BACKGROUND

Why Dr. Fred Urquhart sometimes wishes he’d never eaten a Monarch butterfly in the first place

ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN July 1 1961
BACKGROUND

Why Dr. Fred Urquhart sometimes wishes he’d never eaten a Monarch butterfly in the first place

ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN July 1 1961

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

HOPE COMES INTO THE PRISONS Fulton’s plan: improve the con’s lot—and chances

Peter C. Newman

AS JOHN DIEFENBAKER’S current term in office approaches its conclusion, the tacticians of all parties arc attempting to pick the group of Canadians that has benefited most from his rule. A babble of relaxing politicians were playing this game in the parliamentary cafeteria recently, when one of the more thoughtful young Conservative MBs halted the speculation by declaring: "Hell, that’s easy. It’s the convicts.”

This mildly sarcastic verdict isn’t as farfetched as it sounds. Conservative legislation has improved the position of many Canadians (and failed to help many others), but no people in Canada have had their daily lives more radically altered for the better during the past four years than the inmates of federal penitentiaries. In fact, penal reform may well be the most enduring achievement of the Diefenbaker regime.

Since convicts can’t vote, this is a paradoxical accomplishment for an administration that seems to base most of its policies squarely on political motives. That our Neanderthal prison regulations arc finally being modernized is due almost entirely to the efforts of Justice Minister Davie Fulton, the able B. C. lawyer who has established himself as the most enlightened Tory in the Diefenbaker cabinet,

‘‘We’ve changed the basic concept of imprisonment.” says Fulton. "Instead of having punishment fit the crime, we're attempting to make punishment fit the criminal.” Fulton has changed the objective of incarceration from punishment to rehabilitation.

For many years the administration of penitentiaries was a forgotten branch of the federal service. Inmates were stored away in eight institutions that had the look and feel of dungeons in mediaeval fortresses. Locked in their cells for most of the day, they spent much of the remaining time in the ceaseless and unvaried procedure of being counted and recounted. The first major reforms were carried out by Joe McCulley, who was deputy commissioner of penitentiaries from 1947 to 1952 He introduced vocational training, organized sports, inmate canteens and the provision of psychiatric treatment. The acceleration since Fulton took office in 1957 has been tremendous.

Separate the men from the crooks

Under Fulton’s regime, prisons haven’t been transformed into carefree resorts, but for the first time an element of hope has been allowed behind their grey walls. By the end of the decade, when Fulton’s program reaches its full effect, Canada will have one of the most progressive correctional systems in the world.

The greatest change under Fulton has been segregation of inmates according to their chances of rehabilitation. instead of herding all convicts into an identical environment, the penitentiaries are constantly being screened for men who would benefit from less severe confinement. Two-thirds of the federal

prison population remains in maximum-security institutions, although even here life has been substantially improved. The others have been transferred to institutions with medium security (walls but no tower guards and relative freedom of movement on the inside) or minimum security (no walls, unarmed guards and few locks between the prisoner and the outside).

The basis of classification is not the nature of the man’s crime, but a professional analysis of his personality. If he’s thought capable of using violence to escape, he stays classified as maximum security; if he's not violent but isn’t likely to resist the temptation of open doors, he’s sent to medium-security establishments; if he’s thought to have lots of selfcontrol and a good chance for total rehabilitation, he's rated as minimum security. F.ventually. it’s hoped to have all but the hard-core third of the inmates out from under maximum security.

Fulton has doubled the penitentiaries branch budget to $25 million, largely to finance the construction of a dozen new mediumand minimum-security prisons.

Life inside Canadian penitentiaries in all three categories has been changing fast. Under the old system, inmates were hermetically segregated from the community around them, with little encouragement given for anyone on the outside to acknowledge their existence. and no contact with ordinary society allowed them. Now. an increasing two-way traffic is being built up. Four Kingston Pen convicts, for example, recently attended a six-week course in graphic arts at Queen’s University, accompanied by one unarmed guard in civilian clothes. Another group of inmates from the William Head institution on Vancouver Island were allowed to attend graduation ceremonies in Vancouver for a Dale Carnegie course they’d taken on the inside.

Up to two years ago. inmates were locked into their cells daily from 4.30 p.m. to 7 a.m. Now, they’re allowed to stay up until 10 p.m. to participate in a limited way in community activities. They include art classes, drama workshops, meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, and concerts.

In these and other ways, inmates are brought into contact with the society to which most of them will eventually return. The convicts at Kingston expressed their community spirit last winter by contributing a zany float to the Santa Claus parade. At Stony Mountain in Manitoba, six prisoners twice a month fulfill a request made to them by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. They read the entire issue of Maclean’s into recording machines and ship the tapes to interested blind people who listen to the magazine, without the expense of having to translate it into Braille.

Probably the most effective morale booster being introduced to prison life is the improved arrangement for visiting. Instead of being forced to view their relatives through bulletproof glass partitions, convicts

in mediumand minimum-security institutions can now' chat with their families in a living-room atmosphere, and in summer months they're even allowed to picnic together on prison lawns.

One of the main drawbacks of the old system was that inmates had trouble holding jobs after release, because they worked only a four-hour day while under sentence. An eight-hour working day has now been introduced, with minimum-security convicts being moved to camps outside prison establishments, to help in non-commercial land drainage and lumbering operations.

As the life of the average Canadian convict in federal custody becomes more bearable, that of his guard is also being significantly improved. Guards are now officially called “correctional officers” (a term not always used, even by today’s happier inmates), and instead of drab khaki uniforms they’ll soon be wearing dark blue blazers and grey flannels. Pay scales have been raised and promotion channels have been widened.

No matter how comfortable life in prison may become. most convicts naturally long for only one thing: to get out. It is here that Fulton has brought about the most revolutionary changes. By creating the National Parole Board to take the place of the old ticket-of-leave act, he has more than doubled the number of prisoners being released before their sentences expire. Of the twenty-five hundred inmates paroled in i960, only seven percent had to be sent back to prison, a failure rate that is among the world’s lowest.

Into the outside—slowly

The new Parole Board doesn’t grant freedom in return for good behavior as such, but rather on the basis of whether or not the inmate has derived maximum benefits from his imprisonment. “Parole isn’t a question of clemency,” says George Street, the former magistrate from Welland. Ontario, who is the board’s chairman. “It’s granted only when there appears at least a distinct indication of the applicant’s rehabilitation.”

Instead of suddenly ejecting long-term prisoners into a world grown unfamiliar, new gradual release methods allow convicts to spend the weeks before they finally graduate outside prison walls, reacquainting themselves with how things work in the stream of ordinary life.

This kind of treatment, which would have been laughed at by Canadian prison authorities a few years ago, invites the question whether Fulton’s program isn’t in fact mollycoddling men who have committed serious, often heinous crimes. Allen MacLeod, a leading Justice Department criminal lawyer who recently took over as commissioner of penitentiaries, flatly denies such accusations. "The man’s time in prison is harder now, not easier,” he says. “Instead of being able to retire into mental hibernation, he is being forced to continue thinking about his social obligations.”

The mere detention of prisoners is a simple matter. What Fulton is attempting involves much more risk, although in the end it could be much more rewarding. Eight out of ten inmates now in federal penitentiaries have been to prison before. The success of Fulton’s penal experiment won’t be established until that figure is substantially reduced.

Meanwhile, some prisoners are taking unfair advantage of the relaxed security. Although the escape rate of one successful breakout a month is rising, the wire fences that have recently been placed around the minimum-security prisons have deliberately not been made sturdy enough to keep the prisoners locked in. Jhey’re designed to keep the curious public out. ^