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“Bread, Water Is Diet of 310 Guelph Rioters Held In Auditorium,” Toronto Star. July 14, 1948. Page 03.

Special to The Star
Guelph, July 14 – More than one-third of the inmates at the Ontario reformatory are still undergoing dietary punishment today although officials relented somewhat last evening and allowed them to spend the night in the assembly hall, Col. Hedley Basher, superintendent, said today. Monday night the 310 men who refused to work were locked out in an exercise yard without blankets.

‘There was some noise during the night, but things were reasonably quiet,’ Col. Basher said. He could not state when disciplinary measures would be eased. The men are receiving only bread and water.

When spokesmen for the rowdy prisoners sought an audience with reformatory officials late Tuesday they asked to be taken back into the buildings.

Instead of being returned to their dormitories, as some had hoped, the inmates were ordered into the large assembly hall immediately behind the administration offices. Col. Basher spoke to the group and warned them they would be kept on reduced rations, until the last evidence of their hold-out had disappeared.

The superintendent’s statement that all was not perfectly quiet indicated it was likely some hotheads were still trying to buck authority.

‘Youngsters’ Among Leaders
An inmate said the ringleaders were either ‘youngsters’ who acted spontaneously or in a few instances ‘old timers’ who were ‘little more than bums.’

Again today only a few inmates are working. For the most part, they are trustees who are permitted to wander with only loose supervision as they go about the park-like grounds of the institution. Some are clipping hedges. Others are cutting grass and weeding the many flower gardens. Another inmate and an electrician are finishing their task of repairing a lamp standard near the superintendent’s house some 100 yards north of the main buildings.

Those who spent the night in the assembly hall did ‘some singing and shouting,’ it was learned. Again today they were offered only bread for food and water to drink but officials declined to state whether any or all had accepted this diet.

Although the complete day staff of guards was kept on duty throughout Monday night following the disturbance which started at noon that day, a large percentage were permitted to return to their homes last night. All said they were under strict orders not to divulge information concerning condition in the institution.

Won’t Discuss Outbreak
Storekeepers in the area of the reformatory proved equally close-lipped since they did not want to cast suspicion on their customers, among whom are many guards.

Hon. George Dunbar, minister of reform institutions said, ‘Many persons forget that the type of person we get in the institutions does not take kindly to discipline. We intend to maintain that discipline by such as are necessary. We are not going to have the inmates trying to run the institutions.’

About one year ago the inmates at Burwash farm took over the administration of the reformatory and held possession for several days. Last month women inmates at Mercer Reformatory in Toronto staged one of the worst riots in years when they smashed furniture and beat up policemen and guards who tried to control them.’

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“Striking Guelph Inmates Sue for Peace at End of 30-Hour Vigil in Yard,” Globe and Mail, July 14, 1948. Page 01 & 03.

Guelph, July 13 (Special). – After being cooped up in an exercise yard for more than 30 hours on a bread-and-water diet, 311 rebellious inmates at Guelph Reformatory early last night sued for peace and were brought into the assembly hall to spend the night.

The ‘fresh air’ treatment began to have its desired effect during the afternoon when Supt. Hedley Basher was asked to receive spokesmen for the group.

These spokesmen said that practically all of the prisoners involved had changed their minds about not working and promised to behave if the rigid discipline would be relaxed. After considering the matter at length, Supt. Basher ordered the men brought inside and blankets were issued to them.

The punishment diet will be continued for the time being. Its lifting will depend upon the conduct of the group during tonight and the early part of tomorrow.

The men, who comprise slightly more than one-third of the total prison population, refused to go to work after the noon-day meal Monday. While no official protest had been made, some of them shouted: ‘What about the food?’

After the officials talked to the men and insisted they go to work there was a minor demonstration of singing and shouting which was quelled by the use of tear gas. After that there was order and no further demonstration.

Some of the prisoners changed their minds early Monday afternoon, but it was decided to keep them out in the open as a disciplinary measure. They remained there throughout last night without blankets. However, as the weather was warm, none experienced any discomfort other than the fact they had to sleep on concrete.

Pictures taken from the air by a Globe and Mail photographer yesterday showed the men lounging in small groups, while others were standing in the shade of the four three-story walls forming the yard.

Officials were at a loss concerning the remarks about the food. They insisted the food is on par with that served in any other institution on the continent.

At Toronto, Reform Institutions Minister George Dunbar confirmed that the men were kept in the open purely as a disciplinary measure.

‘Many persons forget that the type of person we get in the institutions does not take kindly to discipline,’ he said. ‘We intend to maintain that discipline by such as are necessary. We are not going to have the inmates trying to run the institutions.’

He declared that complaints relating to food were ill-founded. Meat and fresh vegetables prepared by trained cooks are served daily.

He said that about 20 men had caused the trouble by persuading others in the group not to leave for their work in the fields and the workshops.

Image Captions:

Left: Bread and water and lots of fresh air was the treatment accorded 311 prisoners at Guelph Reformatory who refused to work. Here’s an aerial view yesterday afternoon of the rebellious inmates who have been kept in an exercise yard since theyr struck after noon-day meal Monday. Officials decided to keep them there as disciplinary measure. From the air it appeared as if bread had been scattered around in corner of yard.

