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Rick Sauvé

Rick Sauvé is living proof that education can be an invaluable rehabilitation tool

“When I was at Pine Grove, most of the inmates were functionally illiterate, having just enough intellectual development to be really dangerous: stuck at about grade 3, I'd say.”

“They were a product of cutbacks and now it's common to run into bands of them, young men and women together, rejected by the school system, possibly damaged in uturo and most certainly neglected. Cats and dogs teach their young what they need to survive, but as humans we are expecting many of our young to simply learn without being taught. What they are learning and who they are learning it from is truly frightening.” -- Sheila Steele

Rick Sauvé

In the four and a half years Rick Sauve spent at Millhaven Institution (in Kingston, Ontario), 15 people were killed and hundreds more beaten and stabbed. His survival skills included friends, the perception that he was capable of violence, and the ability to wake up immediately when the door was opened.

Today, he works with high-risk youth in Toronto to try to keep them out of prison. Most of them, he says, are gang members. Coming from abusive or broken homes, with little hope, street gangs become another form of family. He says that the skills he developed in prison are paramount in helping to rid these youth of the notion that jail is a respite.

When Rick was in prison, he dreamed about being free, he says, and always in black and white. "Now I dream about helping others still inside - and I dream in colour."


Rick Sauve and Gary Comeau, former members of Satan's Choice Motorcycle Club are serving (25 years minimum) life sentences for first degree homicide in Ontario, Canada. With four other members they were convicted of a shooting death of a rival club member in 1979. Their trial was part of a well orchestrated police campaign to clear the streets of Canadian bikers.

The police investigation and trial were highly controversial, including lost evidence, pressured witnesses and manipulated identification procedures. For example, Gary Comeau was identified as the gunman, though this was impossible since he had also been shot with the same revolver as the victim, a fact established only in the last days of the trial, but without impact.

A fellow accused, Gary Hoflinan, later had his conviction overturned when his lawyer discovered a police wiretap of a Choice Clubhouse which firmly established that he was 200 miles away at the time of the homicide. This information had been withheld by the police at the trial. Another member of the Club testified in the court that he was responsible but was not believed, assuring the conviction of the six. This case has been thoroughly analysed in a book by Mick Lowe (1988), Conspiracy of Brothers.

The importance of education for inmates -- and disadvantaged on the outside. . .

This article by Eric Squair is reprinted from The Varsity, student newspaper of the University of Toronto.

When Rick Sauve was in grade nine, his teacher told him to quit school and get a job in a factory. Sauve left school and didn't go back until he had been sentenced to life in prison for shooting a biker in a Port Hope, Ontario, bar in 1978.

Sauve was one of six Satan's Choice bikers convicted for the killing. Sauve put his sentence to good use and earned a degree in psychology from Queen's University, an honours BA in criminology from Ottawa U, and finished his thesis for a masters in criminology from Ottawa.

"Education helped me get through the system without going insane," says Sauve.

Sauve was the first inmate in Canada to receive a university degree while serving a life sentence. "You're locked up 24 hours a day. What better way to serve time than to put it to use?" says Sauve.

When it was originally reported in 1993 that Karla Homolka, while serving a 12-year sentence for manslaughter, had enrolled herself in courses through Queen's University, there was a strong public outcry. Canadians objected that one of the most notorious killers in Canadian history was attending one of the best universities in the country. University education for inmates was seen as a drain on public funds and a coddling of vicious criminals.

However, the reality is that post-secondary education has never been particularly accessible or well-funded for Canadian inmates, and current trends in corrections are making it much more difficult for inmates to continue their education past a grade 10 level.

Kelley Hannah Moffat, a criminologist at U of T, objects to the sensationalism that surrounds the Homolka situation, and the image it has created for inmate post- secondary education. "There is a huge hue and cry on the part of the public. On one side it is legitimate, because the idea is that conditions should not be better for prisoners than for people outside prisons," said Moffat.

But she feels there are myths about prison education that need to be dispelled. "There is a lot of misinformation out there. Prisoners have to pay for books, courses, etc. There is a misperception that Karla Homolka is getting an education from the taxpayers' wallet." But university courses are free for no one. Homolka's parents were paying $300 each for her correspondence courses in sociology and criminology.

For Sauve's part, he had to pay full tuition, $254 per course at the time, on an income of $42 a week. This income, earned from working in the prison, also had to cover the cost of his toiletries, casual clothing or anything else he wanted to buy.

But earning three degrees while serving time is no easy task. There are often impediments to getting assignments done - impediments beyond a student's control. Constant noise, cramped conditions, limited access to research materials, and prison rules make it difficult to get work done. For example, Sauve said disruption in other parts of the prison would end classes suddenly.

"If something happened, the guards would come in and tell the professors, 'You have to leave, everyone back to their cells,' and that's it, there's no explanation. The class is over." During outbreaks of violence and other disturbances, prisoners would be confined to their cells for weeks at a time. "If something happened in the prison, a stabbing or something, you were locked down. That was it, you couldn't move. It happened all the time," says Sauve. "Once there was a lock-down and I couldn't get my paper in on time. The professor told me it wasn't his problem. This guy was murder. He said, 'lots of students have excuses, you should be able to work around it.' There was nothing I could do, you can't even mail a letter."

Sauve was granted parole in March 1995 for his extensive volunteer work with young offenders and his charity work while in prison. "Sixteen years were not totally wasted. I finished my high school and almost have three degrees. I had that capability, but I had to discover it for myself."

In the future, there may be fewer repeats of this success story. Sauve and his fellow classmates were the last to benefit from in-house university lectures. Until the early '90s, inmates in a number of federal institutions had access to in-prison lectures given by professors from local universities. Two high profile programs were run by Queen's University in Kingston and Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. Both programs were shut down in 1993.

