Oct 27, 2020

Doob & Sprott report:

Smart Justice Network Special Report

Concerns have been mounting about the intransigence of Corrections Canada in the face of the court ordered issues around solitary confinement in the prison system.  Over a year ago, Professor Anthony Doob of U of T Criminology Department was invited to chair a committee designated to monitor how the changes from solitary to Structured Intervention Units (SIU) were implemented.  Then, strangely, Corrections Canada failed to deliver the required operational data to the committee in spite of repeated requests to CSC and requests to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.  The committee was disbanded by mandate one year after its set-up. What follows is the follow-up to the resolution of the impasse which occurred only once the monitoring committee had announced their withdrawal from the most depreciating treatment.  Smart Justice Network has already noted several articles in public media around the issue of the resistance to change within CSC evidenced by this episode and others of the same import.  We have attached the full report in its PDF version for your use.

Cover e-mail from Professor Doob: 

“On 30 September I was given some data by CSC on the operation of the SIUs.  I’m not sure that I expected ever to receive these data, and I was led to believe (by them) that it would take much longer than that to get the data together.  Having received the data (that should have been made available to the panel on the SIUs in March),  I figured that I should find out what could be learned from these data. (The panel, as you may recall, died a natural death during the summer).

So Jane Sprott and I wrote a report.  A draft of this report was given to CSC 16 days after we received the data.  We asked for comments from them.

When CSC read the draft of this report and saw our findings (which quite possibly they weren’t completely pleased with), they decided that they had given us data that had some errors in it. All criminal justice administrative data I have ever worked with has errors: the issue is whether the errors are predominantly in one direction and whether the errors make any difference. Anyway, we discuss this issue in the preface to our report.   I would urge you to read the Preface before reading the report.  It isn’t very long and it may tell you as much about CSC as the report tells you about the SIUs.

We have included the email we received from CSC in response to the draft report in the attached PDF.  Public Safety did not give us comments within the 8-day time frame that we offered them. Both CSC and Public Safety were sent copies of the final report earlier today.

I have no idea what the ‘next step(s)’ will be in the peculiar story about trying to understand the operation of the SIUs.   I’ve quit being surprised at anything that happens – or doesn’t happen – with respect to CSC and the issue of the SIUs.

I’d suggest, if you are still interested in the SIUs (and CSC) that you might want to read the preface and perhaps the executive summary.  Then if you want to see the details, you can quickly find the data that are relevant.

I just have one final thing to say.  Jane and I did the initial report in 16 days (30 September to 16 October). This includes 2 days when we couldn’t get access to CSC’s computer and could not work on the data. And we didn’t work all day every day on it. I’m not suggesting that our report is either perfect or complete. It is neither.  But if we were able, starting from scratch, to complete this report in  16 days, CSC should be able to do fairly close monitoring of many aspects of its operation — most notably the SIUs — with a delay no longer than this. As we say in the report, it is disturbing that these units have been operating for about 11 months without any systematic information being made public.  Remember that the panel I was on asked for (these) data to be delivered to us (on the first two months of operation) by the beginning of March.  This means that we could have identified problems by about 20 March, communicated them to CSC (and to any interested group), and, perhaps, CSC might have been able to push things in a more favourable direction before things had a chance to get set in their ways.  That didn’t happen.

Anyway, the report is public. So you should feel free to share it with anyone who is interested in it.

