Monday, April 6, 2020

Imprisoning the Pandemic in Canada (v1.0)

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Government of Ontario needs to take additional steps to reduce the use and harms of imprisonment at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre during the COVID-19 crisis


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

6 April 2020 (Ottawa / Algonquin Territory) – Over the past few weeks, the Jail Accountability & Information Line (JAIL) has continued to take dozens of calls from people caged at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) seeking support to address human rights issues and information to facilitate their safe re-entry into the community. Souheil Benslimane – Lead Coordinator of the JAIL hotline – states: “It’s clear the situation in Ottawa’s provincial jail has gone from bad to worse. People imprisoned there report deplorable treatment by their jailors. The province needs to act by 1) stopping the flow of people into Ontario jails and prisons, 2) working towards releasing all prisoners held at the Ottawa jail in a safe manner starting with those most vulnerable to COVID-19, 3) meeting the needs of those held and working at OCDC during this pandemic, and 4) ensuring that those who are released are adequately supported and their communities are equipped to welcome them back”.

While the number of people imprisoned at OCDC has reportedly decreased to less than 60 percent of its 585-bed capacity over the past few weeks, owing to the increased use of decarceration measures (such as temporary absences) and diversion measures (such as bail), admissions to the jail continue. Jail depopulation efforts need to be expanded, along with the use of police discretion, the release of people on their own recognizance, as well as investments in restorative and transformative justice. The on-going admission of people into OCDC has the potential to introduce COVID-19 into the jail population, as does the entry and exit of staff at the facility everyday. OPSEU Local 411, which represents workers at OCDC, have recognized this risk and are actively employing pressure tactics – including work stoppages that result in lockdowns which harm prisoners – to demand that Ontario’s Solicitor General enhance screening practices at the site. While better screening is necessary, Justin Piché – Criminology professor at the University of Ottawa – notes: “The best way to prevent COVID-19 transmission behind jail walls is to stop human beings from coming into the jail, while safely releasing prisoners to the extent that is possible now. Where stable housing and other necessities of life aren’t available to those being released, the province needs to use its vast capacity to put in place the resources to meet the needs of criminalized people and enable them to abide by public health measures. Reducing the use of imprisonment and providing re-entry supports is more effective than caging people where public health and community safety are concerned”.

JAIL hotline callers, who have long reported the substandard health care that exists at OCDC, have expressed concerns about contracting COVID-19 at the jail and being placed in quarantine on site. They fear experiencing segregation-like conditions of confinement without access to appropriate medical care. Should people held at OCDC test positive for COVID-19, it’s critical that they be transferred to a hospital or another setting to be able to safely isolate and receive the care required. When people are quarantined in jails as opposed hospitals or other settings where they can receive care, it’s both cruel and enhances their likelihood of death. Compassionate releases need to be prioritized to save lives when people who are confined contract COVID-19 or have existing health conditions that jeopardize their ability to survive the current pandemic.

Over the past two weeks, JAIL hotline callers have reported lockdowns and uneven access to hygiene and cleaning products. Prisoners on some units have what is needed and others not. Some callers report being forced to drink water out of their toilet bowl due to a lockdown and plumbing problems. The cancellation of programming and visitation has further isolated people held at OCDC. Indigenous prisoners, who reported that their human rights were being routinely violated prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, are now reporting the unavailability of essential cultural activities such as smudging and other traditional ceremonies. Tension and uncertainty is building inside the jail. “To ease tensions, the Ministry needs to end lockdowns and improve communication. Right now the prisoners are being told next to nothing”, states Aaron Doyle, Sociology professor at Carleton University. The Ministry should also allow prisoners to strengthen themselves as the risk of COVID-19 looms by replacing the poor-quality food contracted-out to Compass Group with meals prepared by local businesses. Free canteen and adding items such as vitamins, lozenges, and healthy snacks would also help prisoners prepare for the inevitable if depopulation efforts are not expanded. Personal hygiene and cleaning products must also be more readily available to all people imprisoned at OCDC. The Ministry also needs to put in place a phone system that allows calls to landlines, cell phones, and switchboards free of charge so that prisoners can contact their loved ones and community supports during this especially difficult time.

The depopulation and interim reform measures above are reasonable and necessary. If the government fails to act now, not only will people imprisoned and working at the jail be at greater risk, so too will their families and communities.

For media interviews contact:
Souheil Benslimane
Lead Coordinator
Jail Accountability & Information Line 
819-592-6469 / jailhotline@gmail.com

Letter to the FPT Public Safety Ministers: COVID-19 and Imprisonment - Information Request

Dear Federal-Provincial-Territorial Public Safety Ministers,
I hope you and your loved ones are keeping healthy at this time. I am writing to request information from your respective ministries regarding the impact COVID-19 has had on prisoners in your custody, institutional staff, the number of people incarcerated in your carceral institutions, entry and exit procedures, conditions of confinement, as well as information and oversight procedures available to prisoners.

Please have the offices of your deputy ministers responsible for the prisons you oversee provide the information requested below by 2 May 2020.

