Friday, 11 December 2015

Prison guards and their bad conduct (Part One)                             

 This is a subject in which I have to some degree, considerable expertise on the conduct of correctional officers. I was the program director of a correctional institution in the 1950s, an inmate in four correctional institutions for 15 months for giving shelter to a friend being looked for by the police in the early 1960s. I studied penology (corrections) for a year as part of a four-year criminology program at the University of Toronto in the 1970s. I visited ten correctional institutions in California with the approval of the California government in 1972. I also conducted individual and group counselling in a detention centre for five years in Ontario. I was an instructor at a three-day seminar held in the 1970s at a Canadian federal penitentiary with respect to training senior staff members on inmate behavior. I am also the precursor of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice that was adopted by the UN General Assembly on the 29th of November 1985. I was also a guest speaker at an international conference held in Ottawa, Canada on prison health.

Corrections Officers are responsible for the care, custody, and control of individuals who have been arrested and are awaiting trial while they are on remand or who have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to serve time in a prison or jail. They are also responsible for the safety and security of the facility itself. Most officers are employed by the government of the jurisdiction in which they operate, though some are employed by private companies.

Correctional officers, hereinafter referred to as (CO) must maintain order and daily operations of the facility and are responsible for the care, custody, and control of inmates. A CO has a responsibility to control inmates who may be dangerous to themselves or others in the facility that houses them. A CO must always prevent disturbances, assaults, and escapes by supervising activities and work assignments of inmates.As we all know by  now, one such officer assisted two inmates to escape from a maximum prison earlier this year in the United States however this is a very rare occurrence.    

COs at all times also have a responsibility to protect the public from incarcerated criminals who are inclined to be escapees, protect fellow officers from inmates and protect inmates from other inmates.                       

A CO must be alert and aware of any and all movement taking place inside the facility. Prevention is one of the key components to a CO’s duties. This is brought about by utilizing prevention measures by routinely searching inmates and their living quarters for potential threats such as weapons or illicit drugs. 

A CO must make his or her presence known at all times and remain assertive and refuse to back down. A CO must be a disciplinarian and enforce the rules and punish when rules are violated. They also must take full responsibility for the health and safety of the inmates in their facility. They check for unsanitary conditions, fire hazards, and/or any evidence of tampering or damage to locks, bars, grilles, doors, and gates. They must screen all incoming and outgoing mail as well as all visitors as a prevention method for future issues that could cause risk to safety and security of the facilities, inmates and staff. 

As a former staff member, an inmate and counsellor in correctional institutions, I have met some very fine correctional officers who are dedicated to their work, treat inmates with respect when they deserve it and are conscientious of their responsibilities.

However, I have met some correctional officers who are bullies to other correctional officers and inmates alike. Some are lazy and others have chosen that kind of work because they like bossing people.  This article is about bad correctional officers.

Bad correctional officers in Canada

When I was a prison inmate in Ontario in the early 1960s at the Guelph Reformatory, the Superintendent of the institution was Charles Sanderson. He was known throughout the prison industry as “Goodtime Charlie.” The reason why he was given that moniker was because no matter how minor the offence was committed by an inmate, he lost all of his accumulated good-time he had earned. If on the day he was to be released, he swore at a guard and had previously earned two months good-time, he would have to serve those months before he would finally be released.

When I was a trustee with my own office in the administration building, he asked me to talk to the men who were planning to riot and for me to act as a negotiator. I was successful in convincing half of the 800 men into not rioting.

When the head of security came to me and asked if it was safe enough for the guards to come in the large bull pen we were in, I told him that it was safe. One of the guards was called, Dum Dum because he was so stupid. He began barking at the men so I told the head of security that if he didn’t get him out of the bull pen where we were all in, there would probably be another riot. Dum Dum was ordered out of the bull pen immediately.

It was then that Sanderson finally realized that I had considerable influence among the inmates. Some of them had come to me for advice and others asked me to write their letters for them. Many referred to me as the professor.

