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Posts Tagged ‘special handling unit’

“Since 1977, the Service has operated separate units for those inmates who are considered to seriously threaten the safety of others. Originally, Special Handling Units were established within Millhaven Institution and the Correctional Development Centre. These units were subsequently replaced by purpose-built facilities at Saskatchewan Penitentiary and Regional Reception Centre (Quebec).

A relatively small number of inmates, because of their violent behaviour in the institutions, have demonstrated that they require controls beyond those found within a maximum security institution. Since the inception of special handling/high maximum security units, 558 inmates (to 1989.10.05) have been
incarcerated in these units. In general, these inmates are more likely to have been sentenced for a violent crime (only 15 had no previous record of violence), more likely to commit indictable violent acts while incarcerated, and more likely to commit violent acts when released than is the rest of the offender population. Specifically, this small group of individuals have been involved in 974 staff and inmate assaults within the institutions, 155 murders, 44 attempted murders, and 208 hostage incidents.

WHAT IS NEEDED
Violence within the institutions cannot be tolerated. Those inmates who commit violent acts must be removed from the normal inmate population and subjected to increased controls until such time as they indicate that they can control their violent behaviour and return to normal association. During the period of removal from the normal inmate population, the inmate must be required to address his violent tendencies, and thus, the Service must provide him the means to do SQ.

It is important to note that the removal of the violent inmate from the normal inmate population serves two purposes. Firstly, it reinforces the Service’s stance that violent acts will not be tolerated, providina a denunciation of violence. Secondly, it reduces the risk of violence in the institutions, creating an
environment in which staff and inmates can interact with a reasonable assurance of safety and in which an active intervention approach is tenable. 

OPTIONS CONSIDERED
A number of methods of removing inmates from the population were examined. The approaches considered were: punitive dissociation; administrative segregation; transfer to another institution; transfer to a Regional Psychiatric or Treatment Centre; and transfer to the currently existing high maximum security units. As well, a more controlled maximum security institution and a small hiah maximum security unit in each region were considered. It was the consensus of the committee that these approaches met neither the needs of the violent inmates nor the responsibilities of the Service in relation to these inmates.

PROPOSED ALTERNATIVE
It is recommended that a regime be established for the violent inmates, which will provide both reasonable controls and programming designed to meet their specific needs, especially those related to their violent behaviour. Such a regime could be implemented in the existing high maximum security facilities. 

I. WHO SHOULD BE TRANSFERRED TO A SPECIAL UNIT?
A Service-wide policy of “zero tolerance” is warranted for homicide, hostage-taking, and serious assault. All inmates who commit these acts of violence should be automatically transferred to the special unit for a set period of time during which a comprehensive assessment would,be undertaken. The assessment would be used to determine whether the inmate requires the intervention and controls afforded by the regime established in the unit or whether other options such as placement in a Regional Psychiatric Centre are viable. 

Other inmates who commit less serious acts of violence, who are strongly suspected of committing a violent act, who make serious threats, or who otherwise show a propensity for violence may be considered for transfer to a special unit, if such a transfer is determined to be the only viable option to ensure the safety of others. If transferred to the special unit, these inmates would remain in the unit for a set period to undergo a comprehensive assessment to determine whether the inmate should remain in the unit for treatment or whether other options should be pursued. 

II. DIFFERENTIATION OF VIOLENCE
Violent behaviour is symptomatic of a variety of underlying causes. Violent inmates can be considered as falling within one of the following broad categories:

i) those who are.psychiatrically disturbed;
ii) those who are behaviourally disordered; and
iii) those who resort to violence to achieve their own objectives.

These different underlying causes of violence have implications for any program regime for the affected inmates.

i) The psychiatrically disturbed inmates must have access to appropriate treatment. This treatment could be provided bv Regional Psychiatric Centres or by provincial psychiatric institutions. However, the transfer of these violent and unpredictable inmates to these facilities would likely prove disruptive and hinder or curtail treatment programs for others. – Therefore, it is recommended that a psychiatric wing be created within the unit designated for violent inmates.

ii) Behaviourally disordered inmates are those with fundamental control problems, whether they lack internal behavioural controls or whether they choose not to apply any control. Included in this group are inmates who react explosively to situations, those who act impulsively, and those who act violently under the influence of an intoxicant. An appropriate regime for these inmates must combine a decrement of external controls while fostering the development of internalized behaviour control. Specific programming approaches should include components such as conflict resolution, anger management, and alcohol and drug treatment.

iii) Functionally violent inmates are those who consciously and deliberately resort to violence as a means of achieving their own objectives. These inmates may use violence to effect an escape, to collect debts, or to intimidate others; Many of these individuals are capable of participating in prescribed activities but it is difficult to assess their commitment to altering their violent behaviour. These inmates should be constructively occupied and should be counselled to reject violence as a means of accomplishing goals. 