Right:  One of the more modern reform institutions on the continent, the reformatory at Guelph, where 311 prisoners are on strike, is shown in this overall aerial picture. (1) Administration building. (2) Yard where striking inmates are being detained. (3) Main wing. (4) Recreational field. (5) Power house. (6) Workshops. (7) Abattoir. A few of those who refused to work are said to have complained a bout the food.

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“300 ‘Sit Down’ in Prison Yard,” Toronto Star. July 13, 1948. Page 01.

Work Or Starve Order Given 300 at Guelph – ‘Rebels’ Defy Tear Gas

Special To The Star
Guelph, July 13 – Prison officials said today they were prepared to ‘starve out’ 300 prisoners at Guelph Reformatory who are staging a hunger and sit-down strike in the exercise yard. The prisoners remained throughout the night in the yard with every available guard on duty.

Officials declared the situation is tense, but said they did not think it would break into a riot. Armed guards circle the exercise yard where the men met after the noon-day meal yesterday. Tear gas used to attempt to rout them had little effect and it was decided that it would not be used again, but that the policy of ‘No work, no food’ would be adopted.

A. R. Virgin, director of reform institutions, said in Toronto today that this already has had some effect on a number of the men who had asked to rejoin the majority of the prisoners inside. Almost 500 had no part in the strike, officials stated.

Armed Guards Leave Posts
From outward appearances everything at the reformatory was peaceful and normal. About a dozen men working in two and threes were cutting grass and trimming shrubs along the main driveway.

At the back of the building on a playing field another dozen or so were playing ball. About 50 inmate spectators at the game were sitting in the tiers of seats that line the field.

Only 50 men could be seen working in the fields at 10.30 a.m. today. There were 20 in a hayfield, 20 doing landscape gardening and 10 cultivating fields. An occasional shout could be heard from inside the exercise walls. Guards who earlier had been patrolling the walls with shotguns had left their posts.

The 300 in the yard looked to passing air passengers as if they were being prepared for barbecuing. Sprawling in a courtyard surrounding by three-storey stone walls, the prisoners steaming in their dark clothing as a mid-morning sun began beating down.

Less than one in 50 of the prisoners who were lying in disorganized clumps bothered to look up as planes passed overhead. Over 100 stood or lounged against one end of the shaded south wall as if it were a corner pool hall.

None of the 300 gathered in any sort of group, none were walking or strolling. A few seemed to have taken off their jackets to bathe in the sun beating into the abre dusty stone box of the square court. The hottest looking spot on the landscape was the steaming ‘pit’ where the 300 prisoners were put to ‘cool off.’

Slept on Ground
Col. Hedley Basher, once a Toronto policeman and former governor of the Toronto Jail and jail farm, is superintendent at Guelph reformatory. He would not make any statement on the strike, referring inquiries to the reforms branch at Toronto.

The prisoners in the exercise yard, which is surrounded by the cell block, slept on the ground, officials here said. Conditions for outdoor sleeping were described as ideal. There was plenty of space, officials said, because the yard will accommodate between 700 and 800.

Guards were kept on duty throughout the night. A bus load of close to 30 go home to Guelph every night, but their trip back was cancelled last night.

Complain of Food, Heat
There was considerable shouting when the strike first started after the noon meal. Leaders urged prisoners to refuse to go to the fields and they were able to get more than 300 volunteers.

The inmates were said to have been pained about the food and balked at having to go to the fields in the hot weather. They have to walk through the exercise yard after the meal to go to work.

Mr. Virgin said a few leaders incited the men to remain in the yard. Tear gas was used. While it caused the men discomfort, use of it in the open was not effective in getting them to leave.

Officials then took an adamant stand that the men would have to work to get their food. Those who asked to give in were refused permission to leave the exercise yard.

‘They must be taught obedience and they are going to take their punishment,’ Mr. Virgin declared.

Claims Food Good
Mr. Virgin laid blame for the trouble on ‘newspapers and radio stations’ which published and broadcast new of disturbances at Burwash and Mercer reformatory. ‘They have radios in their cell blocks,’ said Mr. Virgin. He added newspapers were not a general issue but prisoners have access to them at times.

‘As for complaints about food, the food served is exceptionally good,’ Mr. Virgin declared. ‘For breakfast this morning the men had pancakes, cooked cereal, bread and jam and tea. For lunch they would receive shepherd’s pie, potatoes, and gravy, soup, boiled cabbage, butterscotch pudding, tea and bread.

‘The diet is exceptionally good. I have always observed how well the food is prepared on every occasion I have been there,’ he added.

Mr. Virgin said there would be a thorough inquiry. As yet no one had been sent to investigate.

‘These men have rebelled for no apparent reason and they will take their punishment before they will be allowed to go back to work,’ he said.

The firm attitude taken by officials of the department of reform institutions is reported to be in contrast to the stand taken at Burwash after last October’s riot. In that disturbance, the prisoners took over and were in control for days. Then they were given an opportunity of telling their grievances to Prof. Jaffary of the University of Toronto. No disciplinary action was taken.

Image Caption: From the air, Guelph ‘rebels’ can be seen lounging on blankets, left, and standing in shade of prison wall, right

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“Young Punks Are Mixed With Hardened Thieves At Burwash: Ex-Guard,” Globe & Mail. July 10, 1948. Page 07.

