saying solitary.

02:00 Lisa: So the technical official language in the legislation is segregation. To me, it’s a synonym. Solitary confinement, as we’ve known it in Canada, is synonymous with what is endorsed in the legislation as administrative or disciplinary segregation. And there were many years where Corrections took the position, “Well, we don’t have solitary confinement in Canada, that’s nowhere in our legislation. That’s an American practice, that’s not something we do.” Thankfully, that battle is behind us at this point, and there’s no doubt that this government accepts that we have been doing, what is effectively solitary confinement and that is this practice of keeping people in cells for 23 hours a day and subjecting them to sensory deprivation, social isolation, occupational deprivation, and there’s of course now a large literature on the mental and physical harms that flow from that level of isolation.

02:58 Matt: But I mean… And I guess, again, naive and largely informed by a lifetime spent in pop culture. I’ve always just kind of thought that solitary was for the worst of the worst. It’s how you… It’s where you put the people who are super bad.

03:10 Lisa: It’s a common presumption that anyone who gets thrown in the hole is the worst of the worst. And at this point, what we’re… What is very clear from the empirical evidence is that people with mental health problems are actually vulnerable to being placed in segregation. Why is that? Because they’re the ones who often have a difficult time managing in the general prison population. So general population is quite a demanding environment, socially speaking. You have to be able to navigate complex social arrangements, you have to be able to manage friendships in complex ways, in ways that in ordinary society we’re really not put to challenges like that, you have to manage your relationships with correctional officers and do all of this amid conditions of serious social deprivation.

04:02 Lisa: So people with mental health challenges often don’t do well in the prison context, and so they’re at risk because for correctional officers, they have to somehow manage, manage the prisoner society, and so where people are having difficulties there’s only so many resources and options that correctional officers have, and in recent decades placing someone in a solitary cell, is one way of dealing with the problem. But of course, people with mental health problems are not the worst of the worst, far from it, they’re people who need more meaningful social supports and more meaningful programs and interventions than other inmates. And so this has been one of the real dysfunctions of the use of solitary is that the mentally ill are at risk of being placed there, at more risk than other inmate groups, and the effects of solitary are more severe on them.

04:55 Matt: Then that raises… Just to put a fine point on it. You don’t get sentenced to solitary. When you get sent to prison, the judge doesn’t say, “I’m sentencing you to solitary.” It’s just he sends you to prison. And segregation is an administrative decision.

05:09 Lisa: That’s such an important point, it’s absolutely correct. The sentencing judge has no idea whether the person before them is going to serve their time in solitary or not. And in fact, I think if a sentencing judge were aware of this issue it may actually impact their decision not only whether to sentence you to custody, but what the length of that sentence should be, given that it’s a much more severe form of state punishment. So it’s true, the reasons you get placed in solitary have nothing to do with the offence you’re convicted of. And I do think this gives rise to real problems in terms of the proportionality of punishment in our system. I think the most famous case in Canada, and the case that really activated a national consciousness around this issue is the case of Ashley Smith, and she was of course 19 years old when she died in a segregation cell having been held there for many months and Ashley Smith had committed no remotely serious criminal conduct in the community. When she was placed in juvenile custody, she’d done nothing more than throw crab apples at a postal worker. She had difficulties as a young person, no question, but nothing resembling serious criminal conduct, and yet she was subjected to the most severe form of state punishment in our system.

06:32 Matt: So, and this sounds like… You were alluding to this earlier, it’s… It is an overstressed and in some cases probably not that well-trained system in terms of people making this decision as something they see as a tool in the toolbox and not necessarily understanding how to use it in the most appropriate way.

06:50 Lisa: Well, sure, it’s one of the only tools in the toolbox, and that is… I think this new legislation that the Federal Liberal Party have just tabled. You can see indications in this legislation that we’re gonna listen more to healthcare professionals commenting on whether a segregation placement is appropriate or what’s called these placement in these structured intervention units that the new legislation talks about. And so I think there is a growing recognition that this has been one of the only tools in the toolbox for correctional officers and that we need to move away from it, particularly where it has negative health effects and that we need to invest more in our system to delivering interventions and programs that might assist inmates rather than placing them in segregation and seeing their condition and personality deteriorate.

