Posts Tagged ‘queen’s university’

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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“What do we remember as a society, and what – or whom – do we forget?

This week, Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson announced plans for what he called the “exciting redevelopment” of the former Prison for Women (P4W) by the developer ABNA Investment Ltd. For months, ABNA has been in negotiations with Queen’s University to buy the former prison, located at the edge of the downtown core and near Lake Ontario.

But not everyone is excited by the idea of turning a prison into a playground for the rich. Since moving to Kingston, I have been meeting regularly with a group of formerly incarcerated women and allies in a group called the P4W Memorial Collective.

The goal of the Collective is to create a memorial garden to honour the women who died in P4W. The group has organized healing circles, film screenings and a letter of solidarity with more than 200 signatories. But they have been largely shut out of meetings to discuss the future – and even the past – of P4W. Where are the voices and perspectives of formerly incarcerated women in the conversation about commercial development and heritage preservation? And where does the memorial garden fit into the plans for redevelopment?

Working with the P4W Memorial Collective has taught me a lot about the history of the prison, which was Canada’s only federal penitentiary for women from 1934-2000. That means no matter where you lived or where your support network was located, if you were a woman sentenced to two years or more in Canada, you would be sent to Kingston to serve your time.

Numerous reports acknowledge that conditions at P4W were harsher than most men’s prisons, including Kingston Penitentiary. Just four years after P4W opened in 1934, the Archambault Report recommended its closure owing to “disgraceful” conditions. More than 40 years later, the MacGuigan Report called for the closure of P4W once again, declaring the prison “unfit for bears, much less for women.” Still, the prison remained open.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, experiments with LSD and electroconvulsive therapy were conducted on women at P4W, leading to a 1998 lawsuit. Even after such controversial research ended and more ethical standards for research were implemented, professors and graduate students at Queen’s and other universities continued to learn from women incarcerated at P4W, often in ways that did not benefit the women themselves. Careers have been launched on the backs of incarcerated women, even as these women remained confined in a cold, decrepit institution. And if they died without family to bury them, their bodies were either buried in a nameless grave or donated to Queen’s Medical School for anatomy lessons.

Between December, 1988, and February, 1991, seven women committed suicide at P4W. Six of these women were Indigenous. A protest broke out in April, 1994, and was suppressed by an all-male Institutional Emergency Response Team who stripped the women naked and left them shackled on the floor for six hours. The whole thing was caught on videotape and broadcast on The Fifth Estate. The final nail in the coffin for P4W was the Arbour Report in 1996, which led to the prison’s closure in 2000 and the creation of smaller, regionally based federal prisons for women.

Seven years after the closure of P4W, Queen’s University purchased the prison for a reported $2.8-million. Initially, the plan was to move the university archives into the former prison. But it turns out that a building unfit for bears is also unfit for valuable documents.

As Gayle K. Horii, a former prisoner at P4W, argued in a 1994 article called Disarm the Infamous Thing, the prison is a former site of state violence. But without a public memorial to acknowledge the women who lived and died at P4W, the prison is not visible as an “infamous thing.” It’s just another piece of real estate to be bought, sold and developed in response to the market’s demands.”

– Lisa Guenther, “What is lost when we pave over a prison.” The Globe & Mail, July 6, 2018.

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P4W Memorial Garden – Solidarity Letter

March 21, 2018

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The P4W Memorial Collective requests your endorsement of our campaign to create a memorial garden to honour the women who died in the Kingston Prison for Women (P4W) on a small plot of land (12’ x 12’) adjacent to the front administration building.

Our Collective is composed of women from many different walks of life, but we have especially welcomed women with lived experience in prison or with connections to prisoners through community groups like E. Fry Kingston, the Native Sisterhood and Native Brotherhood, local religious ministries, and prisoner justice activism. Our main purpose is to honour the memory of women who died inside P4W, but we also want to raise awareness that, long after the closure of P4W, women are still dying in custody and suffering inhumane treatment in prisons across Canada.