He was afraid of me influencing the men into rioting again so he ordered that I was to be isolated from the men. When I got up in the mornings, I was taken to a small bullpen in the Administration building and my breakfast was brought to me. There was no furniture in the bull pen so I had to sit on the floor and eat my breakfast. After breakfast, I would spend the morning in my office. At lunch, I was taken back to the bull pen for my lunch and then back to my office. At supper, the same thing except I had to remain in the bull pen until it was time to go to bed in my cell.  

He then asked me for the names of the ring leaders. I refused for obvious reasons so he threw me into solitary confinement for four months. The guards felt sorry for me and when he learned of this, he decided to get me out of his reformatory. He thought that I would be handled roughly at the maximum security Milbrook Reformatory. I didn’t tell this misfit that the superintendent of Milbrook was an old friend of mine who had offered me a job a couple of years earlier. No-one mistreated me in his reformatory. Later I was transferred on his advice to a minimum correctional institution where I then became a trustee working in the main office as a clerk .

Charles Sanderson was finally dismissed for lying at a hearing that was making enquiries about the death of an inmate in his institution. The inmate was seriously ill when Sanderson ordered that he was to work outside at hard labor. The inmate died that day.

I remember reading in the newspaper years ago about an incident at the Canadian federal Kingston Penitentiary in which an inmate was placed in solitary confinement. The structure he was in was no larger than a small room and it was outside the main building. On the second day of his confinement in that small structure, he was heard screaming in pain. He was ignored for three days and then the screaming had stopped. He was dead. I can’t remember what investigations were undertaken after that.

The worst scenario I and millions of other people are aware of is what took place in a Canadian federal prison for women. The Grand Valley Canadian federal prison for women is in many ways a model women’s prison. Organized around cottages, allowing for maximal self-sufficiency, it fosters a sense of personhood and humanity through what might be called normative social contacts. Women prisoners are allowed a certain level of discretionary time, quiet time, social time, alone time.  According to a2005 commission report, by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales, Grand Valley is a relatively open and `healthy’ prison, fostering “safety, respect, purposeful activity and reintegration”. It’s not perfect, it’s not ideal, but as prisons go, it’s pretty good.

However, as we all know, institutions no matter what kind, are on occasions run and employed by people who are stupid and should never have been hired for prison work in the first place. The following case proves my point.

Ashley Smith was a ‘troubled’ youth, in and out of trouble for minor offenses. She needed help and in New Brunswick where her family lived, the public mental health system could not address her needs. And so, instead she was sent into the prison system.

After serving time in various prison institutions, she was finally sent to the Grand Valley Canadian federal prison. She somehow made ligatures, strips of cloth clearly intended for self-harm. In a two-month span, fifty ligatures were confiscated from her cell.

Smith knew she needed help. She knew that segregation was a death sentence. She had spent almost the entire preceding eleven months in solitary confinement. That’s a cell 6 feet by 9 feet that had no books, no mattress, no writing implements; often, no clothes. The prison calls it `therapeutic quiet.’ While in federal custody, Ashley Smith received much `therapeutic quiet’, but never a comprehensive psychological assessment which was badly needed in her case. Prison authorities now realize that prolonged solitary confinement is dangerous to prisoner’s health.                   

One day she was seen on video by seven guards as she was placing ligatures around her neck. They did nothing to stop her. As she was strangling, they still did nothing to stop her. The prison’s warden had instructed her staff to do nothing unless it is apparent that Smith has lost complete consciousness. The staff waited too long. While they waited, Smith had died.

Then the shit hit the fan. On the 25th of  October 2007, three guards and a supervisor at the Grand Valley Institution for Women were charged with criminal negligence causing death in relation to Smith's suicide. The warden and deputy warden were fired. The criminal charges were later dropped. On the 8th of October 2009, Smith's family launched a wrongful death lawsuit against the Correctional Service of Canada, demanding C$11 million in damages; the suit was eventually settled out of court in May 2011 for an undisclosed amount.

