Friday, October 23, 2009

Sadistic child molester dies behind bars

It's unlikely many tears will be shed for Basil Madden, on the occasion of his death at age 62. In 1995, Madden held a 12-year-old boy hostage in a motel room in Kingston, Ontario, and repeatedly raped and beat the boy.
That was the most disturbing scene and the most vile set of circumstances that I've ever investigated that a human could do to a human.
That's what veteran Kingston police officer Brian Cookman, who put Madden away, told me, in 1996. That year, after Madden was convicted of raping the young boy, he was declared a dangerous offender. That's Canada's harshest punishment. It means you can be held behind bars indefinitely, until you're considered no longer a danger to society. Most dangerous offenders die behind bars. That's precisely what happened to Madden. Today, he died of natural causes, while being held at the regional treatment centre, a psychiatric facility for federal convicts that operates inside the walls of maximum-security Kingston Penitentiary. Corrections Canada said Madden was at the regional hospital at Kingston Pen. An inquest will be held into his death.

» How child molesters are made
» Canada's harshest sentence hits record

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Shiv-wielding convict attacks prison guard

The one quote above speaks volumes about the danger prison guards face every day in Canada's 58 federal penitentiaries. The veteran guard believes a stab-proof vest (like the one pictured at left) that he was wearing protected him from a lethal injury during a confrontation with convicts at maximum-security Kingston Penitentiary. The convict with the knife, who sources tell me is named Prasad, is likely to face serious criminal charges, perhaps even an attempted murder count. My full story from the Kingston Whig-Standard is here and appears after the jump.

A protective vest is credited with saving the life of a veteran correctional officer who was among six guards attacked by two convicts at Kingston Penitentiary Wednesday evening.

"It saved his life," said Jason Godin, regional president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers. He spoke to the officer yesterday, two days after the attack.

"He said, 'If I hadn't had the vest, the guy would have sunk 12 inches of blade in my kidney,' " Godin said.

The officer became involved in a scuffle on a cellblock of the maximum-security federal prison. One inmate became very aggressive, Godin said, and at some point produced a large-bladed knife and jabbed it into the officer's torso.

"It felt like a real solid punch and then he realized (the prisoner) tried to stab him," Godin said. He said the officer has some bruising. The knife used in the attack -- or shiv, as it's known in prison -- was recovered. Godin said police took the officer's vest as evidence.

The assaults happened around 10:30 p. m., when convicts were being locked in their cells. The incident began when one inmate smashed a fluorescent light tube in his cell and began hurling the pieces of broken glass at two officers. The officers suffered cuts. Four other officers were attacked by the inmate with a homemade weapon, according to Corrections Canada. The prison service did not disclose that the weapon was a knife. Three of them suffered cuts to their hands, wrist and back and one suffered a pulled muscle.

Corrections will not provide any additional details.

"I know that the officers were wearing stab-proof vests and they're very good pieces of safety equipment that CSC has provided to the officers who are working in the units," Brian Joyce, an assistant warden at Kingston Pen said yesterday. "I can't speak specifically about whether that was a life-saving event or not but it certainly is a mitigating factor."

Injuries to the other staff are still being assessed. One officer may have suffered an injured eye from flying glass. Joyce cited privacy laws in refusing to provide any information about the status of the staff.

The two inmate attackers have been transferred out of the prison and could end up in a special handling unit, a super- secure facility for convicts who pose a threat behind bars.

All of the roughly 400 convicts at KP remain confined to their cells and all visits and programs were cancelled to allow a prison-wide search for weapons and contraband.
"We're going to take our time and do what's necessary to make sure every-thing's safe before we open up," Joyce said. He could not predict when the search would be completed and the institution's normal routine would be restored.

Godin said the incident could have been defused, with fewer injuries, if correctional officers were permitted to carry OC, a form of pepper spray. He said staff could see the incident spiralling out of control.

"If we had [OC spray], we could have prevented further injuries," he said.
The union has been battling senior management for some time, arguing that prison guards should be permitted to carry small canisters of the spray so that they can swiftly respond to violent incidents. At the moment, OC spray is available, but staff must go to a locked, central command post and ask permission from a supervisor for its use. Godin said staff often don't have time to fetch a weapon.

"Eighty per cent of the use-of-force incidents that happen in our institutions are spontaneous," he said.

Two years ago, guards at maximum-security Kent Institution in British Columbia briefly refused to work and filed a health and safety complaint under the Canada Labour Code over the failure of prison bosses to issue OC spray. A tribunal hearing was held in July to examine the complaint. A decision could take six months.

"It is frustrating," said Gord Robertson, regional president of the union based in Abbotsford, B. C. "It's difficult when we know that these things actually protect staff, they actually save staff's lives and in the case of OC it can definitely help in protecting inmates' lives because we can break up fights."