07:50 Matt: So let’s talk a bit about the new legislation. What’s in it?

07:55 Lisa: Well, the main… It’s interesting, there’s been a couple of… This is now the second draft bill we’ve seen in a year from the liberals, so they’ve taken a couple of different sort of shots at this, and this new bill is really a different approach than what we’ve seen before. Previously over the last couple of years the Liberals have added some procedural protections for those placed in segregation, so some limits on reviews and the timing and so on. Whereas this new bill you’re hearing the Minister of Public Safety, Ralph Goodale, promote this bill by saying that it’s really about ending solitary. And in a significant sense, it does do that.

08:35 Lisa: So, the sections in the prison legislation that allowed administrative segregation, which was sort of the most nefarious practice of segregation, those provisions are repealed under this legislation; would be repealed. So the word segregation will no longer even appear in the legislation, they are replaced with what’s called legislation that allows the use of what’s called “structured intervention units” and the really important change here is that inmates who are placed in these units… No, inmates can still be separated from the general prison population and for the same reasons as before, but now they’ll be entitled to get out of their cells each day for a minimum of four hours, and for two of those four hours it has to be for some sort of meaningful social contact or intervention. So there’s still problems with this new bill and there’s critics who are already asking whether it’s gonna be segregation by a new name or segregation light. But I think it’s significant to really change the sort of culture around just abandoning someone in a cell for 23 hours a day and instead saying every human being in our prison system is entitled to contact with other people and to some form of programming and to be out of their cells for at least a few hours a day. I think that’s an important shift, and this legislation promises to do that.

10:04 Matt: So do you think it will pass?

10:08 Lisa: I do, I think that… I think this government… I mean I’m not an insider in the legislative process, but from what I hear, this government is committed to getting this legislation passed before the election and they really do, I think, want to be the government that ends solitary confinement and that implements, in some way at least, the inquest recommendations following the death of Ashley Smith. They’re also facing two major charter lawsuits that are now set to be heard in provincial courts of appeal in Ontario and British Columbia. And the the legal effect of the judgements that we’ve already had in those cases are that the current provisions that allow administrative segregation, are set to fall, they’ve been declared unconstitutional. There’s been a sort of delay in the effect of those judgements to give government a chance to respond, but those provisions are soon going to be void.

11:10 Matt: Right?

11:10 Lisa: So, the government really did have to act, given that that litigation is… The results of that litigation.

11:18 Matt: So this is a bit kind of spinning, at the end of the day. They’re sort of getting ahead of it and saying, “Look, we’re doing something great,” when kind of the writing was already on the wall, and they were gonna be put in that position regardless, right?

11:28 Lisa: Look, they’re government, they’re government, they’re trying to do multiple things at a time and they’re always… And they’re always having to choose what priorities they have, at any given time. This government when it came to power in those mandate letters that were released from the Prime Minister to his various ministers, they said the Public Safety Minister was directed to implement the Ashley Smith recommendations, did they work on that on day two? No. But it’s not surprising that, especially when it comes to prisoner rights, this is not a… Prisoners aren’t a group that most government spend time working for, unfortunately, they’re a very marginalized voiceless population, so it’s not surprising that pushing through with lawsuits even when we had a government that indicated willingness to reform was still hugely necessary in pushing this to the top of the list. Public Safety Minister is probably one of the busiest ministers in this government and I think that it’s understandable that it took… That it took ongoing pressure to push this legislation to the top of his to do list.

– Matt Shepherd and Lisa Kerr, “A LOOK INSIDE SOLITARY (AND THE PROMISE OF REFORM).” Queen’s University Law Podcast Series. October 29, 2018.

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“‘Super Max’ – It’s a solitary life of misery for convicts in special unit,” Globe and Mail. September 12, 1980. Page 05.

By VICTOR MALAREK

One at a time a few extremely dangerous convicts trudge out of their cells to exercise by themselves for an hour.

