First opened in 1835 Kingston Penitentiary was to be a "humane,
effective, and cost-efficient" means serving criminal justice. Modeled
on the Auburn system, advocating prison industrial work as a method
of prison reform, the prison's policy enforced hard labour on its
inmates for the purposes of punishment, reform, and profit. For
the first 15 years these objectives did not materialize, and the
penitentiary's inmate population continued to grow (Chunn 1981).
Kingston Penitentiary was the birthplace of the Canadian Penal
Press, with the publication of the Penitentiary's "The Telescope"
in September of 1950. Since this time, more than 100 publications
have been produced by Canadian inmates (Gaucher 1989).
Kingston Penitentiary was also central in developing the first
introduction of medical services into federal correctional facilities.
Author Stephen Reid penned his first novel in Kingston Penitentiary,
in which he described the honest and brutal power of prisoner-literature.
Reid, who lives in Sidney BC, is also married to writer Susan Musgrave.
May 6, 1999: Tyrone Conn, considered a modern-day prison "houdini"
for escaping from some of Canada's most secure facilities, escaped
from Kingston Penitentiary on May 6, 1999, shortly before dying
from a gun-shot wound during a police-standoff. He had been negotiating
over the phone in his girlfriend's basement, in a house on Alberta
Ave, with CBC TV producer Theresa Burke and a defense lawyer.
Conn welded extensions to a hand-made ladder and used a grappling
clamp, which he had constructed where he worked patching mailbags
in the prison shop, to scale the 10 metre-tall perimeter fence.
To disrupt the scent of the bloodhounds, he carried with him a manilla
envelope filled with cayenne pepper, which he sprinkled behind him
as he fled. He also made a fake dummy of paper-stuffed clothing
so that the guards would be fooled during head counts. Conn hid
in the shop to construct his ladder, after all the other inmates
had filed out and returned to their cells. Conn waited until the
southeast tower guard went off duty at 11 p.m., broke through a
screen door in the loading bay and bolted across the yard to the
fence. Because of his dummy ploy, his escape wasn't discovered until
the next morning. (2 May 1999 The Toronto Star)
A week after his escape police believed he robbed $15,000 from
a CIBC bank in Colborne, a town just east of Toronto, the same bank
he had robbed following a similar escape from Collin's Bay Penitentiary
in 1991. He stole a Buick, and robbed a Canadian Tire store of a
shotgun and two boxes of shells. He then drove to Scarborough to
get rid of the vehicle.
The Special Investigations Unit, a quasi-external review body that
investigates police involvement in misconduct, injury, or death,
began looking into the case, but any inquest was called off in 2001
by an Ontario coroner, who indeed confirmed that Conn had committed
Following Conn's escape, Kingston Penitentiary instituted a number
of improvements in security, including new, round-the-clock staffing
of guards on watchtowers, and more thorough roll-call systems. (22
May 1999 Winnipeg Free Press)
Hostage-Taking Attempts and Riots
In April 1971 a riot broke out over the protest of inmate "undesirables,"
including sex offenders and informants. Inmates were dragged from
their cells, tied up and tortured on the dome floor of the penitentiary,
resulting in the deaths of two prisoners and a subsequent police
investigation (Desroches 1974). However, scholars have speculated
there were numerous factors underlying the eruption of the riot
in 1971, not the least of which was stigma-targeted violence. Boredom
was considered a major factor, fomenting a culture of agitation,
restlessness, and pent-up rage common to many maximum-security penitentiaries,
and what may be involved in the so-called "rage complex"
endemic to the supermax
Another major reason was the institution's inability to maintain
a strong treatment program for offenders. Coupled with severe overcrowding,
crumbling living conditions, staff shortage, improper placement
of low-risk individuals into high-security units, idle time, and
a notable lack of staff or communication channels responsive to
inmate complaints and requests. Specifically, the Swackhamer Inquiry
that followed the riot identified what it termed as "depressing
and dehumanizing" qualities of imprisonment to be at the top
of its list of potential factors.
According to psychiatrist George Scott, an environment of hopelessness,
disinterest, and apathy surrounded correctional rehabilitation and
the prospect of actually completing one's sentence successfully.