The Federal Prison for Women in Kingston is one of the most notorious prisons in Canadian history. Just four years after it opened in 1934, the Archambault Report recommended its closure due to “disgraceful” conditions. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, experiments with LSD and electroconvulsive therapy were conducted on women at P4W, leading to a 1998 lawsuit against Dr. Mark Eveson (a Queen’s graduate). In 1964, a Queen’s M.A. student, Judith Martin, successfully defended a thesis on “Pain Tolerance and Narcotic Addiction” based on research on prisoners at P4W; she co-published the results of her research with Queen’s professor, James Inglis in 1965. In 1977, the MacGuigan Report called for the closure of P4W once again, declaring the prison “unfit for bears, much less for women.” Still, the prison remained open.  Between December 1988 and February 1991, seven women at the P4W committed suicide; six of these women were Indigenous. It was not until after Madame Justice Arbour’s 1994 condemnation of the disconnect between human rights, the rule of law and operational reality in P4W, that the process of transferring prisoners across the country to the six newly built institutions began in earnest.  The prison finally closed in 2000.

Seven years later, Queen’s University purchased the P4W site for a reported $2.8 million. The site is currently for sale, and we are concerned that it may be developed for commercial purposes that erase or trivialize its history. In 2016, Elizabeth Fry Kingston asked Queen’s if we could create a memorial garden at P4W, but the request was not honoured. In 2018, after ten years as the site’s owner, Queen’s University is uniquely situated to recognize the history of P4W and set aside land on site for a memorial garden. Given the University’s history of research on prisoners and its commitment to critical education and community engagement, and considering that the University has not paid taxes on this property—eight acres of prime real estate acquired at less than market value—Queen’s is well placed to fulfill it’s educational mandate and role as a good citizen.

The current silence of P4W’s abandoned architectural carcass is a betrayal of the histories it housed. The age and emptiness of the buildings can easily mislead passers by to think that the painful facts of women’s incarceration in Canada and the painful facts of colonization are things of the past. Indigenous people are the most marginalized, least secure, and the most incarcerated in Canada.  The links between these facts were made clear in the Truth and Reconciliation Report.  Recommendation 30 of the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action says: “We call on federal, provincial, and territorial governments to commit to eliminating the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in custody over the next decade, and to issue detailed annual reports that monitor and evaluate progress in doing so.” This overrepresentation is especially acute for Indigenous women.  Since P4W closed, more Indigenous women have been imprisoned than any other segment of the population (increasing by 109% between 2001-2012). A memorial garden with art and educational panels acknowledging the connections between colonization, residential schools, violence against Indigenous women, and the lives and deaths of women incarcerated at P4W represents a unique opportunity for community engagement and public education. Moreover, it would contribute to Queen’s efforts to uphold its commitment to new nation-wide Principles on Indigenous Education.

Please join us in asking Queen’s University to create a memorial garden on the former site of the Prison for Women.  Add your name and/or organization to the signatories below, or send a letter of support to P4Wmemorialcollective@gmail.com by March 30, 2018, if possible (but later endorsements will also be accepted).  A simple affirmation of support is more than welcome, but we would love to hear more about why you think this project is important. What have we learned since the prison closed in 2000? What do women learn doing federal time? What is learned off their backs? How do we share the responsibility of honouring their memory? As the twentieth anniversary of the prison’s closure approaches, we are planning a nation-wide gathering to reflect on these and many other questions.

In solidarity,

The P4W Memorial Collective

Yessica Rivera Belsham
Founder and Executive Director, Circle of Wellness

Fran Chaisson
Formerly Incarcerated at P4W

Jacqueline Davies
Associate Professor of Philosophy, Queen’s University

Lisa Guenther
Queen’s National Scholar in Political Philosophy and Critical Prison Studies

Ann Hansen
Formerly Incarcerated at P4W

Linda Mussell
PhD Candidate in Political Studies, Queen’s University


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Old Leaf, Road Salt, Squirrel Skull, Concrete. Digital photograph, March 2018.

