Posts Tagged ‘prison hostage taking’

“Rebellion Hits 4th City Jail – 3 Injured; Hostages Total 24,” New York Sunday News. October 4, 1970.

Their Fate In Prisoner’s Hands.

A Wildfire of Anger from Jail to Jail

Our Reporter Takes a Long Walk in a Dark Place

Get a Behind-Bars Hearing.

[AL: I’m not going to transcribe all of these articles about the prisoner revolt in New York in 1970, but read more with these excerpts (Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.) from Toussaint Losier’s article “Against ‘law and order’ lockup: the 1970 NYC jail rebellions,” Race & Class, 2017, Vol. 59 (1).]  

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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.


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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“Maximum Insecurity,” The Globe and Mail. September 5, 1980. Editorial. Page 06.

The recent hostage-taking at the Laval Penitentiary in Quebec has left behind it a chorus of voices offering quick and easy answers to an extremely irksome question: why are there disorder, violence and despair in Canada’s large maximum-security penal institutions? The culprits, if we are to believe these voices, are long prison sentences, especially the mandatory 25-year term for first-degree murder. According to the protesters, these sentences breed hopelessness and frustration; they produce desperate deeds by desperate men. The solution? Reduce the mandatory sentence by 10 or even 15 years. The result? We shudder to think.

There can be no denying the gravity of the problems that exist in such prisons as Laval in Quebec or Millhaven in Ontario; nor can there be any doubt that solutions are urgently required, before more hostages are seized or more lives taken. But the problems lie not with the prisons themselves. Huge, fortress-like institutions, containing hundreds of inmates, these compounds have always been and always will be plagued by disorder. It makes little difference whether a man is sentenced to five years or 25 years: imprison him in subhuman condition and he will respond accordingly.

There is nothing radical in this observation, and there is certainly nothing new. In 1938, the Archambault Royal Commission of Inquiry into Canada’s penal system recommended the establishment of much smaller, more manageable prisons. So did the Fauteux Report in 1956. So did a penal study commissioned by former Justice Minister Guy Favreau in the mix-Sixties. So did a 1971 federal task force headed by J. W. Mohr. But no heed was taken. The current ailments, and their recurrent eruptions, are nothing if not predictable; they are natural thread in the Canadian penal fabric – a fabric that fundamentally has remained unchanged for decades.

There are many who argue that the establishment of a 25-year mandatory sentence for first-degree murder was little more than a sop to those who opposed the abolition of capital punishment, that its purpose was exclusively political, and that it has no penal value. But consider the matter in another light. First-degree murder – the deliberate, calculated taking of human life – is a crime of the utmost horror and must be met by the severest punishment. If this is not to take the form of capital punishment (and we firmly believe that it must not), then what punishment will answer? Society in general and potential murderers in particular must be left in no doubt that this crime, above all crimes, a repudiated utterly. There is neither justice nor safety in the proposal that convicted first-degree murderers be returned to the streets before they have shaken off their murderous intent. Common humanity and civil order both demand that the punishment be long.

And, so, the punishment must be long. But it must also be humane. So long as we continue to dump huge numbers of men into the great, unwieldy cauldrons that in Canada pass as penal institutions, we must shoulder the blame for the bloody consequences. The present federal Solicitor-General, Robert Kaplan, can and must change that – by breaking Canada’s hulking prisons into smaller units, by locating them near large urban areas where they will have access to extensive rehabilitative resources, by giving them a human face. The shame is not that there is no solution; the shame is that the solution has so long been apparent, and so long been ignored.

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“25-year murder term a ‘time bomb’: Is the law incubating prison violence?” Globe and Mail, September 1, 1980. Pages 01 & 02.


Mandatory 25-year prison terms for first-degree murder are creating a time bomb in Canada’s network of maximum-security penitentiaries, according to both prison officials outside the penal system.

In a series of interviews, guards, criminologists, lawyers and Government officials agreed that unless the law is amended the institutions will be plagued increasingly by riots, murders, attacks on guards and hostage-takings such as the one this past week at Laval Penitentiary in Quebec.

All but two of the nine convicts who took 12 people hostage in the Laval incident are serving life sentences, and at least three are in for the mandatory 25 years for first-degree murder. (Another prisoner who was killed at the outset of the Laval incident was also serving a life sentence.)

Most critics say the only way to defuse the situation is to reduce the mandatory sentence by 10 or 15 years, with parole a likely prospect after that period. Although prison guards’ representatives do not openly advocate it, they favour a return to the death penalty.

Statistics show that 116 convicts, slightly more than 1 per cent of those now in penitentiaries across the country, are serving mandatory terms for first-degree murder. Another 279 convicted of second-degree murder are serving at least 10 years before they are eligible for parole.