III. CONTROL
It is evident that any regime for the management of violent inmates must have an element of control. These inmates have demonstrated by their violent behaviour that they require control beyond that found in a normal maximum security institution.

However, the controls should be no more restrictive than that required to ensure a reasonable level of safety for staff and inmates. Although inmates may initially be subjected to severely restricted freedom of movement and association, these
restrictions should be gradually lifted as the inmates show that they can behave more responsibly.

Restraint equipment should be applied on an exceptional basis, only for those inmates whose performance indicated a need for such control. Face-to-face contact, free of barriers, is a vital element of any counselling’or treatment program. Staff safety in such situations can be assured through a team approach or interviews can be conducted across a table with the staff member’s back to the door if necessary. 

V. ASSESSMENT
Each inmate transferred to the special unit would be required to undergo a comprehensive assessment in order to determine an appropriate intervention strategy and the required level of control. In view of the high incidence of mental disorders revealed bv the “Mental Health Survey of Federally Incarcerated
Offenders”, psychological and psychiatric components to the assessment are crucial. As a result of this assessment, a detailed correctional treatment plan to specifically address the inmate’s violent behaviour would be prepared for and with the inmate, clearly defining expectations of and potential outcomes for the inmate. The ultimate objective of the plan should be correcting the violent behaviour so that the inmate may return to a normal population at the earliest reasonable time. A critical element of the plan would be in which institution, treatment facility or special unit the intervention strategy would be most effective. Therefore, at this point, a decision would be made to transfer the inmate from or to retain him in the special unit. If the inmate is transferred, the receiving facility would be expected to use the correctional treatment plan developed following assessment as a base document. 

VI. PROGRAM SCOPE
Programming within the special unit should be designed to assist the inmate in addressing his need to change his behaviour, to allow him to participate in constructive activities, and to allow him to demonstrate increasing capacity to interact with others with decreased controls. The following elements are considered as essential programming components:

• psychiatric and psychological intervention;
• treatment programs, such as anger management, conflict resolution, or substance abuse treatment;
• employment opportunities ranging from in-cell activities to a workshop setting;

personal development opportunities, such as living skills, self-help groups, or culturally-based activities;
• recreational opportunities designed to foster effective use of leisure time;
• pastoral counselling. 
….

CONCLUSIONS
1. The Service needs a special facility for the control and treatment of violent inmates. The current approach and operation of the high maximum security units does not adequately address the needs of those individuals.

2. All inmates who commit murder, hostage-taking, or serious assault will be transferred to such a facility for assessment.

3. Other inmates who demonstrate a propensity for violence may be considered for placement alternatives, including transfer to the facility.

4. An individualized correctional treatment plan will be developed to specifically address the causes of the violent behaviour, prescribe treatment options, and outline a plan for return to a normal population at the earliest possible time.

5. Psychiatrically disturbed violent inmates require separate and special intervention within the facility.

6. Participation in programming and-success in addressing identified needs will determine transfer to normal population.

7. The operation of the facility shall include:

a) comprehensive assessment capability to identify the causes of the inmate’s violence;
b) active intervention with inmates to encourage them to address their violent behaviour;
c) capacity to address the individual needs of inmates with psychiatric problems; d) the lowest level of control possible; restraint equipment to be used only as response to threatening or violent behaviour and based on individual assessment of risk; .
e) open contact among staff and inmates;
f) a team approach to programming involving case management, security, program staff and the inmate;
g) incentives to encourage and motivate constructive use of time;
h) ongoing staff training to increase awareness/understanding of violent behaviour and appropriate intervention techniques; and
I) the maintenance of clear and close links with case workers responsible for the follow-up with the violent inmates in the normal institutions.

8. Admission to and release from the facility will be determined by a committee with national authority.”

High Maximum Security: A Discussion Paper. Ottawa: Correctional Service of Canada, 1989. 

Photographs: Special Handling Unit and

Regional Reception Centre at Saint-Anne-des-Plaines, Quebec, 1986-87.

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Expanding the Carceral State
While the federal government was no more willing to step into state prisons on behalf of Muslim prisoners than it was in Albany, Georgia, on behalf of nonviolent protestors, the activism of the Muslim Brotherhood continued to receive attention from the state capital in Albany, New York. The writ-writing campaigns of prisoners had helped prompt a national response and the attention of the courts, but it also caused an arm of the state to reach deep into incarcerated communities. Wardens and state corrections officers authorized prison surveillance and, in some cases, even dedicated a staff member to internal supervision of the Nation of Islam. This surveillance was meant not only to absorb and report but also to disrupt and subvert. It also provided the raw material for state knowledge production that could quell prison activism. Prison officials soon emerged as arbiters of religious orthodoxy, determining who and what constituted legitimate Muslim practice.