As conditions worsened and this sentiment progressed, correctional
staff naturally began to restrict more privileges to constrain rebellion,
establishing an increasingly more strict, maximum-security regime
that gave inmates littler and littler breathing room as the years
went by. Conditions progressed to a point at which inmates at Kingston
Penitentiary were daily experiencing a kind of "maximum security
psychosis" (p.20), where inmates were confined to their cells
16 hours a day, were forbidden cell decorations, and required to
subject all personal possessions such as books, or musical instruments
to search and seizure. In a merciless attack on the conditions at
Kingston Penitentiary, the Inquiry stated that such an environment
will render the convict "submissive to the inmate culture,"
and it concluded by saying that "such a regime does a real
injustice to a human being and is destructive of whatever humanity
may be within him."
14 years later, in March of 1985, inmates took four nurses and
one prison guard hostage at Kingston Penitentiary's hospital. The
hostages eventually managed to slip through a door and lock it behind
them, allowing a tactical team to sweep in. One hospital nurse,
Gladys Whelan, who was a diabetic, was released early.
After it was over, the hostage takers were put into solitary
confinement. There were no injuries sustained or pharmaceuticals
taken from the hospital. 10 days prior to the hostage-taking inmates
had staged a strike, in which they presented a list of complaints
to the warden that included cold food, overcrowded visiting room,
guard harassment, and overcrowding. (15 March 1985 Associated Press)
One year after the riot, in 1986, Robert Edward Brown was knifed
to death by a fellow inmate who had been serving a life sentence
for first-degree murder since 1983.
3 years later, in August of 1988, two inmates in the Regional Treatment
Centre located within the psychiatric-section of the penitentiary
took one nurse hostage in order to secure enough drugs to commit
a prison suicide. Inmates barricaded the doors with furniture, belts,
and clothing tied into knots.
The prison was locked down, as a tactical team stationed itself
outside the cell and negotiated with the prisoners throughout the
day, even though Correctional Services of Canada does not make "deals"
with hostage-taking inmates. The Treatment Centre, which houses
sex offenders, and disturbed and unmanageable inmates serving two
years or more, is located on the third floor.
Dr. George D. Scott has written briefly of his experiences with
suicidal and self-injurious inmates at Kingston Penitentiary, and
several of these experiences are listed below.
One inmate, who committed suicide in 1964, collected over the course
of his 2 years as an office cleaner minuscule amounts of carbon
tetrachloride from each office in the institution. When he eventually
collected enough to destroy his kidneys (approximately 6 ounces)
he killed himself.
The Coroner's Report revealed the death of another inmate in 1974
that had overdosed on methyl hydrate, known as rubbing-alcohol,
from an inmate who distributed cleaning supplies throughout the
In another act of self-injury, one female inmate broke her water
glass in her cell, wrapped it with damp toilet paper, and swallowed
it. She died six days later from bowel perforations. Some have tried
swallowing razor blades and bits of wire, but most of the time this
was unsuccessful, assuming suicide was even their objective.
One inmate at Kingston Penitentiary decided to hatch an escape
plan that would have almost certainly resulted in him being shot
by a prison guard when he would attempt to scale the perimeter wall.
However, that plan failed, and the inmate requested a transfer to
British Columbia. Shortly after, he provoked a number of inmates
until one of them stabbed him multiple times in the chest, arms,
and abdomen. He was again unsuccessful.
Prison inmates, however, are not the only members of Kingston Penitentiary
to commit suicide. By March of 2001, three Kingston-area prison
guards had already committed suicide, shortly after an RCMP investigation
into a staff-supported drug-smuggling ring began. The police probe
began looking into the smuggling of cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy,
and alcohol, but no charges were immediately laid. Only a month
after the investigation, 50 year-old prison guard Geoffrey McConnell
feared he would be implicated in the smuggling plot, and killed
himself in the parking lot of Bath
Institution. He had driven to the prison, asked a fellow guard
there to lend him his pistol, then walked to his car and fired a
fatal shot into his brain. Later, in 2000, prison guards Gail Perkins
and David Perkins took their own lives, as well. (The Globe and
Mail, 22 March 2001)
On April 12, 1990, Richard Veinotte killed himself on April 12.