Critics argue that unless something is done about the 25-year mandatory sentence a string of maximum-security institutions will have to be built across the country by the turn of the century to accommodate first-degree murderers.

Alan Gold, a criminal lawyer in Toronto, called the present law ‘a sham…a fraud. It was a political tradeoff for capital punishment and it’s obvious it will have to be changed.

‘It will have to be changed by 1985 or the Government will have to build three, four or five Millhaven-type prisons (referring to maximum-security prison near Kingston that holds about 300 convicts)…It’s obvious that is not going to happen. Simple mathemaics will show you that the law cannot stay in effect.

‘And 25 years is just too long to keep someone in jail without a chance of parole. It creates a sense of hopelessness, which leads to frustration and then to violence.

‘It’s like a time bomb waiting to go off when you have a large number of inmates sitting around with no hope,’ said Mr. Gold, who prepared a brief for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association that was presented to a parliamentary subcommittee studying the penitentiary system in 1976-77.

William Westlake, senior deputy commissioner of the Correctional Services of Canada, said ominously that the full effect of the law that replaced capital punishment ‘is just starting to rear its head.’

Although studies do not indicate that inmates serving 25-year terms are the sole source of serious outbreaks in penitentiaries, he said, ‘if they are not up front there is good reason to believe they are operating in the background.’

He said these inmates are ‘hardcore, manipulative and very aggressive. Their population is increasing every day.’

Gaston Bernatchez, an executive with the Union of Solicitor-General Employees, said: ‘That law must be amended because conditions will be impossible in a very short time.

‘To do 25 years is nonsense, no matter what the person has done. These inmates see no hope, no future…Their only alternative is to escape and in their attempt they will take hostages.

‘In the meantime, they terrify other inmates and threaten guards. The inmates live in fear and the guards work in fear because they know these guys have nothing to lose,’ Mr. Bernatchez said.

‘I have had many inmates tell me they would rather be hanged than serve a minimum of 25 years inside.’

Real Jubinville, associate director of the Canadian Association for the Prevention of Crime (an organization of professionals and laymen formerly known as the Canadian Criminology and Corrections Association), said that ‘men serving such sentences become desperate, and when you get many of these people in the same institution from what may have been a relatively relaxed atmosphere to a highly tense place.

‘This tension affects even those prisoners doing shorter terms, who then begin to see their own life in the same desperate light,’ he said. As tension rises among prisoners, ‘there is a mounting fear within the security people in the institutions. The more desperate men you have in cages, the more fearful the watchers get.’

Mr. Westlake said it has become obvious that ‘these are the people our service will have to pay particular attention to.’

He said that a stricter and more elaborate method of security classification for prisoners has been designed and will be introduced over the next few years.

Prisons now are classified as providing one of three levels of security – minimum, medium, or maximum. The new system will have seven levels, and all prisoners serving the 25-year mandatory term will spend a major part of it under the most stringent security.

Mr. Westlake predicated that the change, which probably will take two to three years to complete, ‘will have a significant impact on exerting control and turning around problems.’

Although the 25-year term was singled out as the most serious cause of unrest in maximum security prisons, those interviewed pointed to myriad other factors.

Prison guards say that discipline has gone out the window, and as a result inmates are out of control, gangs are running the prisons, and drugs and alcohol are easily obtained.

Inmates and prisoners’ rights groups counter that guards wield too much power, that correctional officers are overzealous at times in exercising authority.

Allan Manson, professor of law and director of a correctional law project at Queen’s University in Kingston, pointed to the Government’s ‘failure to address very fundamental questions…in particular, the effects on the soul of long-term confinement.’

Prof. Manson agreed that the Giivernment has carried out many changes in the past 10 years. ‘They have dealt with a lot of the cosmetic difficulties…but they have failed to come to grips with an environment that is repressive and coercive. You can never escape the fact that the very structure of prisons promotes frustrated, hostile and dangerous environments.’

Graham Stewart, executive director of the John Howard Society in Kingston, agreed that many of the changes made have been superficial. ‘The major concern of all prisoners is not food or clothing. It is release. And that major concern is totally lost in a huge complex maze in which a large number of people are now involved. There is an absence of clear criteria on release, and the tension that builds up from that is incredible.’

Mr. Stewart said that rules on such things as day passes, unsupervised visits, transfers, and paroles have ‘become so complicated and complex. The authority to grant anything that requires a positive deciision has risen higher and higher…Negative decisions can be granted quite readily at the lower levels of authority.

‘And all the time, you’re dealing with someone’s life.’

Politicians and Government administrators have raised the expectations of inmates but have not delivered on the promises, Mr. Gold said.

‘They have been promising smaller institutions with less emphasis on warehousing people…that the massive penitentiary of the olden days would be gone. Yet the Government continues to pour money into building Millhaven-type institutions.

