Displaced, Disturbed and Disrupted: Statement from Collins Bay Inmate Committee

Download an mp3 of an interview with Collins Bay Inmate Committee member Jarrod Shook broadcasted for CFRC 101.9 FM’s Prisoners Justice Day program.

Displaced, Disturbed and Disrupted
Statement by the Collins Bay Inmate Committee
August 2013

Note: Members of the Collins Bay Inmate Committee mailed this statement out in hopes of it reaching journalists, politicians and activists before Prisoners Justice Day. It did not arrive in the mail so it was read over the phone and quickly transcribed by a member of EPIC. It has since been received and a scanned PDF can be downloaded here: Displaced, Disturbed, and Disrupted

RUSH TRANSCRIPT

The federal conservative government anounced the closure of hte maximum security Kingston Penitentiary and Regional Treatment Centre (RTC) located on its grounds in April 2012. The decision, which was broadcast by former Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews, was met with substantial criticism, as the government would be rushing into closing the facility without a viable plan in place to accommodate the maximum security and severely mentally ill prisoners housed within its confines.

It would appear now that the consequences of this recklessly ambition plan are being downloaded on to the prisoners, correctional officers, and staff members of Collins Bay Institution, as the Correctional Service of Canada has made an ad-hoc decision to close down one complete 96-bed security unit at Collins Bay and turn it into a temporary, impromptu, Regional Treatment Centre for 70 acute care prisoners who are being evacuated from Kingston Penitentiary (KP) as promised by September 2013.

With the September shutdown looming and lengthy construction projects, which were hastily undertaken in preparation for the displaced prisoners, incomplete at Bath Institution, which was the intended site for accommodating the RTC prisoners, Collins Bay is now being forced to react by coming up with a knee-jerk policy to revise their current accommodation scheme which will invariably displace, disturb and disrupt the prisoners already incarcerated in the 96-bed living unit which is slated to become the provisional RTC.

The Collins Bay administration met with the Collins Bay Inmate Committee to deliver the disturbing news on the afternoon of July 31, 2013, the same day the information was allegedly shared with the administrators. The initial reaction on behalf of the inmate committee was one of deep concern for the welfare and stability for the Collins Bay population. This comes on the heels of a violent unnatural death which occurred in the institution a week prior as well as numerous lockdowns, disturbances and other incidents which have occurred throughout the year. Many of the inmate committee’s concerns and questions were mirrored by management who seem to be at a loss themselves to explain the reasonability of dumping 70 RTC prisoners at Collins Bay, even if only temporarily. The point driven home by management was that this was inevitable and the inmate committee was advised to come up with solutions rather than problems, as management wanted to work in collaboration to formulate an accommodation strategy that will reduce tensions and make the transition smooth.

As an inmate committee responsible to serve as a line of communication between the administration and the prisoners and vice versa, we find ourselves in a challenging position. We are unable to comprehend how this plan is tenable given its implications. Although our experience only speaks from one side of the wall, we would like to appeal to the public and other interested stakeholders on this issue with our outright objection to this plan of displacement on the grounds that such a measure will invariably cause significant adverse effects on the incarcerated individuals of Collins Bay and also those who work in this environment. We feel that the consequential impacts which will be felt on the mutual health, safety and security of those in this institution run contrary to the Correctional Service of Canada’s responsibility to provide reasonable, safe, secure and humane custody.

Firstly we would like to fit this scenario into a context of an already strained and aggravated population. In addition to the sweeping changes which have already occurred in the Correctional Service of Canada’s prisons under the helm of the Conservative government, including increased population levels, double-bunking, the abolition of certain programs and supports for prisoners, restrictions on parole eligibility, and a generally security-driven mandate as opposed to one based on the principles of rehabilitation, Collins Bay has also been plagued with a number of lockdowns, disturbances, and other incidents which have affected the prison population dramatically over the last year, this finally culminating in a violent, unnatural death just over a week ago.

While these disturbances aren’t intrinsic to Collins Bay per se, they are part of a general upward trend of turbulence under the Conservative government. This claim is supported by statistics which reveal there have been 840 inmate disturbances since the Conservatives took office, compared with only 482 in the previous six years under the Liberals.

As an inmate committee living with these consequences, we fail to see how exacerbating this already volatile situation could in any way be considered rational given the damaging experiences already accumulated with such large-scale change and dislocation. At the outset, a number of logical concerns present themselves based purely on the logistics of this ad-hoc accommodation plan. In considering the hypothetical implications of this plan, one must regard the fact that there are already just under 100 prisoners incarcerated in the 96-bed living unit which CSC is planning to occupy with RTC prisoners. Although CSC administrators have defended this plan on the grounds that all transfers into Collins Bay will be halted, and according to their population forecast a number of prisoners will be released or transferred out of the institution between now and September, they will still be displacing nearly 20% of the current Collins Bay population by re-integrating them into other security units in the institution.