By J. Y. NICOL
Cartier, July 9 (Staff). – Reporting on sick parade, an inmate at Burwash Industrial Farm complained to his staff physician that he pains around the heart. ‘You are quite all right and fit for work,’ the doctor assured him, instructing the guard to escort him to his gang.

Less than half an hour later the man dropped dead, his body was taken to the CNR station in a coal dump-truck.

The Industrial Farm is supposed to be reserved for old offenders, yet around 7 per cent of those doing time there are 18-year-old punks on their first stretch. They are forced to associate with the hardest criminals in the province.

Every man who tries to escape is sentenced to 15 strokes of the strap, regardless of the circumstances or the temptation afforded to him, and the punishment is inflicted in two stages so that the mental torture is often as serve as the physical.

This and other charges were advanced today by Toronto-born James Alexander Smail, 27, a naval vet who went north because of the ‘attractive offers’ advertised by Burwash administration authorities.

He arrived at the tail end of a major riot last October, when 15 carloads of special police had to fire tear gas. He left April 19, and freely predicted to authorities that another riot was in the making. This broke more than a week ago and again tear gas was used.

Smail said that he was suspended without either an explanation or redress and that his appeals have been ignored both by the Department of Reform Institutions and the attorney-general.

Now employed in a railway roundhouse here, Smail said: ‘I am at least $1,500 out of pocket because I fell for that Burwash advertisement. I have done my best to place some vital grievance before the proper authorities, but I have been ignored all down the line.

‘I am still anxious to serve, but that is impossible under the present circumstances. And I do not speak for myself entirely. At least 1,000 other men have passed through the staff within the past year. The turnover is out of all proportion or reason.’

At present there are between 600 and 700 prisoners. In the old days there was one guard for every four inmates. Now the ratio has been almost doubled.

Smail said that he was offered an income of $120 a month and staff housing accommodation which he never received after eight months of service. With deductions for board of $19.50 a month, $5 for room, medical, laundry, dental fees and unemployed insurance his take-home pay dwindled to $87.14 a month. Out of that he had to support his wife, and two children, after renting a house for them in Burwash village, seven miles from the main camp.

‘They even nicked me 25 cents a day to ride to work in a government truck which was also used for transporting prisoners,’ Smail stated. ‘I understand the the inmates, however, rode free of charge.’

The room in which he slept at the farm was big, about 20 feet by 40, but it was also shared by from 10 to 15 other guards.

‘There was about a foot of space between each guard,’ he said. ‘Why even at sea in the navy we had more room.’

Last February Smail and 15 other guards enrolled at a special school of instruction authorized by George Dunbar, Minister of Reform Institutions. Smail topped the class in the final examination with 91 per cent. Few other guard ever broke the 90 mark. ‘And not many of those who did are still on the staff because they received no support in carrying out their instructions,’ he commented.

It was on the day of his dismissal that Smail, acting on instructions, participated in a ‘frisk’ of the 150 prisoners. This resulted in the discovery of live ammunition, knives, shivs or daggers and a considerable quantity of smuggled food, he says.

‘We had been instructed to be on the lookout for stuff like that,’ the former guard stated. ‘Yet when it was over I got the axe. The prisoners put up quite a beef, you see.’

‘An hour later I was told to report to the superintendent’s private office. He simply said: ‘Go home and we will call you in a day or so when this blows over. The prisoners are a little peeved.’ I went home free of charge that day in a staff truck, driven by an inmate with no guard accompanying.

‘Later, the superintendent sent work that I should see him at 8 p.m. at his home. When I got there I was told to sit down in a big leather chair and three senior officers started to quick me. I didn’t want to take abuse from them for doing my duty and I let them know that.

‘Acting Superintendent Brown said ‘I have been in touch with Toronto and on verbal instructions by telephone both you and a sergeant are to be dismissed.’ With that I left.’

Smail recalled two or three incidents where prisoners had been strapped for bolting from the farm under heartbreaking circumstances.

‘I know why one man tried to get away,’ he stated. ‘He received word of trouble at home. This prisoner was married and was a father. As soon as he was caught he was given the usual sentence – 15 strokes of the strap, and that is mandatory in such cases.

‘It was obvious even to his guards that he was in a frantic state of mind while at work and he should have been under strict supervision. Instead of that he was given opportunity to attempt to gain his freedom. And the temptation was too strong.

‘Now a strapping is not a pretty spectacle, I may assure you. The prisoner is hitched firmly to a post and there are steel bonds around his arms, his stomach and his feet. He is blindfolded and his shirt is pulled up to his blindfold.

‘The guard assigned to inflict the punishment has a strap about three feet long. He flails the man with it eight times and none of the strokes are gentle. It leaves the man black and blue.

‘After those eight strokes the man is bustled off to solitary confinement. He is stripped of his clothing, handed a nightgown and tossed into a cell. For the next seven days and nights he must lie on the cement floor – for there is no cot in solitary, you see.’

But another pathetic incident lingers in Smail’s mind. There was the day when a fresh load of ‘fish’ or new inmates arrived. Among them was a blond-haired lad of about 18. It was plain to all that he had never been in jail before. When he lined up for dinner, the kid picked up a tray, as he would in a city cafeteria, to collect his food. The old-timers just hold their plates out. Burwash is supposed to be the place for the old-timers, the guard pointed out.