In the past, co-pilots on passenger planes have stupidly followed the instructions of the pilots who gave stupid instructions resulting in the planes crashing. Stupid prison guards following the instructions of stupid wardens can also result in deaths of prisoners. These people have to make their decisions on what they believe are the right ones and ignore the ones they deem as outright stupid.

Inmate Suicides

Suicides in federal prisons occurred at a rate five times higher than in the general population over three years beginning in 2011. There were 30 suicides in Canadian federal penitentiaries between April 2011 and March 2014. This is because the inmate population is dramatically different from the typical community population with respect to prevalence of mental disorders, history of substance abuse and other important factors.

However the real reason is that the prisons are isolating mentally ill, suicidal or self-harming prisoners in segregation units where it is all too easy for them to kill themselves.

Twenty-five of those prisoners hanged themselves, 14 of them while they were in solitary confinement. Only one of those 14 was being "actively watched under suicide watch at the time and that was Ashly Smith and we know how that turned out.

I know what you are thinking. Get more prison guards to watch them. Alas, there aren’t enough guards in prisons on Fridays and Mondays. Why is this? Because many of them are claiming that they are too sick to come in on Fridays or alternatively, Mondays. They are claiming sick leave when in fact they are not sick at all. They simply want long weekends instead of settling for the statutory weekends like the rest of us automatically get. I saw this occurring regularly in provincial correctional institutions also. Many times I couldn’t get the inmates that wanted to participate in group counselling on Mondays or Fridays because there were not enough guards on duty. I didn’t do counselling on weekends as I wasn’t conducting counselling sessions seven days a week. 

Public servants in Canada take an average of 10.5 days off a year, while private sector workers take an average of 6.4. Most federal workers are entitled to 15 days of sick leave a year, 11 statutory holidays, a personal leave day, a day to do volunteer work and five days of family leave. This comes to 33 days in total and all of them without submitting any documentation, such as a doctor’s note.  And it gets better the longer an employee remains in the civil service. The average bureaucrat with 30-years’ experience gets 65 days of paid leave (including holidays) out of 260 working days a year. That’s 25%—one day off in four. Theses correctional scofflaws don’t have their prisoner’s interests at heart; they have their own interests at heart.

Prison guards beating inmates

Prison guards at several Ontario and Quebec jails were seen punching, kneeing or slapping inmates in surveillance videos exclusively obtained by CBC News and Radio-Canada, underscoring the ongoing push to blanket all correctional facilities with surveillance cameras.

In one video, an inmate who tosses his shirt at a guard while he is changing shirts is grabbed by the neck and thrown to the ground. In another, a prisoner is led down a hall and, on reaching a doorway, is struck in the head, then has his head slammed against a wall four times and is punched repeatedly and kneed. Following the beating he is seen cowering in fear. In a third video, a guard slaps an inmate across the face. The guards involved in the abuse were either fired or criminally charged, or both.

The purpose of our prison system is to rehabilitate. And it may be that it's not just inmates that need to be rehabilitated, but the guards. Video surveillance procedures in federal penitentiaries, meant to deter exactly this kind of violence, failed nearly 70 percent of the time. That is because they weren’t working or the beatings were done outside of the views of the videos.

During a lockdown at the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre in London, Ontario, Chris Reibling said he was held down and beaten by guards in his cell. Reibling said that guards pinned him down in his bed with a riot shield and then beat him on his feet, legs, buttocks and testicles using keys and the end of a pepper spray gun.

As I said earlier in this piece, many guards are bullies and their actions in prisons are proof of their tendency to bully others. They often standby when they see inmates beating other inmates.

Sleeping on the job

I realize that being a prison guard can be terribly boring at times however; there is no excuse for this to occur in a prison setting. I remember when I was in a small enclosure counselling an inmate and when it was time for him to return to his cell block, I tried to get the attention of the three guards in the cell block’s control room. I failed. They were all asleep. I saw many guards asleep in the control rooms in that detention centre. They ae not paid to sleep in that detention centre or any other similar facility.

Later I will tell you about what goes on in American prisons.

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