Executive Summary of the report submitted to CSC

October 26, 2020 report by Professor Doob and Professor Jane Sprott of Ryerson

After the term of all of the members of the Structured Intervention Units – Implementation Advisory Panel had expired, we (AND and JBS) were given access to data on the operation of these units and volunteered to provide a first analysis of what is happening in these units. This report, then, constitutes a preliminary overview of the operation of this part of Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) during the first nine months of the operation of these units. The analysis is based solely on “administrative data” obtained from CSC. As noted in the preface, our experience is that there are always some errors or ambiguities in such data, but we saw nothing that led us to doubt that, in general, they give a good picture of what is happening. At the same time, however, certain important questions cannot be addressed with these data alone (such as what constitutes “meaningful human contact,” two hours of which is required to be provided to each SIU prisoner each day). Some of our most notable findings are as follows: 1. Looking only at those who ended up in a Structured Intervention Unit (SIU) cell, and excluding those who were first placed in a Restricted Movement cell (in an institution without an SIU) but never were transferred to an SIU, we found that most ‘visits’ (person-stays) in SIUs were relatively short. However, a non-trivial number of person-stays (268 or 16.1% of all person stays) were for periods of time exceeding 2 months (Table 1). 2. Those sent to SIUs tended to be disproportionately male, young, and Indigenous (Table 3). Most (82%) of the person-stays by women came from (and stayed in) the Edmonton Institution for Women. 3. Even in this relatively short period of time (9 months) multiple stays in SIUs were fairly common. Of the 1037 people who were transferred to an SIU, 362 of them (35%) were transferred more than once (Table 6). Those who, in this short period of time, had multiple SIU stays tended to be male and had identifiable mental health needs before being transferred to an SIU (Tables 7 & 8). 4. There were large regional differences in the use of SIUs, with a disproportionate number of person-stays being in Quebec (Table 4). The length of stays in SIUs also varies dramatically across region (Table 5). These regional variations provide an opportunity for CSC to learn from those regions that appear to be somewhat more successful than others in using the SIUs as a last resort (as directed in the legislation). 5. The stated reasons for transferring prisoners to SIUs varied substantially across regions (Table 10). Those prisoners placed in SIUs because CSC thought that this was the best way to ensure the safety of the prisoner disproportionately had mental health needs prior to being placed in an SIU (Table 11). More generally, those placed in SIU because of concern about the prisoner’s own safety ended up staying in the SIU a substantially longer period of time (Table 12) than those transferred for other reasons. 6. Prisoners transferred to SIUs are, by law, supposed to be provided with 4 hours out of their cell, with two of those hours engaged in “meaningful human contact”. This requirement was seldom met. Only 21% of SIU prisoners met the 4-hours out of cell requirement on half or more of their days in the SIU (Table 14). In 46% of the stays in SIUs, the prisoner had the 2-hours of meaningful human contact on at least half of the days (Table 16). 5 7. Looking at those who were in SIUs for more than two months, we found that a substantial number missed getting their four hours out of the cell (about 82%) half or more of their days in the SIU (Table 15). Similarly, about 51% of this same group did not get their 2 hours of meaningful human contact in at least half of their days in the SIU (Table 16). 8. Looking at prisoners who spent a long time in an SIU, we found large regional differences in the ability of CSC to achieve the 4- and 2-hour out-of-cell requirements. Generally, the Prairie Region – and Stony Mountain Institution in particular – was most successful (Tables 17-20) in this area. 9. Indigenous prisoners who were kept in SIUs for over a month appeared, overall, to have more success in achieving the required 4-hours out of cell and 2 hours of meaningful human activity. These data, we believe, point strongly to one important conclusion: there is a need to continue to have monitoring and oversight of what is happening in CSC’s SIUs. The failure to achieve the four hours out of the cell and two hours of meaningful human contact are, obviously, a special cause for concern. At the same time, the variation that exists – across institutions and regions – suggests that, if CSC wishes to learn from its (relative) successes, it has the opportunity to do so. This report, however, only begins to scratch the surface of what should be known about the operation of these new units that were designed and funded to replace “administrative segregation” or solitary confinement. Much more needs to be learned both from the existing administrative data and from other research carried out by an independent body. But those interested in policies related to the SIUs might find even these preliminary findings to be useful. Some, for example, have suggested that there be some form of judicial oversight of SIUs. Looking at the data in Table 1, for example, one can see that if more thorough oversight procedures (e.g., judicial oversight of the decision) were implemented only for those who had already spent a ‘long time’ in an SIU (however that might be defined), the ‘burden’ of oversight could be dramatically reduced. Similarly, at the moment, we know very little about the reasons for prisoners not getting their four hours out of cell each day and their two hours per day of meaningful human contact. Even if there happened to be a notation that the prisoner ‘refused’ an opportunity to leave the cell, it would be important to know why that refusal was given. One could easily imagine scenarios where a prisoner saw a ‘refusal’ as the safest alternative. These data suggest that one might want to implement special oversight of those cases in which this was a persistent problem. Defining “persistent” might be aided by data such as those contained in Tables 17 or 19. Finally, we can’t help expressing our disappointment that the findings contained in our report are the first to be released on the operation of the SIUs. One might have hoped that CSC itself might have released information like that contained in this report in order to elicit suggestions on how the treatment of prisoners might be shifted closer to what is contemplated in the current legislation.

PDF Attached