On the exterior, this may seem like nothing more than a minor upsetting of the status quo, however the consequences are far graver than that. The capacity issue will invariably result in an increase of double-bunking to the 20% mark, compounded by the demands of re-adjusting the displaced prisoners to unfamiliar living environments, which would have more often occurred in much smaller numbers and gradually.

Double-bunking is a contentious issue in corrections and is regarded by the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, as well as many other academics and professionals of the criminal justice system, as an unsafe, ineffective means by which to address population management and leads to inevitably prove problematic for correctional officers, correctional staff, offenders, CSC and finally the general public.

CSC formerly recognized the principal belief that single occupancy accommodation is the most desirable and correctionally appropriate method of housing offenders. However recent convenient revisions to their accommodation policy have struck out this belief which is surprising in consideration of the fact that it stands in stark contrast to the accepted norms for acceptable cell accommodation as set out in the compendium of United Nations Standards and Norms for Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, and recent evidence which demonstrates that such a cell accommodation is associated with adverse events such as violence in institutions. This evidence is substantiated qualitatively on behalf of CSC as an organization and through the front-line workforce of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, as well as quantitatively by the federally-appointed Correctional Investigator, in his most recent report for 2011 and 2012.

CSC’s 2011-2012 report on Plans and Priorities, as cited in the annual report of the Correctional Investigator, states the following with regards to double-bunking:

In the context of anticipated increased in the offender population and the consequent rise in double-bunking, CSC will be challenged to meet its targets with regards to the reduction of assaults and violent incidents in institutions. Everything possible will be done to provide appropriate living conditions that support offender rehabilitation and safe accommodation. However, double-bunking is associated with adverse events. Therefore, until the additional accommodation capacity is ready, the organization may fall somewhat short of its targets.”

The preceding statement clearly indicates not only a recognition on behalf of CSC as an organization that double-bunking is associated with adverse events, but also that they expect to be unable to meet their obligations to reduce violence in their institutions, specifically because of this practice.

This forecast was also supported by comments made by Jason Godin, the Ontario Regional President of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, who stated that “in regards to double-bunking, it creates a very unsafe environment for workers. You have tension between two inmates who are double-bunked, at the same time your access to services is going to be diminished.” Yet the most salient evidence comes from the Correctional Investigator’s Annual Report for 2011-2012, which cites the following with regards to double-bunking:

Putting two inmates in a single cell means an inevitable loss of privacy and dignity, and increases of potential for tension and violence. It is a practice which is contrary to staff and inmate safety. CSC reported 1,248 inmate assaults in 2010-2011, an increase approaching 33% over 4 years.”

The academic community has also provided compelling evidence against prison crowding. In the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers’ A Critical Review of Double-Bunking in Corrections, a literaure review was conducted which identified available research from the academic community and correctional professionals on the practice of double-bunking and its associated impact on correctional officers and inmates alike. The findings revealed that, in the words of Dr. Craig Haney of the University of California, situations such as double-bunking and overall crowding in prison is creating a major source of administrative problems and adversely affects inmate health, behaviour and morale. While the Canadian Criminal Justice Association identified the atmosphere as leading to increases in stress and potential danger for both staff and inmates.

Double-bunking is inhumane and infringes on basic human dignity of inmates, staff and volunteers. The aforementioned quantitative and qualitative data provides an empiric, evidentiary basis to claim that CSC’s accommodation plan, which will invariably increase double-bunking runs contrary to CSC’s mandate to provide reasonable, safe, secure and humane custody. In sentencing an individual to prison, the state obligates itself to a legal duty of care for the welfare of those it imprisons.

When the consequences of displacement of these prisoners is weighed against the increased risks associated with double-bunking, one must also carefully measure this against the compound consequences that are implied, when you consider that the majority of the affected population consists mainly of already-adjusted prisoners most of whom are already well into their sentences at varying stages of rehabilitation, some of who have already been serving their sentences in the 6-block security unit for many years. Thus the intention to uproot and reintegrate them into an alternative living unit presents itself as an unusual and extra-punitive measure. Unlike the case of new admits to the penitentiary – those who are most likely to be double-bunked – these prisoners have already bore the difficult and oftentimes dangerous task of becoming adjusted to the prison itself, as well as the particular routine, culture and norms that are an essential part of penitentiary survival, a significant factor which CSC considers when measuring a prisoner’s potential for rehabilitation and reintegration.