‘The Government keeps sending out the message hat ‘we’re not going to treat you like the animals, we’re not going to warehouse you, we will treat you right’ and yet, for a long time, nothing of substance happens,’ Mr. Gold said. ‘It’s the frustration of not having those promises met that leads to violence.’

Mr. Beratchez, who worked as a prison guard for 16 years, said that ‘prisoners have been given too many rights. That’s the general feeling of all the guards. There is practically no discipline. You cannot operate a prison without discipline.’

He said prison wardens are bending over backwards to meet convicts’ demands. ‘The warden wants to keep the peace. He knows if he keeps refusing the inmate demands they will blow up his place. It’s nothing but blackmail.’

Mr. Westlake, who has worked in penitentiary services for 32 years, said that in the past decade ‘life in institutions has become liberalized. It’s a reflection of the more liberalized approach society has asked us to take to the prisons. Once you liberalize, then it’s inevitable that those problems will come.’

One result is that ‘the kind of inmate you’re dealing with today is quite different from the individual we got 15 or 20 years ago,’ he said.

‘Inmates today expect more from the system. There is a lot of emphasis on human rights. Inmates have a lot more free time…’

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August 30, 1980. Pages 01 & 02.


Le solliciteur général du
Canada, Robert Kaplan, a
institué une enquête dans le but
de connaître tous les détails qui
ont entour é la tentativ e d’évasion de lundi, au Maximu m Laval,
et la pris e d’otages de 12
heures qui a suivi.

L’enquête, qui devrait être
complétée d’ici à une semaine, a
été confiée à l’inspecteur général
des Services correctionnels
canadiens, Al Wrenshall, qui
tentera notamment de découvrir
comment 10 détenus de ce pénitencier
à sécurité maximale ont
pu se procurer des armes et se
retrouver tous ensemble après le
déjeuner, lundi matin. L’ex-policier
de la GRC devra également
formuler des recommandations
dans le but d’empêche r que des
événements semblable s se reproduisent.

Le Solliciteur général a déclaré
que Laval a vécu l’une des
«plus graves prises d’otages de
l’histoire du Canada».
De passage à St-Vincent-de-Paul hier après-midi, M. Kaplan
a loué la fermeté des autorités
pénitentiaires qui, en aucun
temps, n’ont accepté de négocier
avec les mutins, dont un a été
tué par un garde dès le début de
l’évasion ratée . «Ce ser a une
leçon pour tous les détenus à
travers le pays», a déclaré le solliciteur
général, de retour d’un
congrès sur la question des pénitenciers,
à Caracas, au Venezuela.

Selon lui, les pénitenciers canadiens sont plus sécuritaires
que jamais et aucun ne l’est plus
que le Maximum Laval. Pourquoi
toutes ces prises d’otages,
donc? Parce qu’ils représenteraient
également un danger plus
grand qui jamais.

M. Kaplan explique cette apparente contradiction de la façon
suivante: d’un côté, les
mesures sécuritaires sont de
plus en plus raffinées et le personnel
est de mieux en mieux
entraîné; de l’autre, la «qualité»
des détenus se détériore depuis
que l’on a commencé à infliger
des peines dites communautaires aux criminels ne représen tant pas un danger pour la société.

De plus, souligne M. Kaplan,
les détenus ne sont plus confinés
à leurs cellules 23 heures sur 24,
ils ont beaucoup plus de possibilités
d’en sortir pour travailler,
étudier, etc., ce qui augmente

d’autant les possibilités de faire
entrer des armes de l’extérieur
et de prépar r des évasions.

Le ministre affirme néanmoins que cette libéralisation est
justifiée sur le plan de la réhabilitation
et qu’elle ne sera pas
remise en cause. A l’inévitable
question sur la peine de mort, il
a répondu que rien ne prouvait
jusqu’ici que le châtiment capital
permettrai t de réduir e le
nombre de meurtres. «Si c’était
le cas, je voterais en faveur»,
d’ajouter le ministre.

En attendant, les neuf mutins
qui ont survécu aux événements
de cette semaine ont été transférés
au Centre de développement
correctionnel, le «super maximum»
d’à côté , et les 12 otages
ont pu retrouver leurs familles.

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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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“En attendant une autre prise d’otages,” La Presse. August 29, 1980. Page 06.

Jean-Guy Dubuc

La prise d’otages du pénitencier
de Saint-Vincent-dePaul
s’est terminée par la capitulation
des mutins. Le suspense
a cessé, le drame n’a pas eu
Ijeu. Il ne faudrait pourtant pas
oublier trop facilement ce qui
s’est passé et s’en laver les

Il faut se rendre compte qu’une
prise d’otages comme celle
que nous venons de connaître
est un signe de la détérioration
de notre société, de l’échec de
notre système de réhabilitation
et de la pauvreté de nos conditions
de détention. Il faut se rendre
compte qu’il devient urgent
d’apporter des changements
radicaux à notre système pénitentiaire
si nous voulons entretenir
un climat social capable de
nous protéger contre les éléments
qui mettent en péril la paix sociale.