They are being punished, and for about a month their life will be sheer misery in a prison within a prison because they have no physical contact with other prisoners or with their keepers.

But their woes will not end after those 30-odds days of strict solitary confinement. Then they start a long stretch of living under intense security, segregated from the rest of the prisoners.

Their world will revolve around a tiny cell constructed completely of steel, cramped recreation areas that are monitored by cameras and close contact with prisoners, who like themselves, are some of the most violent criminals in the country.

Their world is known as the special handling unit or ‘special max.’ There are only two in Canada – one at Millhaven penitentiary in Bath, Ont., and the other at the correctional development centre in Laval, Que.

According to Millhaven’s warden, John Ryan, the units are used to protect prison society from those convicts who are bent on using violence on both the guards and fellow prisoners.

Rehabilitative value is nonexistent
Until a few weeks ago, the total population at the two units was about 50. That figure got a sudden spurt of new blood as nine inmates, who took part in the hostage-taking incident at Laval penitentiary in Quebec, were transferred to the unit at the Laval centre.

Criminologists, psychologists and prisoners alike maintain that the units have no rehabilitative value.

Pierre Landreville, a professor of criminology at the University of Montreal, said the way the units are run ‘right now, they are inhuman. I think I would have to say their only function is to break the spirit.’

But he added that he thought the units are necessary because ‘some of these people are quite dangerous.’

Fred Sweet, chairman of the prisoners’ committee at Millhaven, said in a recent interview at the penitentiary that the units should be eliminated.

‘Some of the guys they (the administrations) put into SHU are potentially dangerous convicts, but once they’re put in, you remove the potential and then they are dangerous,’ Mr. Sweet said, pounding his clenched fist – the letters F, R, E, and D tattooed on his knuckles – on a bare wooden table.

Bryan Reynolds, a 29-year-old convict serving life for murder at Millhaven, described the unit as ‘a breeding ground for violent animals.’

‘Think of living in a room the size of a toilet (bathroom) day after day after day for months on end, only the cell is worse than a…doghouse. You’d get charged by the humane society for treating dogs the way convicts are treated in SHU,’ Mr. Reynolds said angrily. He has spent nine months in the unit.

Mr. Sweet maintained that if the prisoners were treated with ‘human dignity in the first place, SHU would not be necessary.’

Dragan Cernetic, former warden of the British Columbia penitentiary, who now works in operations at Correctional Service of Canada headquarters in Ottawa, hotly defended the units in a recent interview.

‘There are only two ways you can deal with violent inmates. You can impose stringent security on, the whole prison population or you can segregate three or four of the trouble-makers in a place where they can…rot as far as I’m concerned.’

Mr. Cernetic said the kind of convict he would recommend for incarceration in a special handling unit ‘is a man who I could not take home for dinner and feel safe with him.’

On a recent tour of the unit at Millhaven rarely given to outsiders, David Page, the officer in charge of the unit, tersely described the living conditions.

‘All the cells have been completely converted to steel. A steel desk, steel walls, steels sinks, and steel toilets. All the steel is painted. The beds are bolted to the walls.’

During the visit, the convicts were locked in their cells behind massive steel doors. Lunch was being passed to them through a hole in the middle of the door. Intense security was ever present through a maze of electronically controlled steel portals.

Every movement outside the cells is closely monitored either visually or by television cameras. Guards patrol the cell block about every 45 minutes when the men are locked in their cells and peep through a tiny glass opening in the doors to ensure nothing is amiss.

Red panic buttons, in case of trouble, prominently protrude from the walls in every cubicle in the ranges.

One hour a day to exercise alone
On the Phase I block, the tightest security area, a convict’s wiry hand jutted out of a hole in the door where meals are passed. Another prisoner yelled for a guard. ‘Can you come here for a mine. It’s important. I want to discuss my welfare.’

In Phase I, Mr. Page said, inmates get out of their cells one at a time for only an hour a day to exercise.

Conditions improve as the prisoners graduate to Phase 2 and 3, where periods outside the cells and contact with inmates is increased to a little more than six and eight hours a day respectively.

