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“Alcatraz of Canada Groups Troublemakers Behind High Walls,” The Globe and Mail. September 11, 1962. Page 04.

By EDWARD CLIFFORD
Globe and Mail Reporter

Millbrook, Sept. 10 – They call Millbrook Reformatory the Alcatraz of Canada.

Behind the 20-foot brick wall are 150 prisoners living a regimented life that they leave only when they finish their terms or change their behauviour.

There have been successful or even near-successful escapes from Millbrook in its five years as a maximum security institution. Here are housed the troublemakers of the Ontario corrections system.

A visitor to Millbrook might be impressed by its efficiency, its cleanliness, even its meals. It doesn’t give the impression of tough, steel and stone Big House where defiant men are broken.

‘It doesn’t seem so tough for an ordinary law-abiding citizen,’ said Millbrook’s superintendent, J. M. Marsland, ‘but the prisoners here are essentially manipulators who all their lives have tried to adapt situations to their own advantage. Here, they can’t. This is the most frustrating experience of their lives.’

To Millbrook are sent men from other Ontario reformatories, men who have repeatedly caused trouble, instigated disturbances, or have gotten fellow prisoners into trouble.

Here also are sent drug addicts and sex deviants who are kept in groups so they will not spread their habits to younger and more impressionable inmates in other reformatories.

No maximum security prison in Canada or the United States is more modern than Millbrook, its superintendent says. Prisoners are escorted everywhere by guards. Cell and block doors are electrically controlled by other guards sitting in bulletproof glass booths.

They work together, have recreation and exercise periods together, but eat in their own cells. Because they spend much of their time alone, Millbrook prisoners have time to think about their lives and their crimes.

When a man reaches Millbrook, he spends two weeks in a reception cell during which time he sees only reformatory staff, doctors and psychologists. From then on, he gets privileges as he earns them by good behavior.

He can forfeit his privileges by loafing, failing to obey prison rules or acting up. For repeated infractions, a prisoner can earn a period of solitary confinement.

This is why criminals call Millbrook the Alcatraz of Canada, and this is why Millbrook produces some model inmates.

‘Of course, we’re not as interested in producing model inmates as we are in producing model citizens,’ Mr. Marsland emphasized.

Consequently, prisoners are encouraged to work in one of the shops at the reformatory: the laundry, tailor shop, or license-plate plant. There it is possible to learn skills that could lead to a good job when the inmate finishes his sentence.

A prisoner can also get psychological help  and, in the case of a drug addict, help in curing him of his addiction.

By demonstrating that his attitude has changed, a prisoner can earn a transfer to an institution where discipline and security are more relaxed.

Not everyone in Millbrook is able to accept the reformatory’s way of life. One prisoner collected the hems off blankets, wove them into a rope, and wound it around his waist in preparation for the day he could weight one end, toss it over the wall, and climb to freedom.

‘He wouldn’t have made it anyway,’ said Mr. Marsland. ‘The rope was discovered in a routine frisking prisoners undergo regularly.’

The only organized disturbance since Millbrook was established came shortly after Mr. Marsland arrived as superintendent three years ago.

‘They were testing me,’ he said. A group of prisoners refused to enter their cells to eat. The superintendent, an ex-Royal Air Force fighter and bomber pilot, told the men the strictest disciplinary measures would be taken if they did not go to their cells. They went.

Actually, Millbrook inmates have little cause for complaint. They know ahead of time that it’s tough and are prepared for it. They can’t object to the discipline, and there is no reason to complain about the food, accommodation or clothing.

One prisoner, however, has a decided aversion to life in the institution where all the inmates wear blue denim. Currently confined to the prison hospital, and likely to remain there until his sentence is finished, he lounges quietly in bed counting the days. His sickness: Blue denim allergy.

Caption: Millbrook prisoners line up to leave license-plate plant while guards watch (left). They are searched, then go to cells.

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“A New Home for Tough Guys,” The Globe Magazine. August 30, 1958. Cover and pages 03-05.

Millbrook has a bad name, and its officials are just delighted

…a big bit is preffered

By DAVID MacDONALD

It was a sunny morning in June, the traditional time for graduations. In a rambling red-brick building overlooking the Ontario village of Millbrook – a building with the glass, tile and pastel decor of a modern high school – superintendent Hartley Paterson shuffled a sheaf of papers and glanced up at the youth who stood before him.

‘You’ve done well here,’ he said. The compliment was acknowledged with a quiet smile. ‘So you’re going to have the honor of becoming Millbrook’s first graduate. Tomorrow we’re sending you to Burwash. Congratulations.’

