Toronto prisoners’ rights activists call for better COVID-19 protocols in correctional facilities

A prisoners' rights group in Toronto is addressing the government and demanding better COVID-19 precautions for people who are incarcerated.

Toronto's Don Jail, which closed in 1977, now serves as a hospital administration building. (IRENE BRAITHWAITE/TORONTO OBSERVER)  

With the surge of COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant, people in prisons have faced tough and unavoidable challenges.

The Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project (TPRP) is a collective of activists calling for better treatment of imprisoned people and more effective COVID-19 protocols within prisons.

The organization has applied pressure to Corrections Canada to implement better policies for COVID-19. Within the organization, there are members who are ex-convicts, family members of those who are imprisoned, and activists working alongside imprisoned people.

The TPRP created a petition to call for a reform of the COVID-19 safety protocols in place for imprisoned people in Toronto.

Located at 550 Gerrard Street East, The Don Jail was first opened in 1864. (Irene Braithwaite/Toronto Observer)

The petition calls on the Ontario Government and includes a list of demands and an emphasis on accurate information surrounding vaccines.

The list of demands includes:

  • Reducing the number of people inside prisons and detention centres
  • Ensuring prisoners receive equitable access to healthcare
  • Releasing all information regarding all COVID-19 and Omicron outbreaks in provincial jails

“Prisoners are at greater risk of becoming severely sick right now, and it is because of our elected representatives’ lack of direction or interest in keeping all of us safe,” The TPRP said in the petition.

The petition reached 1,369 of its 1,500 signature goal at the time of publish, and with each signature, a local government representative will be notified.

The TPRP has voiced their concern about the lack of resources that health-care facilities within prisons are facing, especially when it comes to treating and preventing COVID-19 infections.

“We are gravely concerned about how the second-tier healthcare system inside prisons will be able to successfully and humanely respond to the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The TPRP said in the petition.

The TPRP was unavailable to comment on the future plans for the petition.

There are approximately 1,600 people incarcerated in Toronto, with a recent article from the Toronto Star citing that there were at least 239 active inmate COVID-19 cases at the beginning of the year. The Toronto East and Toronto South Detention Centre are the correctional facilities located in the city, housing both medium and maximum security inmates.

In January, the Star revealed that nearly 30 per cent of incarcerated people in Ontario were in COVID-19 isolation.

Limited space for social distancing continues to be a challenge for imprisoned people. (IRENE BRAITHWAITE/TORONTO OBSERVER)

Esme Bailey, senior media-relations adviser at the Correctional Service of Canada, outlined the actions the CSC is taking to combat COVID-19.

“The Correctional Services of Canada’s priority is the health and safety of everyone,” Bailey said.

Bailey said that the CSC has provided 30,000 vaccine doses to its inmates throughout Canada, with 84 per cent of inmates having received two doses, and 53 per cent received a third dose. She also cited the mandatory vaccination policy for all staff members working in the CSC facilities.

Bailey says inmates are provided with adequate masks and are encouraged to wear them while they are in common spaces.

“Inmates are provided with medical masks and are encouraged to wear them at all times when not in their cell,” Bailey said.

Bailey said the CSC is working closely with Toronto Public Health and continues to monitor the situation. She said a large part of the COVID-19 management plan is communicating the protocols and expectations with everyone involved.

More on the CSC’s prevention plan

“Part of it is communicating with the offenders, the staff and stakeholders so that they’re aware of the latest prevention measures,” Bailey said.

At the moment, the CSC has implemented measures in response to the Omicron variant, including a suspension on outside visitors to the facilities. Bailey said the CSC is actively monitoring the situation as safety regulations change.

About this article

Posted: Feb 28 2022 9:00 am
Filed under: COVID-19 News