It’s in those latter phases, ‘other than the fact that their movement is contained, the prisoners are a lot better off in some cases than the other inmates. The other inmates don’t have television in their cells,’ Mr. Page said.

A couple of cells have been converted into recreation rooms and mini-gyms where inmates can either play guitars, listen to music or pound out their frustrations on a heavy punching bag.

Inmates can also go outside occassionally to a yard aptly referred to by the guards and prisoners as a ‘cloister.’ They get movies twice a week.

James Hayes, a psychologist at Millhaven, said that sicne the program was started at the penitentiary ‘we’ve had no returnees. The recidivism rate is nil.

Mr. Hayes said that ‘the inmates knows very clearly what he has to do to get his release back to the normal prison population.’

The operative word is co-operation. Inmates must not be mouthy to the guards and must show they can get along with their fellow inmates in the unit.

No limit is placed on the number of visits by family members to inmates in the unit, but the convict and visitor are separated by a cage, glass and screens.

‘The visits are inhuman,’ said Mr. Sweet. ‘The prisoner sits in a cage while he visits with his family. It’s degrading.’

Of his stay in the unit, Mr. Reynolds said the intense security ‘bothers you at first but you get used to it…We’re human beings. What they’re doing in SHU is illegal…(It) is morally illegal because it is cruel and unusual punishment.’

Frank Steel, a member of the three-man board at the Correctional Service of Canada in Ottawa that decides who goes into units, said inmates who take hostages during an escape attempt are almost automatically sent there.

Other infractions leading to an incarceration are murder or or assault on a prison guard or another convict.

‘SHU candidates are those who are determined to be dangerous…inmates perceived to be particularly violent while under sentence,’ Mr. Steel said.

Confinement in the units is relatively free of bureaucratic red tape. A warden holds an in-penitentiary review of the cases and makes a recommendation that goes to regional headquarters and then to the special handling unit in Ottawa.

The board is made up of the deputy comminisioner of security, the head of offender programs and the director-general of medical services.

‘Once we recommend SHU, the case is reviewed monthly at the institution and every six months at national headquarters. Every six months we go to the SHUs and interview those inmates who wish to be interviewed. Usually they all want to be interviewed,’ Mr. Steel said.

Cases reviewed every month
‘We talk about thee progress he’s been making and sometimes give him an indication of when he can expect to be released to the normal population. Our biggest complaint (from the inmates) is the perceived capriciousness of the system and the uncertainty of when an inmate can expect to be released.’

The average stay in the unit is between 18 months and two years, Mr. Steel said.

One convict, who was involved the hostage-taking incident at the B.C. Penitentiary in June, 1975, in which Mary Steinhauser, a classification officer, was killed by prison guards, was released last June from the Millhaven unit.

Paul Caouette, executive secretary of the Union of Solicitor-General Employees, vehemently defended the use of the units, ‘especially when it involves the safety of the guards.’

Mr. Caouette warned that if politicians ever fell to the demands of prisoners’ rights groups of convicts to ban the units, they would see a rapid dwindling in the number of guards.

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“PHILADELPHIA – On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) continued its near-total lockdown of state prisons, confining most people in the department’s facilities to their cells 24 hours per day and prohibiting mail and visitation. According to the DOC, some facilities had some restrictions lifted over the weekend, and more facilities will lift restrictions throughout this week.

As the lockdown entered its seventh day, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania responded to the ongoing situation. The following can be attributed to Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania:

“The continuing lockdown at the Department of Corrections is gravely serious. We share the department’s concern about the health of the staff. The health of the people who are incarcerated is also of utmost priority.

“Unfortunately, the DOC has failed to provide meaningful transparency in this situation, leaving loved ones of people who are incarcerated uninformed and anxious about what is happening. And the public statements on the DOC’s own website talk only about the health of staff, with no mention of how many prisoners have become ill. If staff have been ill, it’s reasonable to conclude that prisoners have been sick, too, although the lack of information makes that impossible to confirm. Either way, the department has left prisoners’ families and the public in the dark on the health of the people who are incarcerated.