Though the prospect of going to the provincial prison farm at Burwash is normally not cause for rejoicing, the youth in faded blue denims broke into a wide grin and took the superintendent’s outstretched hand. After the months he’d spent behind the towering walls of Millbrook, Ontario’s tough new maximum security reformatory, the chance to serve out the rest of his sentence somewhere else seemed almost as welcome as a parole.

A petty but promising criminal and never a model prisoner, he’d been among the charter inmates of Millbrook when it was opened last September to isolate troublemakers from other reformatories in the province. Some had been released earlier after completing their time – one has since returned for a second stretch  – but this was the first to win a good-behavior transfer.

That same day, a few minutes later, another inmate came before Paterson with a special request. Soon due for release, he wanted to complete the last few days of his term in a regular reformatory. ‘Just having a record is bad enough, he explained with feeling, ‘but a discharge from Millbrook is a worse black eye.’

WITH the men who know penal institutions best – i.e. residents – Millbrook is scarcely the most popular, a fact readily acknowledged by its superintendent. ‘This isn’t the nicest place to do time,’ says Paterson, former governor of Toronto’s DDon Jail,’ and it’s not meant to be.’

What Millbrook is meant to be, what it was specially designed for shortly after an outbreak of rioting at Guelph reformatory in 1952, is a place of stern no-nonsense discipline for the more difficult inmates of other provincial institutions. It differs from most reformatories about as much as Dorchester Penitentiary differs from Disneyland. Unlike the unfenced so-called open institutions – where prisoners usually live in barracks-like dormitories, eat together and enjoy comparative freedom of movement and communication – Millbrook is tough, and a man imprisoned behind its 23-foot wall has a monastic time of it.

The first 16 days of his term there are spent in his closed-in cell, cut off from contact with everyone but his jailers, the reformatory psychologist, chaplain and doctor. His meals are pushed in to him through a small opening in the foot of his cell door and he gets out only for short solitary walks in a small exercise yard.

IF behaves well in quarantine, his life at Millbrook improves slightly. He’s allowed cigarets, visitors, a novel from the prison library and a nightly half-hour period to mingle with the other 25 occupants in his cell block. He also gets to work eight hours a day, scrubbing floors.

In time, he can win other privileges – a thin mattress for his steel bunk, newspapers, mail, movies, sports in the yard, a job making license plates, hobby periods or high-school correspondence classes. At Millbrook, a prisoner has no privileges but those he earned by good behavior. He can lose any or all of them easily – by sassing a guard, loafing at his job, or even swearing at another inmate – and he also runs the risk of solitary confinement ‘behind the little green door’ or, for really serious offences, the strap.

At a time when the trend in penology is clearly toward open institutions for treating criminal offenders rather than merely punishin them, the $3,500,000 stronghold at Millbrook has been criticized for its iron discipline, steel bars, brick walls and bullet-proof glass. As one authority in the field of corrections put it recently, ‘How are you going to prepare a man for the outside world by keeping him in a cage?’

THEN is Millbrook, for all its modern custodial trappings, an anachronism? Far from it, asserts Ontario’s deputy minister of reform institutions, Hedley Basher. You can’t have effective minimum security,’ he says, ‘without maximum security to back it up. Just the fact that there is a place like Millbrook has greatly improved discipline in our other reformatories. Maybe it’s largely a fear of the unknown. At any rate, with the troublemakers moved to Millbrook, we’ve already been able to disarm the guard at Guelph and Burwash and we expect to do a great deal more there in the way of corrective treatment and rehabilitation.’ 

If most reformatory inmates stay in line, and out of Millbrook, what about the others who don’t? There are 125 of them at Millbrook now, in three categories. The first is made up of stars, a misleading term for problem prisoners. Most of these are younger men, in their late teens and early twenties, who have already done time before. Group Two is made up of 25 sex deviates. Not rated as security risks or troublemakers – though sex offenders can disrupt normal prison life – they’re confined to Millbrook chiefly for lack of a better place to keep them. Group Three includes 40 drug addicts.

The youngest convict at Millbrook is a baby-faced 17-year-old who knifed a guard at Guelph, the oldest a sex offender of 61. Most inmates have little education but there are some striking exceptions – a dope-addicted doctor and two high-school teachers, both in for sex crimes.