Lectures inside Canadian prisons were eliminated as Corrections Canada priorities and funding shifted to basic education, and public pressure led to a re-evaluation of corrections philosophy. Corrections Canada has moved toward basic adult education, particularly education up to the grade 10 level, due to the large numbers of functionally illiterate Canadian prison inmates.

According to Corrections Canada figures, roughly 80 per cent of the federal inmate population reads below the grade ten level, with 66 per cent below the grade eight level. The emphasis on basic education is understandable in light of these figures, say corrections officials. "We have a tremendous number of individuals who are illiterate," says Willy Gladu, the assistant warden of the Kingston Penitentiary, and the person responsible for prison education in Ontario.

"We should concentrate on improving their reading." Gladu was less than thrilled to see the demise of in- prison lectures, but sees the cuts as necessary, given the funding situation. "It provides a positive, constructive environment for inmates," Gladu says. "For those who were already functioning at a University level it formally forwarded their education. Practical benefits were felt. Put in the larger picture, however, the number of people with those needs was small compared with the need for basic literacy you have to ask yourself, where are you going to receive the best result with the resources available?"

However, Gladu admits that more than just post- secondary education was cut; all educational programs were scaled back. "Resources were both reallocated and deleted," he says. Stephen Duguid, the former director of the Prison Education Program at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, says it was more than just budgetary concerns that led to the cutting of programs like his.

Changes in the way Corrections Canada attempts to rehabilitate offenders and public pressure were definitely part of the decision, he says. Corrections Canada has moved towards a "treatment model" of corrections, identifying and attempting to treat "criminogenic factors" - conditions such as drug habits or sexual deviance that are likely to lead inmates to re-of fend. "Each program was evaluated on how it met their criminogenic factors," Duguid says. "We didn't meet many of them." The problem with the treatment model, says Duguid, is that it overshadows other corrections strategies.

"It is important to note that literacy training is not the main priority either, it's this criminogenic stuff," he says. Moffat agrees with Duguid's assessment of the "treatment" philosophy of corrections. "Rehabilitation is a loaded word. It conjures up images of treating or fixing, which assumes they must be broken," says Hannah Moffat. "Certainly the concern is trying to minimize risk, to try to isolate these problems. But you can't point to one or two factors and say that's what causes crime. The emphasis should e on reintegrating inmates into the community. After all, most inmates will be released someday."

For Sauve, rehabilitation was more than just the privilege of taking classes. It was the degree of self- actualization that comes fro higher learning, which he says can benefit other prisoners. Post-secondary education was the most useful program offered in prison, Sauve said.

"For me, university wasn't so much gaining knowledge of a particular subject, but learning how to educate yourself. If you can take that experience into life in general, you're going to succeed at it. Instead of having things laid out for you, you have to find it for yourself. You can take that philosophy and apply it to your daily life."

He says that without education, prisoners become entangled in a prison sub-culture. Education offers a mediating effect, and teaches prisoners a different mid set when relating to society upon their release. "When you are in prison, it is a total asylum, and when you are living in that kind of environment, it is so easy to get caught up in the values of the prison system; once they get socialized into prison life, a lot of guys end up taking that back into the community with them." Sauve's education prepared him for the rocky road of re- entering society.

He says basic education is obviously necessary, but that post-secondary education is especially helpful in adjusting to prison life and life after release. "I left prison after 16 years with $80 in my pocket. But I also left with a high school diploma and I've almost finished my third degree. If I didn't have that opportunity, coming out with $80 in my pocket and a grade nine education, I'd have been in big trouble trying to get back into the community. You just can't do it. That's why so many people end up going back to prison."

There are a number of studies that support the claim that post-secondary education helps inmates after they have served their sentence. A follow-up study of the Prison Education Project in BC found that three years after release, 16 per cent of inmate-students were back in cor rectional facilities, while the rate for the control group of prisoners who did not receive the benefit of an education was 50 per cent. The main weakness of these studies is that the inmates who enroll in post-secondary are often already functioning at a high level of literacy, and have made a certain commitment to change in behaviour patterns.

Although both programs in BC and Ontario had an open admissions policy, with inmates allowed to have a period of academic probation, the causal link between post-secondary education and lower recidivism rates is hard to gauge. "You can't claim that the relationship is causal, but there is a relationship of some kind," says Stephen Duguid. Regardless of whether post-secondary education for prison inmates is highly effective or only marginally so, it seems the experiment in giving Canadian inmates easier access to quality post-secondary education is over.

There are no university level lectures given in federal penitentiaries today. With correspondence courses the only option, prisoners pay full tuition and have no face to face contact with instructors or access to library facilities. Gladu says fewer Ontario inmates applying for courses after the Queen's program was cut. "Getting an education through correspondence is to their credit. They have to have a large tolerance for frustration," says Nelson Freedman, the former director of the program at Queen's. Freedman says when funded education was a priority, introductory courses were given by lecturers from Queen's to help new students adjust to the transition to post-secondary education.

However, as students progressed they had to take upper year courses through correspondence. "The fact is, you can't get a degree through correspondence," says Freedman. The shifting priorities that led to the axing of post- secondary education are nothing new, according to Duguid. "It is related to public pressure, the public is demanding that corrections 'correct': programs that 'cure' or 'correct' or 'treat'. This went on the '60s and it didn't work. Now it's back. It's a different world in there: you can take courses that mess your head around, but you can't take adult education." "Education has become for elites only," says Duguid. "Those with the money, the previous education, whereas before it was open to all prisoners who felt they could benefit from it."