“The DOC should immediately provide public information about how many prisoners, if any, have become ill and how families can check on the status of their loved ones.

“The department must also reinstate mail and visitation privileges as soon as possible, as mail and visitation are constitutionally protected rights for people who are incarcerated.

“In a radio interview today, Secretary Wetzel stated that facilities will be back to normal operations by next week if there are no more illnesses. If there are more illnesses, he simply stated that the department will ‘revisit’ the situation. That response is inadequate. We do not accept the notion that the DOC can hold prisoners in their cells 24 hours per day, stop mail, and end visitations and phone calls in every state facility every time a staff person becomes ill. The health of the DOC staff is certainly critical, as is the health and well-being of prisoners. A statewide lockdown is a heavy-handed response that is detrimental to the long-term health of people who are incarcerated.”

– 

ACLU-PA Statement on Continuing Lockdown of Pennsylvania Prisons, September 4, 2018.

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“The transfer to Attica in 1960 was an explicit attempt at curbing Muslim activism in New York prisons and represented the first of a variety of methods of prison discipline by the state. The practice of transferring prisoners to “break up gangs, separate associates in crime, and prevent disorder” was decades old. Sostre later referred to it as “bus therapy.” It was not unique to New York, however. Chase notes that the Texas Department of Correction distributed Muslims throughout state prisons to limit their influence in any one location. These institutional transfers (referred to as “drafts”) and solitary confinement represented the two largest threats to the stability of Muslim communities in prison. The group was persistently under threat due to this constantly fluctuating base. Short sentences often meant the release of members, and several assistants were appointed for each officer position to assure continuity and sustainability. These multiple appointments were primarily meant to combat the “further reduction of our ranks by the implacable enemy through persecutions (solitary confinement).”

Solitary confinement—sometimes referred to as “the box” or “segregation”—was the prison’s primary tool of security and discipline. The practice of solitary confinement was honed over a century earlier at New York’s Auburn Prison, with a trademark system of strict discipline, labor for prison profit, and solitude. This drew on nineteenth-century penal thought based on the belief that collective work and isolated living would reform prisoners. By the 1960s, at Attica Prison, solitary confinement had shed all pretenses of rehabilitation and was used strictly as a disciplinary measure. The section consisted of fifty individual cells on the third floor of the reception building with each single cell containing only a bed, toilet, wash basin with running water, and a light. When assigned to segregation, prisoners often were required to stay for days or weeks in “keep-lock” or a strip cell before moving to the gallery. “Keep-lock” was a single solitary cell with doors that “do not open up any more.” The strip cell was bare, with only a bucket and blanket. As SaMarion testified, prisoners “do an initial twenty days on a concrete floor with only a pair of winter underwear, pair of socks, no sanitary facilities whatever. The only thing you

use for calls of nature is a bucket, a defecation bucket.” Rations in keep-lock were reduced to half of normal mess-hall food: water and two slices of bread. Magette described keeplock at Clinton Prison as even more medieval. The “Dark Cell” was completely empty, without even a blanket. He was put there naked with a half a cup of water and one slice of bread three times a day. 

But solitary confinement was used by prison officials as more than a physical deterrent. It was coupled with the loss of good time as a way to isolate prisoners while simultaneously extending their sentences. Good time, sometimes referred to as good behavior (and now called “earned time”), was purportedly meant to reward well-behaved prisoners with a shortened sentence through their good conduct. However, like solitary confinement, it was used as a punitive measure. For example, in the first year the men spent at Attica Prison, thirty-three prisoners were sent to solitary confinement and four hundred cases of discipline led to 8,525 total days of good time lost over a nine-month period.

The loss of good time and the use of solitary confinement also punished prisoners in two directions at once. First, prisoners lost an initial amount of time for the disciplinary matter. For instance, SaMarion lost sixty days for joining a hunger strike in protest of the solitary confinement of another Muslim prisoner. Te second loss of time occurred during solitary confinement, as each day in solitary earned three lost days. Finally, regardless of prisoners’ behavior in solitary confinement, good time could not begin to be reaccumulated until a prisoner had been readmitted to the prison’s general population. These good-time practices illustrate the vast discretionary powers wielded by prison officials. As SaMarion bleakly noted at trial, “it is taken at will, you have it one minute,
then you don’t have it.”