IT’S worth noting that the star prisoners – the troublemakers – cause little trouble at Millbrook, if only because they get little opportunity. Says Paterson: ‘Most of them come here with that hostile spit-in-your-eye attitude. But after a couple of weeks in their cells, with nothing much to do but think, they usually simmer down.’ One reason for this, the superintendent thinks, is the incentive system of privileges. ‘They soon realize that the kind of life they lead here is entirely up to them. If they behave, it gets progressively easier. If not, they can do hard time. The choice is as simple as that.’

Another reason is advanced by Douglas Penfold, a psychologist with the Department of Reform Institutions who spends most of his time at Millbrook. ‘A lot of these men just can’t seem to adjust to group living in an open institution,’ he says. ‘Here they get lots of time to themselves, away from the influence and distractions of other inmates, and they have a better chance to start thinking seriously about their problems and their future. I’d say the attitude of at least 25 per cent of our so-called disturbers had undergone a distinct change for the better.’

While Millbrook may never set any records for turning out model citizens – since its clients are judged to be the worst of a pretty bad lot – an attempt is being made there to reform them. As well as up-to-date medical and dental clinics, two psychologists, a psychiatrist and a case-worker from the John Howard after-care agency are on hand to help prisoners get at the causes of their criminal behavior and fix on some way of overcoming them.

AFTER careful screening and preliminary treatment at Millbrook, many Group Three prisoners have been sent on the provincial clinic for addicts at Mimico. In addition, one Millbrook psychologist, Gordon Johnson, has recently been working at the forensic clinic of the Toronto Psychiatric Hospital, preparing a rehabilitation program for the reformatory’s sex offenders.

Perhaps the most significant development at Millbrook is the fact that its star prisoners will soon be introduced to group counselling, a form of psychotherapy that has proved highly successful in some of the world’s most advanced penal institutions. Members of the custodial staff, who will act as group leaders, are now attending a series of lectures by psychiatrists and sociologists – on their own time and by their own choice.

All such clinical work has the full approval and support of superintendent Paterson, a breezy 44-year-old onetime Royal Canadian Regiment colonel, and his chief aid, James Rea, a big greying man with 20 years’ experience in prison work.

‘This place could never justify itself,’ Paterson believes, ‘if it was nothing but a lockup for bad actors. True, it’s having a good effect on other reformatories. But we want Millbrook to have some positive value for the men who are here, to help them go straight when they leave. If so, Millbrook could be a big advance in penology in Canada.’

AS for Millbrook’s inmates, its strict discipline and rigid routine affect them in various ways. ‘I guess I’d better behave myself here,’ one prisoner wrote to his wife. ‘They’ve got more strap than I’ve got backside.’ Another, on the eve of his discharge, told Paterson that he’d never, never be back in Millbrook again. ‘Next time,’ he said, ‘I’ll make sure I get a big bit.’ In prison parlance, a big bit is two years or more, a term in a federal penitentiary. Perhaps the most remarkable reaction to Millbrook was expressed not long ago by a 19-year-old star prisoner. He arrived there spouting defiance, paid for it in solitary confinement and wound up meekly asking for vocational guidance and advice from psychologist Doug Penfold. When his behavior had improved so markedly that he was offered a transfer back to an open institution, he astounded all by declining with thanks. ‘I can learn a lot more here and keep out of trouble,’ he said. ‘So I’d like to stay till my time’s up.’

Millbrook officials were secretly delighted at this unlikely testimonial. But they didn’t advertise it. After all, the place just can’t afford to get a good name.

Mr. MacDonald was the author of a recent Globe Magazine article on problems facing the courts

Captions:

1) If he behaves, he’s allowed a mattress, mail, novels, prison company and visitors

2) The design of Millbrook is modern, but the walls that make a prison haven’t changed much over the years; Millbrook’s are 23 feet high

3) The job of making license plates for cars is a privilege, awarded for good conduct

4) Guard Lawrence Wiles keeps watch as one prisoner cuts another’s hair; at Millbrook, an inmate has to win the right of mixing with his fellows.

5) Head man: Superintendent Hartley Paterson; The resident chaplain, Dr. Harold Neal, conducts a service; Deputy Superintendent James Rea

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“Constructive Action Required,” Globe and Mail Editorial, July 14, 1948. Page 06.

The second riot at Burwash Industrial Farm in less than a year, following a violent disturbance in the Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women, and now the trouble at Guelph Reformatory, all strongly emphasize the difficulties of administering this type of institution. Obviously, nobody likes being in jail, and there could seldom be noted a general spirit of contentment among the inmates. Nevertheless, experience has shown that conditions in a penal institution are generally poor before mischief-making leadership is able to create trouble. The climax of the outbreak ordinarily comes after a long period of increasing frustration, and represents a degree of desperation. By then, consequences have become insignificant in comparison with the conditions being endured.

