pandemic

COVID-19 Outbreaks in Ontario Prisons

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Joyceville Institution (“Joyceville”), a medium-security prison located northwest of Kingston, Ontario, is currently dealing with a significant COVID-19 outbreak. 

As of Saturday December 19, there were 95 inmates and at least 4 staff members that tested positive for the virus at the prison. 

There are also positive cases of the virus at two other institutions that are believed to be linked to Joyceville.  Five cases of the virus have been confirmed at Collins Bay Institution, a medium security unit in Kingston, and three cases have been identified at Warkworth Institution.  All of these individuals were recently at Joyceville, which is likely where they became exposed to the virus.

ADVOCATES DEMAND MORE SAFETY MEASURES IN PRISONS

A news release issued on behalf of the inmates of Joyceville Institution by the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project and the Toronto Prisoner’s Right Project are looking for more information about the outbreak within the facility. 

There are reports that some inmates have requested to be tested for COVID-19, however, these requests have been denied. 

The Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project is requesting that the federal and provincial governments make immediate improvements to stop the spread of the virus within prisons.  They report the following concerns at Joyceville:

  • There are not enough N95 grade masks for the inmates;
  • There is not enough hot water for hand washing and showers;
  • Inmates do not have access to hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies;
  • Prisoners were not properly tested before being transferred, which resulted in cases at other institutions.

Correctional Service Canada (“CSC”) has confirmed that inmates that have tested positive have been medically isolated and are being closely monitored.  CSC also denies the allegations that inmates do not have access to hot running water in their cells and showers.  Furthermore, inmates, staff and others entering the facility are provided with masks if needed and must follow all physical-distancing guidelines.

CSC maintains that rapid tests are being utilized to identify cases that are positive sooner.  Furthermore, all newly admitted inmates are placed in medical isolation for 14 days before they are entered into the facility’s general population.

Correctional Service Canada responded to inquiries by CTV News:

We are monitoring the situation closely and diligently, and we continue to apply our infection prevention and control measures …

We continue to actively screen employees entering all our institutions and, all employees and inmates in Ontario are being equipped with medical masks and face shields.  In addition, testing has been offered to all staff and inmates.

CSC has recently advised that in-person visits to all Ontario institutions and community correctional centres are temporarily suspended.  According to CSC:

This decision will limit comings and goings from its facilities.  It follows extensive consultation with public health officials and will be reassessed on an ongoing basis. 

PROFESSOR ADVOCATES FOR EARLY RELEASE OF NON-VIOLENT OFFENDERS

Justin Piche, an associate professor in the department of criminology at the University of Ottawa, is currently studying how correctional institutions have reacted to the potentially deadly virus.  According to Piche, an outbreak, such as the one at Joyceville, indicates that too many people are interacting with one another within the facility.

Piche recommends, in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, that non-violent offenders be released and offenders and correctional staff be given higher priority for the COVID-19 vaccine than the general public.

According to Piche, there have been more virus outbreaks during this second wave within CSC institutions than during the first wave. 

Piche suggests that the CSC reconsider how inmates are moved through the system.  Joyceville is a reception centre for new offenders from the provincial system.  According to Piche:

For that many cases to have happened all at one time, it suggests there was some movement within that institution, as well in terms of staff probably working on different units or having contact with other staff members that work in different units at the institution.

Although there is speculation that visitors may have brought the virus into the facility, Piche believes that the staff may have contributed to the outbreak.  Staff members move in and out of the facility on a daily basis, returning to their homes and communities.  Piche would not be not surprised, given the increasing numbers of cases in the community, that staff members may play a role in the transmission of the virus within the facility.

Piche suggests that those making the decisions with respect to providing the vaccine consider inmates and staff within prison facilities.  He stated:

I know a lot of people are thinking prisoners made choices to get there, but I don’t think anyone signed up to have additional harms done to them within the context of where they find themselves.  They didn’t sign up for a death sentence and they didn’t sign up to get diseases.  …

The federal penitentiary system has had five months where they could have planned for this better and could have found ways to safely depopulate their institutions, and here’s where we find ourselves:  in the midst of some major outbreaks from Kingston to Stony Mountain in Manitoba if we don’t start doing things differently.

We will continue to follow the government’s response to the pandemic and how it will affect the Canadian justice system and will provide updates in this blog.

If you have been charged with a criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, it is recommended that you contact an experienced criminal defence lawyer.  The lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP have many years of experience defending a wide variety of criminal offences.  Contact our office today online or at 905-404-1947.  We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.