A year after the four men had been transferred from Clinton Prison, Attica Prison officials reported that a sit-down strike was being planned in protest of Sostre’s solitary confinement. They responded by putting the prisoners in keep-lock with a loss of ninety days of good time. The group was then divided and transferred to different blocks with the hope that “after a thirty-day cooling-off period and the dispersion of the members of this click[,] activity will abate.” This incident reveals the ongoing struggle between strategies employed by prison officials to suppress Muslim activism and prisoners’ resistance to such practices. The state used transfers and the combination of solitary confinement and goodtime practices to slow the spread of Islam in New York prisons. But prisoners continued to bring their plight before the courts, ending the unspoken “hands-off” policy that had previously sheltered prisons from oversight by the judicial branch.” 

– Garrett Felber, ““Shades of Mississippi”: The Nation of Islam’s Prison Organizing, the Carceral State, and the Black Freedom Struggle.” The Journal of American History, June 2018. pp. 83-84

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“Hostage-taking inquiry is likely to remain secret,” Montreal Gazette. August 30, 1980. Page 03.

By ELLEN McKeough
of The Gazette

An inquiry into one of ‘the most serious hostage takings in the history of Canada’ should be ready in a week – but it will probably never be made public, the solicitor-general of Canada said yesterday.

Robert Kaplan was touring the maximum security Laval Institute where a three-day hostage-taking ended Thursday.

He said yesterday the results of the investigation will not be made public because he refused to ‘publish blueprints of our prisons and our contingency plans.’

He does not expect that any one person will be held responsible for the 74-hour drama in which nien convicts held 12 people hostage in a desperate bid for freedom.

Kaplan has appointed Al Wrenshall, inspector-general of prisons and former RCMP chief superintendent, to find out how 10 convicts got outside the prison’s west gate.

While of the convicts was shot to death, the rest – including five convicted killers – were trapped against an outside wall and used 12 hostages for cover.

Kaplan, 43, called the incident the ‘most serious hostage-taking in the history of Canada.’

‘I am determined we are going to learned from this incident,’ the solicitor-general said.

The inquiry will also look into two recent escapes from the maximum-security jail at Dorchester, N. B.

Kaplan said longer sentences are a factor in the increased number of hostage takings incidents in prison becaue ‘they contribute to the desperation of the inmates.’

He said the peaceful ending of the latest incident swhows the ‘value of our hard-line policy’ of not negotiating with offenders.

The convicts surrendered Thursday morning after one of the convicts almost cracked under the strain and threatened to kill himself or someone else.

They laid down their revolvers and gave up their hostages at 10:30 a.m.

Freed hostages contacted yesterday by The Gazette refused to comment on their ordeal.

The hostage-takers will spend the next six months in solitary confinement at the nearby Correctional Development Centre.

Kaplan dismissed complaints from Edgard Roussel, one of the Laval convicts, that the ‘super-maximum’ security centre near Laval is ‘designed only to turn us into beasts, to develop killer instincts.’

The solicitor-general answered that the ‘prison officials can help…but the prisoner has to want to go straight…’

Roussel made the complaints in an open letter he sent to a member of Parliament in April.

The government plans to close the 107-year-old Laval Institute by 1986.

The prison has been condemned by at least three royal commissions of inquiry and one government subcommittee.

In the four years preceeding this latest incident, there have been four hostage-taking incidents at Laval. In one incident two years ago, a guard was killed as five inmates made an unsuccessful escape bid.

The prisoner’s plea that preceded incident
Edgar Roussel, one of our nine prisoners involved in a 74-hour hostage-taking at the maximum security Laval Institute this week, warned an MP four months ago that unless his prison conditions improved he would probably commit ‘a desperate act.’