Robertson said the union faced the same resistance from senior Corrections bosses over demands for handcuffs and vests to be standard issue, at least in maximum-security prisons. Corrections initially resisted union demands for cuffs and vests, arguing they would provoke or intimidate prisoners. In 2004, Corrections Canada agreed to allow correctional officers to carry handcuffs. Vests were issued to staff in maximum-security prisons and to some staff in medium-security facilities about two years ago.

Robertson said Corrections is facing a serious budget crunch and money may be a factor in the resistance to give OC spray to all staff. He notes that Corrections spent nearly $25,000 to hire an expert to appear at the tribunal in July to argue against the union.

"Twenty-four thousand, nine hundred dollars would buy enough OC spray for an institution for years," he said. Robertson said staff inside prisons face a growing threat of violence.

"CSC realizes that these inmates are becoming more and more violent all the time," he said.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Canada's worst rapist, Selva Subbiah, stabbed at KP

(UPDATED MAY 15) A serial sex predator who may be Canada's worst rapist nearly had his prison sentence abbreviated today. Selva Kumar Subbiah (inset), who is imprisoned at maximum-security Kingston Penitentiary, was stabbed by fellow convicts, Cancrime learned.

Subbiah was rushed to an outside hospital in Kingston, Ontario, suffering from six stab wounds. At last word, he was in intensive care. Corrections Canada said the injured inmate was taken to hospital as a precaution, but suffered only "superficial" injuries and was returned Friday to Kingston Pen. Corrections said "two aggressors" were thrown into segregation while the incident is investigated. Subbiah, a Malaysian immigrant who will be deported if he survives his Canadian prison stint, is serving 24 years for a string of violent rapes in the Toronto area. He was convicted of beating, drugging and raping more than 30 women, although police investigators believe he attacked at least 500 women, and perhaps as many as 1,000. Police fear many women never knew for certain that they were victims because Subbiah used powerful drugs to render his victims unconscious before he molested and raped them. He was convicted of 75 crimes, including 26 sexual assaults. He has earned a reputation in prison as an arrogant manipulator, according to Cancrime's sources. That kind of posturing can easily get you killed in prison, where even the smallest irritation can attract a shiv in the back. Subbiah was due for automatic release from prison in January 2009, but the National Parole Board ordered him kept behind bars because he is too dangerous to release. Subbiah has resisted treatment and denied that he caused serious harm to his victims, parole records show. He has beaten and terrorized girlfriends and spouses, in addition to women he woos with phoney claims of being a talent scout. He's considered a high risk to reoffend. His sentence expires in January 2017, providing he doesn't expire first.

• A previous post on Subbiah includes the complete National Parole Board decision to keep him locked up.

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Tyrone Conn's escape from Kingston Penitentiary

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A decade ago, Canada's federal prison service was humiliated when a wily bank robber clambered over the 10-metre high stone wall of the country's oldest, seemingly most secure penitentiary, and vanished into the darkness, leaving behind cheering sex killers and pedophiles who were his prison mates. The conditions in which that escape was possible exist again today at some of the country's highest security prisons.

Tyrone Conn (above) was 32 years old, serving a 47-year prison sentence at maximum-security Kingston Penitentiary when he staged a spectacular escape on May 7, 1999. His cunning, patience and ingenuity, coupled with a series of stunning security failures, made the breakout from the Bighouse possible (use the interactive aerial view of Kingston Pen above to understand the escape). Conn was the first prisoner to make it over the wall of Kingston Pen in 41 years. He scampered over the east wall sometime between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., using a ladder he jury-rigged to greater height and a 42-foot length of canvas strapping and grappling hook he fashioned from a piece of steel rebar. The nearest guard tower, a squat observation post at the southeast corner of the prison, had been empty since 11 p.m. the night before. Had a guard been on duty, he or she likely would have had a clear view of the escape in progress, and, armed with a rifle, would have been equipped to stop it. The tower had been unstaffed on the overnight shift for several years, a victim of management budget cuts, despite the protests of prison staff. After the escape, prison managers reinstated 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week staffing of four perimeter watch towers at Kingston Pen, a prison that holds psychopathic sex killers like Paul Bernardo. Conn's escape also was successful because two inmate accomplices on his cellblock spent the evening of May 6 moving a dummy in and out of his cell bunk before regular head counts. At the time, Conn was hidden in a canvas shop, assembling his escape gear. The dummy wasn't discovered until after 7 a.m., when a search of the prison was ordered after a staff member arriving for work noticed the canvas strapping dangling from the outside of the east wall.