The administration of a system of jails and reformatories, therefore, requires a particular sort of person with a high degree of competition. He should be a man who is able to lay down a clear and practical policy, and be certain that it is being carried out. He should be at once stern and kindly; wise in his understanding of human nature, and discerning in his judgement. Above all, he should know his job, and the complex problems of running institutions which are both punitive and reformative, to the end that those who have broken the law will be aware of the penalty, and at the same time desirous of leading a more constructive life upon release.

Despite the disturbances which have taken place recently, we have confidence in the officials of the Department of Reform Institutions, and in their capacity to deal with the situation. Their reputation and experience is substantial, and they are held in respect even by those who have had just cause to be critical of the Ontario prison and reformatory system. Numerous innovations and improvements have been put into effect in many aspects of the system, and the Ontario Plan for reformative institutions has been widely studied.

It is evident, however, that further reforms of a sweeping nature are overdue. Too little attention has been paid to salaries which will attract the right type of person into this important work. There has been an indication that personnel policies are erratic and even unjust. The discipline among prisoners cannot be maintained if morale is not present in the staff. These problems are basically administrative and the public expects the Government to take constructive action before further trouble develops. It is essential that the department’s officials be able to justify the progressive policies they have fostered through their consistent application in all parts of the system.

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“Three Outbreaks in Less Than Three Weeks Is Record of These Ontario Institutions,” Toronto Star. July 13, 1948. Page 02.

6 Outbreaks in 3 Years in Three Reformatories

Six serious outbreaks of trouble have occured in the past three years at three of the reform institutions administered by the Ontario government. Two incidents were at Burwash, three at the Ontario reformatory at Guelph, and one last month at Mercer reformatory for women in Toronto.

Following are the dates:

July 18, 1945 – Three guards injured at Guelph during outbreak of trouble among inmates. Hon. George Dunbar, minister of reform institutions, blamed it on small potatoes served inmates.

July 12, 1946 – Donald Parks, 18-year-old orphan, killed by guards attempting to escape from Guelph.

Oct. 2, 1947 – Riot of 124 inmates at Camp No. 1 Burwash. Five prisoners escaped.

March 10, 1948 – Dr. Stuart Jaffary, school of social science, University of Toronto, reported on investigation he made into Burwash riot. He made 13 recommendations for improving conditions, and said that responsibolity for the Octobver riot ‘is clearly on the administration and not n the inmates.’

June 25, 1948 – 100 girls at Mercer reformatory stage riot by throwing dishes and using chair legs to hit Toronto police officers called to quell disturbance. Trouble continued for several days.

June 28, 1948 – Riot at Camp No. 2 at Burwash. Tear gas used. Hunger strike by inmates.

July 12, 1948. – Trouble at Guelph reformatory. Tear gas used. 311 inmates kept under close guard in yard.

Image captions (from top left to right):

Mercer, June 25 – 100 Girls Riot, Protest Treatment;
Burwash, June 28 – Tear Gas Used on Hunger Strikers;
Guelph, July 12 – Tear Gas Used, Over 300 Refuse to Work;
For the Third Time In Three Years, Guelph Reformatory, seen from the air, has Trouble

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“Negro Barred From Dance Hall In Hamilton’s Dundurn Park,” Toronto Star. July 7, 1948. Page 01.

Hamilton, July 7 – (CP) – Parks board officials today denied responsibility for an incident in which a local Negro war veteran was denied admission to the dance pavilion at Dundurn park.

‘It is up to them; they will have to deal with the question,’ Thomas M. Wright, vice-chairman of the parks board, said today. He referred to the contract which Morgan Thomas, orchestra leader, has with the parks board for the operation of the dance in the pavilion.

Asked today if there would be any change in the policy:

‘There can’t be any change. The only change there can be is that we don’t run any more.’

The practice in all dance halls, he said, was to ‘keep them out.’  and added: ‘If I let one in, I’d have to let two in, and then more, and the crowd would fall off.’

Mr. Thomas said: ‘Last year they [the parks board] said I should’t refuse admission.’ He added that he explained the situation, and ‘they saw the point.’

Morgan Thomas’ brother, ‘Bud’ Thomas, was on the door when the incident occurred. He said the admission had been refused, and accepted, by the Negro applicant, but the latter returned with a girl who objected.