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“Unrest at Industrial Farm – Burwash System Indicted by Salvation Officer,” Globe & Mail. July 8, 1948. Page 01 & 02.

By J. Y. NICOL
Sudbury, July 7 (Staff). At the Salvation Army service in Burwash Industrial Farm, a man no longer may stand, right up before his fellow men and say that he wants to be saved. Some guards curse the prisoners with the eloquence of a mule skinner. Some prisoners, in turn, flaunt authority by tossing their beans on the floor with the same gusto and impunity as they shoot crap on a Sabbath afternoon.

Incidents such as these are common knowledge in the Nickel City where a year ago, Reforms Minister George Dunbar came by plane from Burwash, 26 miles south, to announce the dawn of a new era the down-and-outer, with variations, after inspecting the prisons of England. This was to out-Borstal the Borstal plan.

‘I remember and well,’ he said at that time, ‘when at a tender age I set fire to a styrawstack. My father and I knelt together that night in prayer for forgiveness. The next morning he got up and flailed the hell out of me – and I know how easy it is for one to go astray.’

Twelve months have passed since he made that statement. So have two riots, and the firing of an unknown number of tear gas shells and a statement from both the minister and Ralph Ayres, Burwash superintendent, that everything is under control. Also, two Burwash strawstacks – barns included – have been set aflame.

The barns were burned in the first riot last October when an attempt was made to shift the blame for the outbreak on some of the underlings. They had left Dolly Quentin, the Windsor bad man, to linger too long there upon his approaching discharge, it was claimed.

But now at Burwash there is no Dolly Quentin to blame and more trouble may occur at any moment.

If it does the minister may sit on the information for more than four days, as he did about the outbreak of June 28 when the beans were tossed on the floor. 

In a nutshell, the department is trying to put over a noble idea with a parsimonious spirit. First, the minister has C. H. Neelands, as his deputy, who, with the late Norman Oliver and two lumberjack prisoners in one common tent, started Burwash more than 30 years ago as an adventure in reformation.

Through the years, Mr. Neelands advanced in the public service. Weathering changes of government and policy, he has proved invaluable.

You could call Mr. Neelands about any little matter and he could give you an immediate answer. Today, when you ask Mr. Neelands, he answers, ‘Sorry, I know nothing.’

Then there is A. R. Virgin, superintendent of all of Mr. Dunbar’s institutions and also a capable executive.

Mr. Dunbar has answered complaints about the rapid turnover in his staff by saying, ‘This is a natural situation in Northern Ontario.’ He is trying to hire guards at a monthly salary of $154 with a promise of housing accommodation which came, in one case, after a service of four years. Any man with a pair of shoulders and a yen for work can double that in the nickel mines.

Two Toronto ex-servicemen, with good war records, joined the Burwash staff. They brought their wives to Sudbury and paid $50 a month rent. When they did not get their houses as promised, they resigned for economic reasons. After being accepted for other government jobs, they were suddenly tossed out. The reason they received was this: ‘You didn’t stick it at Burwash.’

About the only person in this area who will come out openly in criticism, however, is Major A. McEachern of the Salvation Army, who occasionally visits the farm in the absence of the regular Army chaplain. 

He said ‘the services are conducted in a most mechanical way, and that is not as it used to be. The co-operation from the staff has deteriorated. There was a time when we could talk to the men with confidence. And if we passed a suggestion along to the authorities, it was considered, but not today.

‘There is a feeling of mistrust among the staff and this in turn breeds a greater feeling of distrust among the inmates. They think that every hand raised in their direction is against them.

Our idea is that a man may be down, but he is never out. The official attitude is that he is always down and always out. Some years ago, when we held service we could invite a man to come to the altar and say his prayers. We can’t do that any more. We cannot ask a man either to stand or to come forward and declare himself. At the most, he is permitted to raise his hand. Should he make any other move, he would be suspected of causing a demonstration. The atmosphere is not normal, even for Burwash.’

Major McEachern, who has experience in many other institutions besides Burwash, said that the guards seem to be imbued with the idea a prisoner is nothing but  a crook and a scoundrel, and that he must be told that frequently

‘I doubt,’ he added, ‘that much is to be gained by calling him a wretch or a scoundrel. I have met some talented men in Burwash – Men I Know can be restored to society. We of the Salvation Army, being practical people, do not for a moment believe that the solution is by pampering. We do believe that there is a helpful medium, and it is through mutual confidence.

The last time I conducted a service there, a prisoner told me, ‘Let me thank you for the words of kindness. They are the first I have heard for a long, long time,’ and I know he spoke sincerely.’

On May 11, James A. Small, a former Burwash guard, now living in Cartier, a railway town 34 miles northwest, wrote a letter to Attorney-General Blackwell, which said in part:

‘I would like very much for your office to look into the straight and truthful facts regarding Burwash Industrial Farm. I was employed approximately eight months. I took two inmates to the doctor about eight weeks ago one morning under the influence of drugs. These men could hardly stand on their own feet, but no action was taken regarding the serious condition of these men.

‘While working in April, one night about 9 p.m., I uncovered the place that an escape inmate was hiding to my sergeant, who in turn notified the senior sergeant. They captured the escaped inmate at 9:15, in the same place. I informed them on Sunday, April 18. I was instructed to take 140 men from the cell block to the show. I returned with the inmates and then reported to my dormitory the men who had stayed in all Sunday afternoon.