Bien sûr, on peut être tenté de critiquer les autorités pénitentiaires et de leur imputer tout le
blâme. Souvent, les policiers ont
le goût de se révolter contre un
système qui permet aux criminels
de constamment remettre
leur propre vie en danger.

Quand un criminel peut recouvrer
la liberté pour quelques
heures, il est prêt à tout: le
meurtre ne lui fait plus peur.
Certains des détenus engagés
dans la prise d’otages de Laval
avaient déjà participé au meurtre
de policiers. Ils n’ont plus rien à
perdre et ils sont prêts à se rendre
au bout des possibilités
qu’ils s’approprient. On comprend
que tout le monde les
craigne. Mais on ne comprend
pas qu’ils aient pu concocter
leur projet, qu’ils aient été réunis
dans un même lieu, qu’ils
aient pu se retrouver dans un
même atelier et se procurer des
armes. Il est bien évident que les
autorités pénitentiaires auront à
répondre de plusieurs anomalies
qui ont permis cette prise
d’otages qui aurait fort bien pu
se terminer dramatiquement.

Les policiers ont raison de se
plaindre d’un régime de détention
qui ne les protège pas adéquatement
contre des condamnés
qu’ils doivent trop souvent
rattraper au risque de leur vie.
Ils sentent qu’ils doivent combattre
un système en même
temps que des hommes.

Quel système?

Laissons la réponse à M.
Jean-Paul Gilbert qui s’adressait
cette semaine aux chefs policiers
du Canada: «Il ne faut
pas se cacher, disait-il, que nos
prisons fabriquent des monstres.»

M. Gilbert est le responsable
québécois des libérations conditionnelles.
Il est celui à qui on
reproche, parfois, le fait que
certains prisonniers aient obtenu
trop rapidement une liberté
jugée dangereuse; il est aussi
celui à qui d’autres reprochent
de vouloir garder, derrière les
murs, certains prisonniers, de
ceux qui s’appellent «politiques»,
au-delà d’un temps que
l’on croit normal. M. Gilbert
connaît bien le système où il
garde et dont il libère les condamnés.
Et il considère personnellement
que ce système fabrique
des monstres.

C’est pourtant quand ces
«monstres» échappent au système
qu’il devient dangereux de
les trouver en liberté ou en position
de force avec des otages. 

Le problème réside dans la
nature même d’un système qui
tente, avec des erreurs nombreuses,
de protéger la société
contre des détenus qui ont «une
dette à payer» et qui paraît de
plus en plus incapable de remettre
à la société des individus qui
devront un jour, selon nos lois,
presque toujours retourner à
une vie sociale que l’on définit
comme normale. Notre système
s’emploie à punir, ce qui doit faire
partie de la peine. Mais il
n’apprend pas à vivre, ce qui est
pourtant partie essentielle de la
réhabilitation. En fait, tellement
de responsables des services
pénitentiaires refusent de croire
dans le seul mot réhabilitation
qu’il devient évident qu’on ne
sait miser que sur la peine.
Quand, en plus, on le fait maladroitement,
on fabrique des

Bien sûr, il n’existe pas de
solution miracle et il faut s’attendre
à ce qu’une partie des détenus
ne puissent jamais de leur
vie s’insérer normalement dans
la société qu’ils ont trahie. Mais
il y en a d’autres dont la société
a besoin. Ceux-là ont le droit de
vivre normalement un jour. 

Il faut laisser aux spécialistes
le rôle de présenter des solutions
de rechange face à la situation
actuelle. Il faut bien se
dire, également, que le Canada
ne représente pas le pays au
plus sombre tableau au chapitre
de la détention et de la réhabilitation.
Mais après palabres et
congrès, après réflexions savantes
et récriminations nombreuses,
on demeure toujours
au même point, avec des prises
d’otages et des évasions de plus
en plus dangereuses. En dehors
des aberrations de la Ligue des
Droits de l’homme, il doit bien se
trouver, quelque part, des intuitions
positives qui permettraient
à une société en évolution de
refaire sa pensée sur la façon de
survivre malgré tout. 

La solution peut se trouver
dans une plus grande collaboration
des divers groupes concernés,
dans un meilleur échange
avec la population et dans une
nouvelle notion de la détention.
Mais cela ne peut que suivre
une certaine hiérarchie des valeurs,
un amour de la vie et un
respect des personnes qui existent
de moins en moins.

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