‘Bud’ Thomas said there was a sign on the booth, over the name of the parks board: ‘We have the right to refuse admission to anyone without question.’

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“Three thousand park picnic tables and two thousand fireplace grilles were fabricated for the Department of Lands and Forests. The tables were made at the Industrial Farm, Fort William, Burwash Industrial Farm and Rideau Industrial Farm while the fireplace grilles were made as a training project at the Ontario Training Centre, Brampton. Detailed figures of our industrial operations are given elsewhere in this report, but it can be pointed out here that the total value of goods and services produced during the year, including farm products, amounted to some three million dollars.

Two years ago we enibarked on a scheme, in co-operation with the Department of Lands and Forests, in providing prisoners for reforestation, fire-fighting, park clearing and general conservation work. This work has met with such overwhelming success that we continued it this year on a larger scale. Prisoners consider it a privilege to be selected for this work and almost all of those who are granted this privilege do their best to continue to merit it. Although these camps must necessarily have a minimum of security measures, hardly any escapes are ever attempted. The intimate contact of staff and prisoners in work and recreation produces a state of good morale. Above all, the nature of the work appeals to prisoners and they have the satisfaction of knowing that their efforts are important in conserving the natural resources of the community. Wherever work camps are used, it is recognized that they have a high value in changing prisoners’ attitudes and habits.

It is satisfying to be able to record that in this Department several work camps were in operation during the year. The Fort William Industrial Farm reports that twenty inmates worked for five months at Sibley Park in the development of a new campsite. A squad was called out twice at the same institution to fight forest fires; once eighteen inmates were engaged in this for a period of more than two weeks. At Monteith Industrial Farm, over one thousand three hundred inmate days were spent on park development projects in Kettle Lake Park and Esker Lake Park. Monteith inmates also planted three hundred and ninety thousand spruce and pine trees. Fire-fighting squads were kept in readiness at this institution, but fortunately they were not called upon because of the wet season. Prisoners at Rideau Industrial Farm set out fourteen thousand five hundred seedlings for the Department of Lands and Forests and planted forty thousand pine and spruce trees. In March, twenty-five prisoners under capable supervision from the Burtch Industrial Farm set up a work camp in Rondeau Provincial Park to clear brush and establish picnic grounds. Burwash Industrial Farm has long been engaged in lumbering operations; such projects were continued this year. The Department of Lands and Forests trained three crews of twenty men each at Burwash and these were ready at all times to fight brush fires within a fifty mile radius. Reforestation was engaged in also and fifty-six thousand seedlings were set out. The Ontario Reformatory, Mimico, maintained two camps, one in Simcoe County and the other in Muskoka District, and in co-operation with local authorities they engaged in reforestation and
conservation projects.

Those who have knowledge of any of these work camps are highly pleased with their operation. There was not the slightest hint of trouble in any of them; on the contrary, inmates worked hard and it was not uncommon to have men ask to be allowed to work after supper. Discipline was good, not because it was enforced by staff, but because in such a setting, inmates were encouraged to practise self-discipline.”

– Deputy Minister Capt. Hedley Basher to Minister of Reform Institutions, Annual Report of the Department of Reform Institutions, Province of Ontario, March 31, 1957. Legislative Assembly of Ontario, Sessional Paper No. 37, 1958.

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“Institution Boys Pass Up Parole,” Globe and Mail. April 16, 1948. Page 04.

“Some of the youthful inmates of Brampton Reform School have been so enthusiastic about courses at the institution, they have passed up their parole to continue training in trades taught there, Reform Institutions Minister George Dunbar told the Ontario Legislature last night.

In a resume of the province’s penal institutions, Mr. Dunbar reported that at the Brampton school for offenders between 16 and 21, 155 have been released during the past year, and, of that number, only seven have been recommitted.

Guelph Reformatory, which Mr. Dunbar claimed was the best institution of its kind in the world, had yielded $648,000 in revenue last year and the estimate for this year was $1,100,000. It has a machine shop, canning plant, woollen mill, lumber mill, among other things, to keep the prisoners employed.

He gave similar statistics for other institutions such as Mercer Reformatory and Burwash Industrial  Farm, where the revenue was $101,000 and $185,000, respectively, last year. At the Cobourg School for Girls, 32 of the 33 girls in the class had passed their entrance examinations to secondary school and the school had the district championship girls’ softball team.”

[Top picture is from the 1948-49 Annual Report of the Department of Reform Institutions]

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