‘As I returned to the dormitory, a big crap game was in progress. Approximately 50 men were around a table 12 feet long and three feet wide. As I opened the main gate, the game broke up and the inmates stood around. I was asked to leave the dormitory by this crap-shooting crowd of inmates. I informed them that there would be no crap game as long as I was on duty.

‘On Sunday, about 5:50pm, I called an inmate from D dormitory. I had been informed that he was carrying money in this crap game. I searched the inmate and found a two-dollar bill. The rest he had eaten or discarded. Monday morning, April 19, I reported for work at 3:30 a.m., and I did my duties as laid down by my sergeant. I found that books and papers were being brought in. I asked one guard what he knew about this stuff, and he went to the senior sergeant about 7:25 a.m. and reported that there was an enormous amount of contraband in B and C dormitories.

‘The sergeant then called another sergeant, and told him to give C and B dormitories a thorough search. On these orders, three men came over to the dormitories at 8:50 a.m. I was in my own dormitory when six officers walked in and told the inmates remaining indoors to line up. They searched the clothing of the inmates, who were then told to go to a dormitory downstairs while their beds and clothing were given a complete frisk.

‘We completed 240 beds and 960 blankets in two hours and 20 minutes. In this frisk we discovered knives, bullets, tea, sugar, ham, shoe polish, extra clothing, wire files, razor blades, toilet soaps and small bottles containing gasoline and chains. Seven pillow slips were turned in, three parts full of contraband.

‘When the inmates returned they were surprised to see a frisk had been pulled. The acting superintendent and another sergeant (he had ordered the search) walked in and started to apologize to the inmates. They were told that anything that was missing would be replaced to quiet things down. They were informed that the officers responsible for the frisk would be suspended.

‘On this, the inmates started to holler and complain about losing tobacco, sun glasses and false teeth. One inmate went as far as to tell the sergeant who had directed the search that he wasn’t going to make his bed again. The ones who messed it up could do this.

‘I was called out of my dormitory and told to report to the superintendent’s office by the sergeant who ordered the search. There, I was suspended by another sergeant.

‘Immediately I left for Toronto to find out why I had been suspended. I talked to Mr. Neelands, and he said he would let me know in a day or so. ON April 23, Mr. Neelands telephoned me at 10 a.m. and asked me about my intentions. I told him I would ask for a transfer to another camp as the rest of the officers who took part in the search were transferred.

‘He told me then that I wouldn’t be reinstated. I told him I would certainly find out why not. With this, he warned me what would happen if I went any further.’

‘….I would like to have thrashed out very soon as I have nothing to hide on my part, so would like to hear from you as I know that the industrial farm is not a reform institution but a big political farce.

‘As I write this, four inmates have just escaped. Two were caught on the Toronto-bound train with first-class tickets. Two more sawed their way out of the kitchen. None of them was missed for 10 hours.’

A policeman commented: ‘I helped o fire tear gas at those birds. They had hung up some wet blankets expecting we’d shoot. The abuse they heaped at us before the got the gas blasted my eardrums. Just the same, I have heard a guard curse at a prisoner as if he was worse than a dog. No human being, at Burwash or out, can stand for treatment like that.

‘The Borstal plan is sound and it calls for discipline on one hand and incentive on the other. But it can’t work under bulldozing or mollycoddling, and at Burwash today they go from one extreme to the other. There will be more trouble unless they get down to business. We’re sick of being called in to shoot the tear gas.’

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THE CORRECTIONAL STAFF

 ‘I would say that the system cries out for a program of staff development, and
this can only occur over three, six, nine, twelve years. However, the program of
staff development should be laid down so that an officer who comes in, shall
we say, as a Correctional Officer I and who is prepared to apply himself can
look forward to a career in the Penitentiary Service and perhaps ultimately go
to the very top, one day be the Commissioner of Penitentiaries.“ 

– Allen J.
MacLeod, Former Commissioner of Penitentiaries (25:32). 

‘I have worked in medium, minimum and maximum, and after 10 years of
that you get a little angry and very suspicious at almost anybody." 

– A witness
from the PSAC, Springhill Institution (9:6) 

"One thing that I have against some of the officers, a lot of them, is that they
have disregarded a code of ethics, and I think a code of ethics is something that
should be more strongly proposed in their training program…. We do not get
help from the guards. If there happens to be a guard in this institution who
wants to be a part of some of the programs inside and give a little bit extra of
his own time, then he is ostracized by the rest of the guards." 

– Gwen Cameron,
Spokesperson, Citizen Advisory Committee, Springhill. 

Staff Attitudes

215. The evidence we heard on the position of the custodial staff convinced us
they too are prisoners of the system and bound into the brutal ethic that dominates
bad prisons. Some manage to rise above it; others epitomize it; but the majority are
simply ordinary decent men and women who take the course of least resistance,
living with an oppressive system with little opportunity to do otherwise. In other
words, they behave very much as most people do in unfortunate conditions. 