As they looked to Muslim religious practices such as eating, prayer, and use of Arabic for markers of identity and political agitation, prisoners turned to informal strategies of daily resistance to combat state intrusions. Through its intervention, the state also assigned political meaning to religious practice, further politicizing incarceration and the practice of Islam within prison walls. State surveillance began with prison officers, who had the most daily contact with prisoners. One institution devoted an officer to keeping a list of all active members, searching their cells, and confiscating any literature relating to the Nation of Islam. Seizing materials slowed the spread of conversions and were a source for state intelligence. An area of concern was prisoners’ use of Arabic. The language not only served a cultural and religious function but also flummoxed prison security. For example, Bratcher gave specific instructions in his letter to Malcolm X: his mother would write him of the minister’s reply in red

ink with “three lines of Al-Fatihab” (referring to Al-Fatiha, the first surah in the Qur’an). One state report noted that it “would seem doubtful if the majority of the prisoners can rea[d] and write Arabic but if notes are picked up that seem to contain no meaning maybe they would bear investigating.” Several months later, six pages of Arabic to English and English to Arabic translation were confiscated. 

Another surveillance strategy that relied heavily on prison officers was the scrutiny of Muslim eating habits. The refusal to eat pork in prisons recalls Malcolm X’s own imprisonment in the late 1940s when he and other prisoners protested its prevalence in prison diets. At Attica Prison, Bratcher wrote to Warden Walter Wilkins asking for permission to carry food from the mess hall to his cell so he and other Muslim prisoners could eat after sundown during Ramadan. One prisoner was even charged with wasting state food for throwing away his bacon and refusing to eat it. Daily political acts such as throwing away bacon even escalated to more formal strikes. In Milan, Michigan, where Elijah Muhammad had once been incarcerated for draft resistance, prisoners took part in a three day hunger strike against pork, which eventually resulted in Muslim-prepared food and a separate dining section. 

These actions were challenged by prison officials who quickly seized on dietary restrictions as a way to monitor and challenge the legitimacy of a prisoner’s religious beliefs. “In order to check the authenticity of the Muslims,” Woodward’s memo noted, “each officer has been required to submit to the principal keeper’s office a report on whether or not the particular prisoner in question is eating pork. The members who are eating pork will be … included in next month’s report.” Another institution itemized prisoners’ eating when pork was served in the mess hall: “Of the above total [of 70], 30 prisoners either refused their ration or gave it to another prisoner, and additional 16 prisoners took their ration to their cells and only two were actually observed fasting.” By monitoring prisoners’ eating, writings, and literature, prison officers acted as foot soldiers in the state’s surveillance of the Nation of Islam. 

From this narrow base of day-to-day surveillance, reports on Muslims in prison also radiated outward to the state and federal levels. The success of the NOI’s organized prison litigation continued to trouble prison officials. The first to present on the NOI at the ACA’s annual conference was the noted penologist Donald Clemmer, who authored his foundational study The Prison Community in 1940. By 1963, topics such as “The Black Muslims and Religious Freedom in Prison” and “The Black Muslim in Prison: A Personality Study” surfaced at the conference. The academic communities of penology and criminology emerged as part of the state’s developing knowledge production about the NOI. 

The 1960s also marked a shift from rehabilitative strategies to psychological warfare and new technologies of violence, and Muslim prisoners were often the first subjected to these new experimental practices. As Alan Gómez notes, bibliotherapy was replaced with isolation, sensory deprivation, and brainwashing; Muslim prison litigation helped “propel this shift.” Edgar Schein, a professor of psychology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, presented a paper in 1961 to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons entitled “Man against Man: Brainwashing.” Bertra S. Brown of the National Institute of Mental Health responded by contacting prison administrators and suggesting that they “do things perhaps on your own—undertake a little experiment of what you can do with Muslims.” As Gómez persuasively argues, the ascension of Control Units, Special Housing Units, and Adjustment Centers, were all outgrowths of the experimental use of excessive solitary confinement by prison officials during the late 1950s and early 1960s. These punishments and techniques, he concluded, were “initially experimented with on Muslim inmates [but] later used en masse on political activists [and] became the model for the entire prison regime.”

– 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. 90-93.

Photos are from Ann Arbor Times, September 6, 1966.

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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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