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“Denied By Acting Warden.,” Kingston British Daily Whig. March 12, 1920. Page 03.

“H. C. Fatt, acting warden of the Portsmouth Penitentiary, states that the report of there being any mistake in the shipment of bodies of deceased prisoners from that institution was not correct. He says there was no mistake whatever on the part of the officials.

The report appears to have been the result of a statement that one body was not recognized by the family to whom it was sent. While a body was sent to a medical college, the Whig is told that it was sent there only after being held a proper length of time and being unclaimed.

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“Bodies Were Sent To Wrong Parties,” Kingston British Daily Whig. March 10, 1920. Page 02.

A Strange Mix-up Reported Over Deaths at the Penitentiary.

It is reported that by a serious mix-up at the Portsmouth Penitentiary the bodies of deceased prisoners that were ordered sent to their former homes for interment at the expense of their families were forwarded to the wrong parties. There was much surprise when a telegram was received from Collingwood informing them that the wrong body had been sent. But more unfortunate still was the fact that the right body could not be sent, as it had been disposed of for the purpose of anatomy study at a medical college, as required by the statute, when no relatives or friends claim the body of a deceased prisoner.

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“That was the week that was,” by Jan Irwin, News Features Editor. Queen’s Journal. September 18, 1968. Page 09.

‘The picture speaks for itself. The chief characters in this traditional rite are vigilante Carol Nickle and fresh David Saunders and Roy Ambury. Picture by N. M. Robertson.

The Arts and Science Orientation Booklet, gospel to the incoming freshmen, says ‘participation in any part of the programme, initiation, etc., is strictly voluntary.’

Judging from the frosh interviewed during the signing-in last Sunday, either none of the newcomers to Queen’s had read their introductory literature – or this year’s crop is more game than ever.

Some were nervous, some were mad, one little girl was crying, and several hundred were frankly and vocally anticipating the booze-broads-boys syndrome, apparently the most notorious and appealing feature of the initiations.

Accosted in front of Grant Hall seconds before the onslaught of Vig authority, Lynn Dennett and Wendy Nikkanen were apprehensive, but not enough so to deter their determination to involve themselves in the activities.

Both felt at that point that initiations were ‘a good idea’, and foresaw their first year at Queen’s as ‘mostly fun’. Another freshman, Greg Young, when asked his opinion of the process, wanted to know if he should be hating it which gives one pause…Greg, however, is ‘ready for any eventuality’.

Frosh are anticipating a variety of things at Queen’s: ‘girls, girls, and more girls’, ‘a course in free love’, ‘anything mommy didn’t teach’, and so on.

And there were some laudable ambitions: ‘a law degree’, ‘a balance between work and play’, and every other froshy comment heard since the inception of the university.

It was a hard day’s work to unearth a freshman who refused to participate at all. One freshette ‘thought’ she didn’t want to conform, but wasn’t sure, and would we mind not printing her name because she might chance her mind…?

Another freshman, discovered in the Students’ Union, was more positive in his reasons for refusing to submit himself to the lender and not so tender authority of Arts ‘70. ‘There’s no purpose in humiliating the freshmen. Initiation Week is in incredibly bad taste – it’s not worthy of Queen’s,’ declared this student.

Frosh interviewed later in the week felt that the first few days had been profitable, fun, and not too detrimental to life, limb, or ego. Students who have seen several years of initiations feel that this year’s crop of Vigs are louder and rougher, and are carrying the hazing further into the week than is usual or necessary.

It seems to have been an Initiation Week, all right – outstanding in nothing but the enormous number of frosh and the lack of accommodation. It was a week of Oil Thighs, and Early Rise, girl-watching and boy-watching, and liquor.

Perhaps it was quieter in proportion to the importance attached to the academic Orientation Programme, but much the same frosh were put through much the same paces with much the same reactions – and wouldn’t it be nice to see some variations?

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