WHY SO MUCH ATTENTION TO PRISON GUARDS? A note from an inmate in Alberta included an afterthought unrelated to his purpose in writing but it illustrates one reason for the notice correction officers are due.
This man was wakened early one morning by guards to search both him and his cell. He was not moving fast enough to please one guard who called him “a piece of shit.” He objected at length, and as a result, was written up for a minor charge. No contraband was found in the search.
The charge was dismissed by an internal review but the deputy warden, with whom he had never met, let him know that his behaviour would not be tolerated, and his visiting privileges were in peril. The guard’s behaviour was never an issue. The inmate was free to file a grievance, a process that is universally understood to be nothing more than a sop.
This is typical for every day in our provincial and federal institutions.
THAT’S REASON ENOUGH!
In a call shortly after 7pm on Saturday, September 7 in 2019, an inmate in Millhaven Institution phoned from the prison gym where guards had moved the men on his range while they conducted an unauthorized search of the institution. There had been violent incidents on one range during the last week of August and guards had recommended a search of the institution. The warden did not agree and would not consent to a search. The guards waited for the weekend when management would not be in their offices and went ahead anyway.
The inmates could have countered the guards’ action. If, for instance, the men on his range refused to allow the search and the guards persisted, extraction teams would be called, equipment and chemical agents would be issued, thereby creating a written record requiring a justification for the search. The inmate on the call complained that his fellow prisoners didn’t have enough “jam” to confront guards who were violating policy. In plain English, they did not have the balls. And, as he said, this is the kind of thing that will go on for as long as people stand by and do nothing. For him, that meant it would go on forever.
So, what happens if/when the warden learns that a search was conducted despite her decision? Anywhere from not much to nothing. Management does not want a conflict with the guards’ union.
It was late on an early June afternoon last summer. During a call from an inmate in a maximum-security institution in eastern Canada a commotion erupted on the range. A loud but unintelligible male voice was shouting a command, repeated more than once, and was then followed by the sound of a short scuffle. The inmate on the phone called out to someone, castigating them for the use of pepper spray. I asked for an explanation.
An inmate had been a ‘nuisance’ earlier in the day, uncooperative and in a foul mood. As I was on the phone, he was let out of his cell for a shower, called for a guard to turn on the water, was ignored, and ignored more than once. Using some initiative, he pulled a plastic bag over his head which brought guards running onto the range, ordering him to remove it. He refused. Pepper spray was discharged. He would be particularly vulnerable to the effects of pepper spray under the circumstances, and even though he put himself into that position, caution was in order. That’s the objection the inmate on my phone was making.
Once the bag was off, policy dictates an inmate who has been sprayed must be decontaminated ….in the shower. For better or worse, and one way or another, this man was getting his shower.
Some would say the inmates above and below were authors of their own misfortune, but that is no justification for guards to behave less than to expected standards.
An inmate in a western province was transferred to a maximum-security institution, likely earning the move to a more restrictive environment. He had prescription glasses which were a necessity for any reading, writing, or close work. When his property arrived, he opened the protective case to find the glasses had been crushed and broken. That could only have occurred when guards at the previous institution packed his property.
This inmate was told he could not replace his glasses, at least not without intervention from God. He had contact lenses which would have been a partial solution, but he needed moisturizing solution. He was told that was no longer available from the institution. He was not given any options, and water was neither a satisfactory nor a sanitary substitute. He needed lenses to function.
What this man needs most is a lawyer.
Treading into a provincial jurisdiction, namely Newfoundland and Labrador, offers two recent examples of perfidy by their penal system staff.
The CBC ran a story on December 8 of last year under Bruce Tilley’s byline which began, “A former Bishop’s Falls inmate claims one corrections officer performed dental surgery on him while another recorded it, and he’s suing them, three dentists, and the provincial government.”
It seems that Ron McDonald and Roy Goodyear, two guards at the local correctional centre, took inmate Blair Harris to the Gander Family Dental Clinic for surgery on October 16 last fall and dentist Dr. Louis Bourget permitted McDonald “to do a procedure” while Harris was sedated, and Goodyear videotaped it and then distributed the recording.
Harris was unconscious and none the wiser, but on November 19 he was told by a provincial superintendent of prisons that he had obtained the tape and a day later said that both guards had been fired. A week later, the inmate was taken to another clinic because teeth fragments left in his gums required further surgery.
Blair Harris is no longer in custody. The RCMP is investigating.
Jonathan Henoche died at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s on November 6, 2019 after an interaction with jail guards. He was a 33-year-old Inuk man from Labrador, awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge relating to the death of an 88-year-old woman there in 2016. He had been moved to St. John’s over concerns for his safety.
The chief medical examiner ruled his death a homicide. The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary announced charges against ten guards on December 22 of last year. The charges include manslaughter, failure to provide necessities of life, and criminal negligence causing death. The announcement did not include the names of the accused, when they were arrested or under what conditions they were released.
That’s right. The charges were not filed in court and all ten were released. Bob Buckingham is Mr. Henoche’s lawyer. “I have never seen a case where one individual has been charged with manslaughter and allowed to go home, let alone a cabal of ten correctional officers charged with the care and custody of an individual be charged like this, and not be brought to court. It is reprehensible. How many aboriginal accused persons get to have their bail hearings deferred on manslaughter charges? Or get to have their names withheld from the media?”
Charges were filed in court this January 8, and the ten guards were named. Again, Mr. Buckingham, “In all the research that I have done – and I’ve had a number of my colleagues doing research on this across the country – no one has ever seen people charged with manslaughter who have been released by an officer in charge…without being brought to a court for a judicial interim release before a judge. This was favouritism to a group of Department of Justice employees. And the racism component involved the fact that my client was Aboriginal.”
If guards are not part of the solution, then they are part of the problem.
Guard material is endless. But with one exception next time, we will move on.