According to the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, the goal of any correctional officer is to help create an environment where prisoners can work towards their rehabilitation and reintegration and eventually become law-abiding citizens. However, under this revised accommodation strategy and the inherent difficulties associated with it, it is difficult to foresee how this will be possible as re-adapting and re-adjusting to a new cell environment will invariably result in a change to the predictability of behaviour for both prisoners and staff members, which as evidence has shown can dramatically alter the dynamics that exist between keeper and kept to such a degree that officers will end up discharging their duties in ways that are at odds with their security priorities, which manifests in adverse effects for not only the incarcerated but also those that work in that environment.

Increases in negative interpersonal interactions have been demonstrated to cause adverse effects on the psychological wellbeing of all those in such a setting. And while it is agreed that there are no clear-cut explanations for the increased adversity associated with offender crowding, one must consider, particularly in the case of CSC’s planned accommodation scheme, the evident consequences which will reveal themselves in the form of a reduction in both spatial and tangible resources, which the scarcity of often causes significant frustration, competition and conflict leading to aggression and violence.

The plans to reintegrate the prisoners of unit six throughout the institution must be considered in the context of the very real, hierarchical structures currently in place which serve as a stabilizing force in the institution. One way CSC manages these hierarchical arrangements is by an accommodation management strategy which distributes those most predatory and most permissive evenly throughout the institution so as not to create a density of those most likely to come into conflict with one another, challenge institutional authority or even become victimized. We find it difficult to comprehend how this will remain viable with the mass departure of nearly 100 prisoners into other areas of the institution.

Immediate concerns that present themselves concern disputes over telephone usage, laundry facilities, appliance space as well as common living space, which is already restricted. Furthermore, as part of CSC’s mandate to assist prisoners in becoming law-abiding citizens, it is imperative that CSC ensures prisoners are actively and meaningfully engaged in programs and employment. Many of these employment positions are found on the units, where prisoners act as peer counselors, unit representatives, hygiene distributors and cleaners. Shutting down unit six will automatically suspend all these work assignments, thus interfering with individual correctional plans and ultimately rehabilitation.

Beyond the immediate logistical implications of this accommodation strategy which are inherent to the living environment and the physical as well as psychological integrity of all those in this setting, one must not also overlook the operational impacts that having 70 RTC acute-care psychiatric patients only steps away from the general population will have on the character and operations of Collins Bay. Collins Bay is already emerging as a schizophrenic institution in that there do exist three distinct de facto subpopulations within this compound. This is depsite the fact that Collins Bay classifies itself as a medium-security institution. With four-block (high), six- seven- and eight-block (medium), and nine-block (low), in addition to the currently being constructed maximum security unit, Collins Bay must find a way to cater to the rights and needs of an already compromised and complex population, while at the same time accommodating the unparalleled needs of psychiatric patients.

While managers have attemped to assure the inmate committee that the existence of an RTC unit in the Collins Bay compound will have little or no operational impact on the routine of the rest of the prison, we find this exceedingly difficult to digest. In some institutions with special needs populations it is not uncommon for authorities to lock down the entire prison so that a few prisoners can be moved to common areas or to take part in programming, exercise, receive visits or healthcare attention. Are we to believe that the 70 RTC prisoners will simply be shuttered away into their security unit, never to access the resources and services which are just as much their rights as prisoners as ours? Unfathomable. This idea of a prison within a prison will become no less than what the correctional investigator has referred to as “segregation light”; an unjust and extra-punitive measure borne of the poor planning and reckless decision-making resulting in a game of political posturing that makes we, the inmates of Collins Bay, as well as the displaced RTC prisoners, and correctional staff their pawns. These changes carry the potential to significantly and irreversibly alter the conditions of confinement at Collins Bay.

You would expect that the government would guide their decision-making by what is lawful, fair and evidence-based, yet with this accommodation plan it appears they are merely reliant on what is expedient and convenient. While it is not within the range of the Collins Bay Inmate Committee’s knowledge to truly speculate on the authenticity of the CSC claim that this will only be a temporary measure, it is very difficult to come to terms with.

Kingston Penitentiary has been open for 177 years. Obviously there are financial benefits to be reaped with shutting its doors in September, but are these three months worth of savings worth the consequences of displacing, disturbing and disrupting the prisoners and staff members of Collins Bay? Last year, in response to the announced closure of Kingston Penitentiary on financial grounds, Kingston & Islands Liberal Member of Parliament Ted Hsu, doubted the validity of that argument on the grounds that Kingston Penitentiary and the Regional Treatment Centre are among the cheapest institutions to operate and maintain in Canada. Of course, then-Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews accused Hsu of using facts that support his narrow political goals. Toews and the Conservative Government have committed a far greater crime than that. They are using people by putting their lives at risk, both prisoner and public.

On the surface of this accommodation plan, it may appear that the ambitions of the Conservative Government are within their professed mandate to deliver fiscal accountability and practically appropriate public funds. However if one looks a little closer they will see that this accommodation plan not only jeopardizes the well-being of those working and residing in Collins Bay, but ultimately the safety of the public.

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