‘I sense that something has broken down in the system and if no one intervenes on my behalf the worst can be expected,’ the 34-year-old convicted murderer wrote Mark MacGuigan from his cell.

‘The saturation point has been reached, the slightest incident could be the (spark), could lead to a desperate act.’

Roussel, serving two life terms for the killing of two men in a Montreal bar in 1974, wrote the appeal to MacGuigan – now the external affairs minister but formerly the head of a Parliamentary inquiry into prison conditions – last April while serving time in the ‘super-maximum’ security Correctional Develppment Centre, a separate facility not far from Laval Institute.

Roussel was sent there in March, 1978, after taking part in the longest hostage-taking incident in history of Canadian prisons at a provincial jail near St. Jerome.

‘For two long and interminable years I have not hugged my wife, my mother, or my daughter,’ Roussell wrote in the 2,500-word letter to MacGuigan, published in its entirety yesterday in Le Devoir.

‘And for two long years as well I have gone without seeing the light of the moon, the stars. To the most vile of animals this right is not denied.

‘In summer, it (the cell) is a cremation oven whcih is made intolerable by total inactivity. In the morning, a symphony of clearing of throats, of blowing of noses, of horase coughs to clear the respiratory system.

‘For nearly two years I have slept on the floor of my cell, my head resting at the bottom of the door to benefit from the small breeze, incomparable luxury.’

Roussel claimed that due to ‘a thirst for vengeance’ on the part of penitentiayr officials, he had been held in isolation longer than the two other convicts involved in the St. Jerome hostage-taking.

Roussel and the eight prisoners have been transferred back to the Correctional Development Centre for a period of at least six months as punishment for their role in the hostage taking.

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“Laval penitentiary has long history of violence,” Montreal Gazette. August 28, 1980. Page 04.

The Laval Institute, where late last night nine prisoners were still holding 11 hostages, has often been the site of prison violence.

The history of the 107-year-old prison, formerly known as St. Vincent de Paul Penitentiary, is dotted with riots, hostage-takings, escapes, suicides and murders of both prisoners and guards.

In the last four years alone there have been five hostage-takings, including the current one. The most recent occurred last February when three prisoners, armed with ice picks, held three guards hostage for eight hours.

The hostage-takings have all been resolved without violence, but in other incidents several guards have been attacked by prisoners, and one guard has been killed.

In July, 1978, prison guard Guy Fournier was shot and killed as five inmates made an escape attempt. One prisoner was killed in the incident and the other four were recaptured within weeks. They are currently serving life sentences, with no opportunity for parole before 25 years.

Conditions at the Institution, which has housed approximately 200,000 inmates during the last century, has been called deplorable by prisoners, politicians and prisoners’ rights groups. 

The prison has been condemned by at least three royal commissions of inquiry and one government subcommittee.

A 1977 report by the federal sub-committee that examined Canada’s penitentiary system called the institution uninhabitable and said it should be ‘demolished and rebuilt.’ 

But the report did nothing to lessen the violence there.

In September, 1978, for example, 29-year-old inmate Roland Simard, a known associate of Edgar Roussel, one of the prisoners involved in the current hostage-taking, wounded two guards with a home-made knife.

Simard, who was serving two life terms for murder, got another year for the attacks.

But during his trial several other inmates testified that guards in the solitary confinement unit where Simard was being held harassed him by restricting his food and taunting him for about a month before the incident. 

Over the years, prisoners’ protests of conditions in the jail have ranged from hunger strikes to suicides to riots.

Earlier this summer, seven prisoners from the solitary confinement unit slit their wrists in the prison exercise yard to protest conditions in the unit.

Two were hospitalized and the others were treated in the prison infirmary. Authorities used tear gas as they cleared the exercise yard.

Four years ago almost 300 inmates went on an hour-long spreed, smashing sinks and toilets, setting bedding and mattresses afire and breaking windows. Approximately $500,000 worth of damage was done, but no one was injured.

And in 1962 Laval was the scene of the worst prison riot in Canadian history. Several inmates were killed in a riot that destroyed almost 400 cells and cost more than $3 million in damage.

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