216. The worst prisons in Canada’s federal system in terms of reprehensible
behaviour by staff are the Millhaven Institution, the British Columbia Penitentiary,
the Correctional Development Centre and the Laval Institution. In these prisons
there have been a series of incidents involving intentional interference with management
responsibilities in an atmosphere of deliberate harassment and brutalization of
inmates. In Millhaven hoodlum staff go further, threatening and assaulting other officers. The offending guards, although a minority at these penitentiaries, are major
contributors to the atmosphere of confrontation which the Sub-Committee found to
exist in them. 

217. Both the Ontario Regional Director and a former Director of Millhaven
Institution indicated their belief that a small group of guards at Millhaven are: 

—harassing inmates; 
—attempting to subvert the authority of the Director by threatening the
withdrawal of services;

—intimidating staff who would not normally be party to either of the two types
of actions mentioned. (38:15)

218. One P.S.A.C. official in the Ontario Region admitted that he personally
had had a problem. He received harassing telephone calls and there was a "rockthrowing
incident”. As a result he had to move his family (21:74). The Sub-Committee
received other confidential information concerning incidents of employee harassment
by fellow employees. 

219. A similar situation exists at the C.D.C. (13:89). 

220. The Sub-Committee even heard evidence concerning guards who have
given known slashers razor blades and taunted them to slash themselves. On occasion
the inmates have done as they were told. At B.C. Penitentiary at least nine inmates
in one range slashed themselves on Christmas Eve 1976 after a guard left two razor
blades in a cell and told them to “have a Merry Christmas and a slashing New
Year”. 

221. To the inmates, the correctional officers are the visible instruments of the
system that keeps them locked into a life, as well as a place, of directionless and
frustrating idleness. These officers are regarded by some prisoners as “fair game” for
continuing insults, abuse, minor physical annoyances and all the other manifestations
of anger in a system with no constructive outlet and few other targets. In the absence
of the stability and self-assurance that come from good training and a sense of
professionalism, this behaviour has become reciprocal, with the staff and inmates
locked into what amounts to an endless and mutually-destructive low-level verbal
and psychological warfare. This often sparks into violence, as happened recently at
the Millhaven, Laval and British Columbia Penitentiaries. It continues over the
months and years, as each side seeks the empty triumph of goading the other into
reprisals. This imposes an almost unendurable strain on everyone in a penitentiary,
whether employed or imprisoned there. More than any other single factor, it diverts
the energies of all concerned away from any goals essential to the self-esteem of both
sides. 

222. Pressure and tension are constant on staff; the fear of making a mistake
which could result in an escape, a hostage-taking situation, or some other form of
violence, is always present. Threats are regularly received by staff—sometimes from
friends of inmates or former inmates sometimes from fellow staff members. Many of
them keep weapons at home and have unlisted telephone numbers. Reported
incidents are rare but those that have occurred were serious. 

223. Shiftwork, overtime and the fear resulting from the presence of ex-inmates
and of inmates’ families in the community affect the social and family life of
penitentiary staff. Boredom, which destroys inmates has its effect on guards, and
may manifest itself in the destruction of equipment or the harassment of inmates.  

224. Staff perceive themselves as having fewer rights than inmates. They
resent the erosion of their power over the inmates. Increased access by outside
groups to the institutions, open visits, Inmate Committees, new programs, the
presence of contraband and generally the lack of discipline and increased freedom of
inmates are seen by correctional officers as causing a deterioration in security. 

225. The self-image of correctional officers is poor. They do not see themselves
as important contributors to penal justice but only as watchmen who contain
men and ensure that they do not escape or do harm. The job provides little
intellectual challenge or sense of achievement. They blame their poor community
image on the media. They resent the perceived lack of management support. They
admit they are ashamed of their jobs. The result is bitterness, low morale, disloyalty,
loss of confidence and loss of pride both in their work and in the Service, which in
turn accelerate the “burning out” of staff.

226. The ultimate weapon of the custodial officers is “security”, and it can
be—and has been—used quite effectively by the staff to demonstrate, not only to the
inmates but also to themselves, that they are the final masters, in physical terms. We
find when matters have gone beyond the unprofessionally narrow limits of tolerance
of the custodial staff, that their response tends to be an insistence on tighter and
more rigid security. When this happens, not only do the work and socialization
programs begin to suffer, but also the prison atmosphere becomes more than usually
oppressive and potentially explosive. The suggestion given by Dragan Cernetic,
former Director of the British Columbia Penitentiary, put an important point
succintly: “security comes first, but inmate programs are more important” (30:158).
It is essential that this perspective prevail in the penitentiary system, although at
present it unfortunately does not. 

227. Custodial officers’ inclination towards solving inmate-staff problems
through increased security measures is often based on a not-unfounded apprehension
for their own safety. They become trapped in a purposeless confrontation with men,
many of whom have demonstrated an inability to control their potential for violence,
and some of whom, like those imprisoned under the new 25-year-no-parole sentences,
may feel they have nothing to lose. In addition, however, to their own safety and
reasonable considerations of control of movement and function, we find that much of
the insistence on increased security stems from other factors; they all have a
cumulative corrosive effect on the penitentiary system. 