There are eight perimeter observation towers at maximum-security Millhaven Institution, just west of Kingston, Ontario. The Haven holds some of the country's toughest bikers, gang members and contract killers. Just one of the eight towers is staffed on the overnight shift from 11 to 7. Recently, managers at the prison reduced the number of armed security patrols around the perimeter of the prison from two to one. The patrols were conducted by a guard in a truck with an automatic rifle and a handgun, who remains in constant contact with a central command post that monitors video cameras and motion detectors. The cut was made over the protests of prison workers (more on the staffing controversy in my Whig-Standard account of the Conn escape).

At medium-security Collins Bay Institution in Kingston, which also houses bank robbers and murderers, none of the four corner guard towers is staffed on the overnight shift from 11 to 7.

Similar conditions exist at many federal prisons across the country, following the Correctional Service's implementation of a new staffing model April 1, over the objections of front-line prison workers. Staff say security has been sacrificed by penny-pinching bosses.

Ty Conn's breakout was embarrassing for senior Corrections officials, who deserved much of the blame for fostering a culture at Kingston Pen that made the escape possible, front-line staff say. The internal inquiry into Conn's escape and the resulting report (reproduced below in full)documents dozens of security failures at the prison. Many prison workers insist that the final report was a whitewash, meant to protect prison managers and senior Corrections staff. It chronicles the genius of Conn's escape plot. It does not address one lingering question – who helped him? Police who investigated the escape are nearly certain that an accomplice in a car was waiting outside the prison in a nearby neighbourhood to spirit Conn quickly out of Kingston. That person has never been identified.

Conn died, of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot, roughly two weeks after his escape.

Related post: Memories of a KP riot hostage

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Recorded: Memories of a prison hostage

Few people remember with clarity the horror of the Kingston Penitentiary riot of 1971. That may be why a warning from Canada's prison ombudsman that history may be dangerously repeating itself likely rings hollow for many. Howard Sapers issued the Correctional Investigator's 35th annual report last week [read full report]. He cautions that in incendiary problem blamed in the wake of the KP riot festers again: Inmate complaints are not being dealt with quickly or thoroughly.

If he were alive, Terry Decker would understand the gravity of Sapers' warning.

Decker, pictured above in April 1971, was a baby-faced 27-year-old prison guard that year. He was one of six Kingston Penitentiary guards taken hostage on the evening of April 14 when more than 600 rampaging convicts seized control of KP, the country's oldest and toughest federal pen. (An interview he gave me in 1985 about his hostage ordeal appears above)

The guards were released unharmed, but two convicts were beaten to death. They were among 14 strapped to chairs in the prison's central dome, covered with sheets and savaged by their fellow convicts. The attackers, wielding iron bars, crude knives and chunks of metal, slashed, beat and burned the 14 victims, who included sex offenders, child molesters and snitches. One of them, rapist Brian Ensor, had an iron pipe driven through his head. Crazed inmate attackers slashed open his body from foot to crotch. The prison itself also was a target of rage. Steel doors were torn apart. Inmates bashed apart concrete walls. An entire wing of the prison was damaged beyond repair. Decker sports a damaged eye in the photo above, from a punch thrown by an inmate.

Terry Decker did not believe he was going to survive the KP riot.

His captors told him that if the army rushed in to regain control of the prison, he'd die first, thrown up as a human shield, Decker told me, in a recorded interview in 1985, before his death. Although he lived through the riot, his psyche suffered grievous injury. He fell into depression, alcoholism and suffered tattered nerves. He was forced to retire from Corrections in 1986.

Decker, a Halifax native, a Grade 10 dropout and former military teletype operator, was a five-year veteran of Kingston Penitentiary in the spring of 1971. He was working a shift as a favour to another officer on Wednesday night, April 14, when inmates Billy Knight and Charles Saunders, who were later identified as instigators of the uprising, attacked him. Decker was controlling a barred entranceway that led from the prison gymnasium to a hallway that connected with the prison's central hub. The rioters seized Decker first at 10:30 p.m. that night, beginning a 90-hour siege.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Clifford Olson outlives nemesis Gary Rosenfeldt

