A Special Hell: Institutional Life in Alberta's Eugenic Years

By Claudia Malacrida

© 2015

Using rare interviews with former inmates and workers, institutional documentation, and governmental archives, Claudia Malacrida illuminates the dark history of the treatment of “mentally defective” children and adults in twentieth-century Alberta. Focusing on the Michener Centre in Red Deer, one of the last such facilities operating in Canada, A Special Hell is a sobering account of the connection between institutionalization and eugenics.

Malacrida explains how isolating the Michener Centre’s residents from their communities served as a form of passive eugenics that complemented the active eugenics program of the Alberta Eugenics Board. Instead of receiving an education, inmates worked for little or no pay – sometimes in homes and businesses in Red Deer – under the guise of vocational rehabilitation. The success of this model resulted in huge institutional growth, chronic crowding, and terrible living conditions that included both routine and extraordinary abuse.

Combining the powerful testimony of survivors with a detailed analysis of the institutional impulses at work at the Michener Centre, A Special Hell is essential reading for those interested in the disturbing past and troubling future of the institutional treatment of people with disabilities.

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Product Details

  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 320 pages
  • Illustrations: 13
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 0.9in x 9.0in
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SKU# SP003942

  • PUBLISHED JAN 2015

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    ISBN 9781442626898
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Quick Overview

Using rare interviews with former inmates and workers, institutional documentation, and governmental archives, Claudia Malacrida illuminates the dark history of the treatment of “mentally defective” children and adults at the Michener Centre in Red Deer, Alberta.

A Special Hell: Institutional Life in Alberta's Eugenic Years

By Claudia Malacrida

© 2015

Using rare interviews with former inmates and workers, institutional documentation, and governmental archives, Claudia Malacrida illuminates the dark history of the treatment of “mentally defective” children and adults in twentieth-century Alberta. Focusing on the Michener Centre in Red Deer, one of the last such facilities operating in Canada, A Special Hell is a sobering account of the connection between institutionalization and eugenics.

Malacrida explains how isolating the Michener Centre’s residents from their communities served as a form of passive eugenics that complemented the active eugenics program of the Alberta Eugenics Board. Instead of receiving an education, inmates worked for little or no pay – sometimes in homes and businesses in Red Deer – under the guise of vocational rehabilitation. The success of this model resulted in huge institutional growth, chronic crowding, and terrible living conditions that included both routine and extraordinary abuse.

Combining the powerful testimony of survivors with a detailed analysis of the institutional impulses at work at the Michener Centre, A Special Hell is essential reading for those interested in the disturbing past and troubling future of the institutional treatment of people with disabilities.

Continue Reading Read Less

Product Details

  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 320 pages
  • Illustrations: 13
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 0.9in x 9.0in
  • Reviews

    ‘Malacrida draws from a vast amount of documentation. Her book is packed with statistics and academic writing but leavened with direct testimony from inmates and staff. …valuable for anyone with an interest in this dark period of institutional history.’


    Nelle Oosterom
    Canada's History Magazine, June-July, 2015

    “This is an important and timely review of a place and time in Canada’s history from which we must learn much. The stories told in A Special Hell are essential to understanding what happened at the Michener Centre and why, so as not to repeat that history.”
    Deborah Stienstra, Professor in Disability Studies, University of Manitoba

    A Special Hell is an interesting and well-crafted book that adds to our knowledge and understanding of the institutional care of people with developmental disabilities in Canada. Malacrida does an excellent job of combining scholarly analysis with interviewees telling their own stories.”
    Dick Sobsey, Professor Emeritus, Department of Educational Psychology and John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre, University of Alberta

    “Claudia Malacrida gives the reader a comprehensive, probing, and thorough history of the inner life of a public residential institution for people with intellectual disabilities. She has woven a story from the perspectives of inmates, primary care workers, and townspeople, along with institutional documentation, governmental reports, and the stories from inmates’ relatives. This is an exceptional work, and one that gives voice to those participants whose voices are usually silent or silenced.”
    James Trent, Professor, Department of Social Work, Gordon College
  • Author Information

    Claudia Malacrida is a professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Lethbridge.

  • Table of contents

    1. Introducing the Michener Centre

    2. Entering the Gulag, Leaving the World

    3. Dehumanization as a Way of Life

    4. Ordinary and Extraordinary Violence

    5. Resisting the Institutional Order

    6. Broken Promises: Education in the Institution

    7. Training, Exploitation, and Community Dependency

    8. Bad Medicine: Drugs, Research, and Ethics

    9. Eugenics and Sexuality

    10. But That’s All in the Past, Isn’t It?

    Appendix I: Research Participants – Biographical Information

    Appendix II: History, Power, and Access to Knowledge

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