228. Security assumes many forms. Sometimes “security considerations”
become the reason why clean laundry is not available to inmates for weeks at a time.
The sudden necessity to count and re-count, while the inmates wait in frustration
and suppressed rage over what appears to be—and often is—intentional harassment,
is another expression of tighter security. Inmates are sometimes awakened every
hour by a custodial officer’s keys or a boot banging on their cell doors on the pretext
of a check that the inmates are present there and alive. There is an extraordinary
disproportion between any realistic evaluation of the probability of escape and the
zeal with which it is guarded against, and the practice is unknown in U.S. federal
institutions. Inmates are also sometimes awakened at night by a staff member
playing with the lights. We also heard evidence of staff at several institutions
delaying meals and occasionally contaminating the food before it was delivered to
inmates. (Inmates have sometimes also contaminated the food of staff members in
the most gross ways when they have had the opportunity.) 

229. We recognize that discretionary power must be conferred on staff to meet
the legitimate security requirements of a penitentiary. Most staff members are
mature and dedicated enough to use their authority for the intended purposes. Some,
however, clearly abuse it. When this happens, there is almost no way the penitentiary
management has been able to obtain reliable information about such abuse and no
effective disciplinary measures exist to correct the situation. There is evidence,
moreover, that management has not always made the necessary effort to investigate
human lawlessness and subversion of the good order of the institutions. This could
reflect their fear of blackmail in some instances, their collusion in others. 

230. On a larger scale, various work and socialization programs are interfered
with for security reasons—or an excuse of security—or are not allowed to be
undertaken as a result of security pressures from the staff union—the Public Service
Alliance of Canada, Solicitor General’s Component. Such programs were stopped in
the fall of 1976, for example, after the disturbances at the Millhaven and British
Columbia Penitentiaries, and were only beginning to be re-instituted four or five
months later, stimulated by the Sub-Committee’s inspections of those institutions.
We should also note that “security problems” arising out of internal tensions
following a major disturbance were cited to us as the justification—which we were
assured was not punitive—for only feeding inmates twice a day. This is
unacceptable. 

231. The inmates of the Correctional Development Centre, mostly drawn from
the suspected rioters at Laval, have been confined to their cells for 23 hours a day or
more, and denied the usual privileges. Such practices are unacceptable. 

232. The variations on these themes are endless. Increased security may
indeed be required at times, but we find that much of what occurs is flavoured with a
heavy dose of self-righteousness on the part of the custodial staff, in almost the same
way as the inmates, on the other side of a deep gulf of mistrust and non-communication,
tend to assume the self-serving posture of innocent victims in a situation for
which they refuse to acknowledge any responsibility. These collateral uses of security
for purposes not reasonably connected with legitimate requirements have about them
all the elements of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once the zone of legitimacy has been
left behind, the demand for escalating security is the surest guarantee that more will
be needed.

 233. Morale is generally low among custodial staff. We attribute this primarily
to a lack of discipline. By “discipline” we do not mean polished buttons and
military creases in the trousers. Rather we refer to the interlocking trust that every
correctional officer must be able to repose in each of the others, reflecting a
confidence that each person, whether peer or superior, will do his duty. True
discipline is a result of professionalism. 

234. The “guards’ code” appears to be just as strong, and just as destructive,
as the “inmates’ code”. Every custodial officer realizes that his safety, his satisfaction
with his work and his success in the conditions in which he finds himself all
depend not only on his own behaviour but also on that of each of his associates. Yet
officers in more than one of our institutions are genuinely apprehensive about
misconduct, troublemaking or ordinary stupidity by their fellow officers—which, in a
prison setting, can be potentially disastrous. Despite this they are under intolerable
pressure not to break the rule of silence that the custodial staff, in their insecure and
embattled insolation have imposed on and tolerate among themselves. If they report
such breaches of discipline, they are likely to find little support from their colleagues,
46
given that all are familiar with the stories of slashed tires, scraped automobile
fenders and doors, telephoned threats and other forms of reprisals against those who
dare place duty above silence. 

235. We find that the impetus for enforcement of, as opposed to acquiescence
in, this “code” resides in a small number of staff at any given institution. This can be
expected in a service in which discipline and morale are so poor that nominal
authority, both with respect to the inmates and among themselves, has been
displaced by the rule of superior physical force.

236. The raison d’être of the Penitentiary Service, which ought to be primarily
defined in terms of the successful re-integration into society of the inmates, is easily
lost sight of by men whose energies must be mainly devoted to self-protection and
survival in what can sometimes only be accurately described as a nerve-racking
jungle. For a custodial officer to try faithfully to adhere to the official policies of the
Canadian Penitentiary Service which, for all their shortcomings, are an attempt to
ensure correctional success, often places him in an intolerable conflict between the
demands of his peers and the needs of the inmates. In this “them or us” situation, the
choice, according to the familiar operations of ordinary human nature, is generally
dictated by immediate self-interest rather than by any long-term or theoretical
concern for the inmates’ eventual return to the community or for the problems that
Canadian society, however imperfectly, is attempting to deal with through its
penitentiary system. 

237. All this can be summarized by saying that a correctional officer, in the
argot of the prison sub-culture, is under extraordinary peer-group pressure to
demonstrate that he is not a “con lover”. In terms of the psychological reality of the
penitentiary, as opposed to the official picture presented by the Penitentiary Service
for public consumption, a correctional officer can only maintain his personal
integrity, self-respect and the respect of his associates by conforming to the group
attitude of militant and belligerent solidarity. 