It seems a cruel turn of fate that the Beast of British Columbia has outlived from behind bars his nemesis. Gary Rosenfeldt (inset), a man heralded as a pioneer of victims' rights in Canada, died this week after a battle with cancer. In 1981, Clifford Olson abducted, raped and murdered Rosenfeldt's 16-year-old stepson, Daryn Johnsrude. Daryn was one of 11 children Olson killed before he was caught and jailed for life in 1982. Olson turned 69 on Jan. 1 and remains behind bars. Rosenfeldt was 67 when he died this week. Olson is likely to die in prison.
He is no doubt gleeful to see an old enemy gone. Rosenfeldt and his wife Sharon launched a national crusade for victims' rights after they were plunged into the criminal justice system because of Olson's deeds. They fought for, and won, greater access to the corrections and parole systems and cast a bright light on a dark and misunderstood process. Olson hated Rosenfeldt's success and despised his public prominence, particularly because Rosenfeldt routinely made public appearances in which he reminded the nation that Olson was a perverted monster who had tortured, sexually abused and horribly murdered his young victims. In 1988, Olson could apparently take it no longer. He made a terrible mistake, writing to Rosenfeldt from his cell at Kingston Penitentiary, wailing that it was an attack on his character to claim that he had sexually molested his victims. The fact was true, although it was not entered as evidence when he pleaded guilty to the 11 murders. Olson wrote to Rosenfeldt, with his typically fractured syntax and misspellings. (This passage is reproduced verbatim from a copy of the letter I obtained 20 years ago.)
I have asked the Alberta Legal Aid society to appoint a lawyer to have criminal proceedings and civil laws suits filed against you personally for false statements and also for trying to expose me to hatred, contemp or ridicule me as a persons that raped and murdered 11 youngsters as you state in all your writings to news papers and others. They inform me that I have a case for Defamatory slander of reputation so smart ass we will see you in court hope you got a lot of extra monies to pay the legal bills.
Olson further fanned the public's revulsion of him, telling Rosenfeldt that his stepson had told Olson, on the day he died, that he hated Rosenfeldt. Citizens were enraged when they learned a psychopathic serial killer was taunting the families of his victims from his prison cell. A prison crackdown on Olson's prison missives was ordered. The warden of Kingston Penitentiary began seizing any outgoing mail from Olson directed at the families of his victims.

The Olson-Rosenfeldt feud was just one of many public spectacles inspired by the serial killer, in part, to feed his ego and keep his name in the public eye. Olson's biggest ploy for exposure has been, and continues to be today, his insistence that he has information that will help solve other murders and catch other killers. Olson claims that he was involved in some of the killings or that he simply has details because he consorted with other murderers. The document above was completed in 1986 by a case management officer at Kingston Penitentiary who had interviewed Olson while he was imprisoned there.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Saul Betesh's child killer whine

We have an obligation in law to keep people, however odious their crime and their background, alive because there is no other alternative. The life sentence of the court is not a sentence of execution by bad luck or by chance or by negligence.
- Tom Epp, warden of Kingston Penitentiary 1989-91

When Tom Epp gave me that eloquent piece of prison-boss wisdom in 1995, he was talking generally about how Canada's federal prison system deals with the most despicable characters entrusted to its care. He wasn't talking specifically about Saul David Betesh, but his words are perfectly applicable to the sexual sadist, one of Canada's most notorious child killers.

I thought about Betesh, and vile offenders like him, when I came across this story recently about a convict, a cop-killing multiple murderer who won a lawsuit against Corrections Canada because he wasn't given special running shoes [full court decision]. To the average citizen, the story must seem outrageous and impossible to fathom. But prisoners don't lose all of their basic rights when we dispatch them to penitentiary: We send them to prison as punishment, not for punishment. Which means the staff who work in our prisons must find a way to treat civilly some of society's most reprehensible characters. They deserve credit for performing a difficult and virtually thankless task. It's more difficult because some of those "odious" inmates spend a good portion of their free time concocting complaints and whining about their treatment. Child killer Betesh is one of those. Sentenced in 1978 to life in prison for the sexual torture and murder of 12-year-old Toronto shoeshine boy Emmanuel Jaques, Betesh has been a lumbering pest in prison (he has typically tipped the scales at 230 to 240 pounds). He repeatedly launched hunger strikes to press his demands, and often with a flourish of publicity that came from contacting the media directly. In 2002, he mailed me his latest hunger strike manifesto (above, another example of the kind of inmate grumbling that prison staff must endure) that included his demand that he and a same-sex prison partner be transferred together to another penitentiary. Betesh also complained about his treatment at maximum-security Kingston Penitentiary. Betesh wasn't transferred and remains behind bars in Kingston. At his trial more than 30 years ago, a psychiatrist said he was a great danger to society, a man who would likely commit other sexual sadistic acts when released from prison. It's unlikely that any parole board member wants to be accountable for Betesh's release. It is likely he'll die in prison.

Betesh, who is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, with no chance of parole for 25 years, was eligible to seek full parole on Aug. 1, 2002, but he waived his right to a hearing, perhaps because he knows there's still little chance he's getting out. (I was fortunate that year to land an interview with Bob McLean, a retired Toronto police detective who put Betesh behind bars.) Betesh is entitled to a hearing every two years, but he waived that right again in 2004, 2006 and 2008. Betesh's conviction, along with two other men, Robert Kribs and Josef Woods, set off a sweeping crackdown on Toronto's Yonge Street sin strip of body rub parlours and porn houses. Kribs was denied parole in 2002. Woods died behind bars in 2003.

(In the document above, you can see that Betesh self censored the name of his partner. He actually cut small rectangles out of the paper to remove the name and wrote in the margin, in red pen: "Name not for publication.")

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