With a rope he had fashioned from a canvas-bag obtained in the prison's
canvas shop, he hanged himself over the frame of the top-bed bunk
in his cell.
Another inmate, serving a life-sentence for second-degree murder,
died in October of 1993, along with a string of other suicides at
all within a week of each other. Following the victim's suicide,
there were recommendations that Kingston Penitentiary set up an
emergency phone line, much like a 911 line or a distress-centre
hotline for inmates-at-risk.
When native female prisoners at Kingston Penitentiary were asked
about their attitudes towards female prisoner suicides in 1991,
they responded that it was much the same as when a prisoner attempts
to escape; there is an element of encouragement, and the majority
of female prisoners actually respect a woman who chooses to die
if she cannot deal with what the system is delivering her. (Kitchener-Waterloo
Record, 9 February 1991)
Marlene Moore, made somewhat famous by her immortalized for a short
period of time after the Kingston Whig-Standard ran a 48 page article
on her 1989, was a chronic slasher and self-injurer from childhood.
She traveled through several jails, detention centres, community
centres, and mental heath facilities before she was finally returned
to Kingston Penitentiary in the spring of 1988. She was designated
as a Dangerous Offender (the only female Dangerous Offender in Canada
in 1989), and was to serve an indeterminate sentence, likely for
life. There she was put into solitary confinement and kept under
constant watch with television surveillance. In the end, however,
she still managed to kill herself, just that December (The Globe
and Mail 13 Dec 1989).
Paul Bernardo, the notorious rapist, torturer and murderer, has
been serving an indefinite life sentence at Kingston Penitentiary's
maximum-security unit since 1995. As of June 2005, the "dangerous
offender" is in solitary confinement, imprisoned in a cell
three paces long and only an arms-length in width, confined for
23 hours a day. Bernardo is serving the longest sentence of any
inmate on his range, but is receiving no programming. Instead he
spends his time reading, writing letters, and working out in his
cell. Bernardo's wing of the prison, which he shares with the other
elite group of Kingston Penitentiary's "worst of the worst,"
is separated by both steel bars and Plexiglas so that other offenders
walking past the bars to his unit don't throw objects at the inmates
He is also forbidden to speak with the media, including a recent
CBC interview that was cancelled by the warden. Although Bernardo
has much he wants to say about his once fiancé sex-killer-puppet
Karla Homolka, Correctional Service Canada is enforcing his silence.
Despite these restrictions, however, according to his lawyer Bernardo
is exercising regularly and maintaining good health. According to
the Toronto Star, Ontario Region communications officer Holly Knowles
is stated as saying that allowing media access to Bernardo would
"feed" his notoriety, increasing his "grandiose"
and "narcissistic" desires. This decision to prohibit
media involvement is directed by Bernardo's personal Offenders
Correction Plan, a long-term treatment plan to which every inmate
is assigned. In addition, increased media access may also encourage
more animosity and instability within Kingston Penitentiary's walls
among fellow Bernardo inmates, constituting a security-risk (The
Toronto Star, 25 June 2005).
In February of 2006, Bernardo confessed, by correspondence through
his lawyer Tony Bryant, for 10 more sexual assaults he had committed
but that had been blamed on others. One of these had occurred in
1986 in Guildwood Village, where he had been living with his parents
at the time, and another the same year on the University of Toronto
campus at Scarbourough. In 1989 he sexually assaulted another woman
outside a Kennedy Rd apartment complex near the 401. It is now also
suspected that Bernardo was involved in the disappearance and death
of U of T student Elizabeth Bain in 1990, a point argued by the
defence of Robert Baltovich, who was convicted of the murder in
1992 (Toronto Star 21 February 2006).
A year before in June, however, a reporter from the Toronto Star,
Nick Pron, had the privileged (if not illicit) opportunity to speak
face-to-face with the killer in his cell. As described by Pron,
Bernado's face was white, and his features "blowsy." He
had gained weight, probably from working out. Their eyes at locked
for a long moment, the reporter gazing up at Bernardo in his second-floor
cell, before Bernardo disappeared back into the confines of his
closet-sized cell. According to Pron, the cell was as close to rotting
in jail as the public could hope to imagine (The Toronto Star June
21 2005 ).
Scott, GS and Bill Trent. 1982. Inmate. Optimum Publishing