238. Given that this is almost on the fundamental level of a personal survival
need, the perceived threats to the custodial officers come not only from the inmates
but also from the administrative staff responsible for directing and managing the
penitentiary system and the institution. There are many directives issued from above
that attempt to implement modern penological techniques and approaches aimed at
fostering rehabilitation of inmates. From the point of view of the staff officer in
contact with prisoners, these often are inconsistent with his experience, and are seen
as requiring him to behave in a way that contradicts his own perception of what he
must do in order to function successfully in the bizarre and twisted world in which he
works. Management is therefore no less of an enemy to the correctional staff than
the inmates. 

239. In coping with this problem in particular, the union has become the
primary refuge of the correctional staff. The Solicitor General’s Component of the
Public Service Alliance of Canada is pervaded by a “garrison mentality” that, as we
have tried to show, it would be simplistic to attribute to selfish obstructionism or to
dismiss as something that is intrinsic to trade unionism per se. Like everything else
about the penitentiary system, there are genuine abuses in the Public Service
Alliance, among them questionable voting procedure in some areas, and failure to
perceive and act intelligently on problems that are capable of resolution even under
the present difficult circumstances. Generally speaking, however, the union presents
the only avenue, albeit an inappropriate one in many cases, for some sort of
resolution of the host of problems facing the staff. Union-management struggles,
ranging from threats of strikes and withdrawal of overtime to bellicose resistance to
necessary disciplinary measures, are consequently endemic in Canadian penitentiaries.
As more than one witness told us, the prisoners are the least problem of all—
although the inevitable result of everything that goes on is that they wind up
suffering the most. 

240. Canadian penitentiaries began to be “opened up” several decades ago
with the gradual abandonment of corporal punishment and the rules requiring
silence and extended time in the cells. These reforms also saw the introduction of
programs of work and socialization that were novel, at least in Canada. Superimposing
these new patches on what remained essentially a monolithic old system did not,
unfortunately, succeed in accomplishing the bright hopes of their innovators—men
and women, who, in retrospect, must be regarded as courageous public servants and
political officials. Instead the changes served primarily to require staff and inmates
alike to behave in some ways that were inconsistent with the overwhelming thrust of
our traditional system, without breaking down the core of repression upon which that
system is built. 

241. The results of our first tentative attempts at correctional reform have
therefore fallen between two stools with a consequent untoward impact on correctional
staff. Their role has become confused, and many staff members—particularly
more senior ones—tend to look back at the way things were before the time of
change as some sort of golden age of regimentation in which everyone knew his place
and what was expected of him. We are convinced, however, that the essence of the
present problem is not that we have gone too far, but rather that we attempted to go
as far as we did without giving up the security, such as it was, of a system that
placed almost exclusive reliance on external coercion and superior physical, as
opposed to moral, force. Much of the current union effort is devoted to throwing off
the present stifling web of frustrating ambiguity by reinstituting, both on a person-to-person
and on an institutional level, practices that have been officially abandoned
or condemned by the Canadian Penitentiary Service for a decade. By and large, this
effort has succeeded, and our correctional efforts, as opposed to our custodial
practices, are consequently paralysed in the middle of this union-management
deadlock. 

242. We heard much evidence, tinged with more than a bit of unobjective
nostalgia, about the experience of custodial staff in the pre-reform years when
corporal punishment, “closed” institutions, and the rest of the old ways and the old
certainties existed. As one witness from this era testified, however, the result of such
policies was not only absolute order but also an absolute and settled expectation of
“100 per cent recidivism” (32:5). It is obvious that whatever may have been the
situation in the past, to attempt to deal with the problems facing custodial staff
today by acceding to pressure to turn back the clock would deny any hopes in this
country to achieve a humane and effective correctional system. 

Principle 5 

Ways must be found to enlist the commitment, the reservoir of correctional
expertise, the basic humanity and the capacity of the custodial staff to act as
successful role-models for inmates in a cooperative effort to accomplish the
great tasks that lie ahead for the Canadian Penitentiary Service. 

243. We do not suggest that the custodial staff is the only aspect of the system
that must change. The problem is in fact three-sided, involving staff, management
and prisoners, each of which is separated from the others by entrenched attitudes of
confrontation, mistrust and deep suspicion. These mutual antagonisms stem from
factual causes that can and must be corrected by a significant reform effort involving
all levels of the penitentiary system. Penitentiaries have been subjected to a great
deal of tinkering, which has done more to unsettle matters than to improve them. At
this point, success will only be achieved through a determined, far-reaching and
courageous commitment to fundamental reform. 

244. With respect to inmates, we have already proposed a re-defining of the
purposes for which individuals ought to be imprisoned. This, coupled with an
examination of the criminal justice system as a whole, and in particular, its
sentencing practices, along with further remedial measures we recommend later in
this Report, should do much to remedy problems centred on the attitudes and
behaviour of inmates. Management—the second of the three main elements or
interests in the penitentiary system—is made the subject of appropriate recommendations
in the next chapter of this Report. It is in this context of the need for
constructive response by all concerned that the following proposals with respect to
custodial staff should be understood. 

– Mark MacGuigan, Chairman, Report to Parliament of The Sub-Committee on the Penitentiary System in Canada & Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs. Second Session of the Thirtieth Parliament, 1976-77. pp. 43-49.

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