This information will then be analyzed and included in a report that will be put together by graduate and undergraduate students registered in my directed research course at the University of Ottawa entitled Policing and Imprisoning the COVID-19 Crisis, which will be taught from May 4 to June 12. The report will review common and best practices to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 behind and beyond prison walls. Upon its completion, you will receive a copy of the report, along with the dozens of journalists (cc’d) who have been following the impact of the COVID-19 crisis in prisons across Canada over the past few weeks or who have recently reported on incarceration-related issues.

COVID-19 CASES

COVID-19 – Prisoners 
Number of Positive Tests as of 1 March 2020:
Number of Positive Tests as of 15 March 2020:
Number of Positive Tests as of 1 April 2020:
Number of Positive Tests as of 15 April 2020:
Number of Positive Tests as of 1 May 2020:

Number of Negative Tests as of 1 March 2020:
Number of Negative Tests as of 15 March 2020:
Number of Negative Tests as of 1 April 2020:
Number of Negative Tests as of 15 April 2020:
Number of Negative Tests as of 1 May 2020:

Number of Pending Tests as of 1 March 2020:
Number of Pending Tests as of 15 March 2020:
Number of Pending Tests as of 1 April 2020:
Number of Pending Tests as of 15 April 2020:
Number of Pending Tests as of 1 May 2020:

Total Number of Tests as of 1 March 2020:
Total Number of Tests as of 15 March 2020:
Total Number of Tests as of 1 April 2020:
Total Number of Tests as of 15 April 2020:
Total Number of Tests as of 1 May 2020:

COVID-19 – Staff and Contractors
Number of Positive Tests as of 1 March 2020:
Number of Positive Tests as of 15 March 2020:
Number of Positive Tests as of 1 April 2020:
Number of Positive Tests as of 15 April 2020:
Number of Positive Tests as of 1 May 2020:

Number of Negative Tests as of 1 March 2020:
Number of Negative Tests as of 15 March 2020:
Number of Negative Tests as of 1 April 2020:
Number of Negative Tests as of 15 April 2020:
Number of Negative Tests as of 1 May 2020:

Number of Pending Tests as of 1 March 2020:
Number of Pending Tests as of 15 March 2020:
Number of Pending Tests as of 1 April 2020:
Number of Pending Tests as of 15 April 2020:
Number of Pending Tests as of 1 May 2020:

Total Number of Tests as of 1 March 2020:
Total Number of Tests as of 15 March 2020:
Total Number of Tests as of 1 April 2020:
Total Number of Tests as of 15 April 2020:
Total Number of Tests as of 1 May 2020:

POPULATION CHANGES (1 March - 1 May 2020)

Population Count
Number of Prisoners as of 1 March 2020:
Number of Prisoners as of 15 March 2020:
Number of Prisoners as of 1 April 2020:
Number of Prisoners as of 15 April 2020:
Number of Prisoners as of 1 May 2020:

Population Reduction MeasuresBail (provincial/territorial): YES / NO (with numbers if applicable and available)
Temporary Absences (intermittent sentences – provincial/territorial): YES / NO (with numbers if applicable and available)
Temporary Absences (medical releases): YES / NO (with numbers if applicable and available)
Temporary Absences (compassionate releases): YES / NO (with numbers if applicable and available)
Temporary Absences (other): YES / NO (with numbers if applicable and available)
Parole / Earned Remission: YES / NO (with numbers if applicable and available)
Royal Prerogative of Mercy (federal): YES / NO (with numbers if applicable and available)
Other (please specify): YES / NO (with numbers if applicable and available)

ENTRY AND EXIT PROCEDURES (1 March - 1 May 2020)

Entry Screening (staff and prisoners)
Temperature Check: YES / NO
Medical Assessment by Medical Professional: YES / NO
Other (please specify): YES / NO

Exit Screening (staff and prisoners)
Temperature Check: YES / NO
Medical Assessment by Medical Professional: YES / NO
Other (please specify): YES / NO

CONDITIONS OF CONFINEMENT (1 March - 1 May 2020)

COVID-19 Related Health Measures
Number of Medical Staff: INCREASED / NO CHANGE / DECREASED
Medical Staff Hours: INCREASED / NO CHANGE / DECREASED
Number of Mental Health Staff: INCREASED / NO CHANGE / DECREASED
Mental Health Staff Hours: INCREASED / NO CHANGE / DECREASED
Access to Vitamins and Supplements: INCREASED / NO CHANGE / DECREASED
Access to Non-prescription Medication: INCREASED / NO CHANGE / DECREASED
Access to Prescription Medication: INCREASED / NO CHANGE / DECREASED

COVID-19 Related Personal Hygiene Measures
More Soap: YES / NO
More Toilet Paper: YES / NO
Hand Sanitizer: YES / NO
Sanitizer Wipes: YES / NO
PPE for All Prisoners: YES / NO
PPE for Some Prisoners: YES / NO
PPE for All Staff: YES / NO
PPE for Some Staff: YES / NO

COVID-19 Related Cleaning Measures
Laundry: INCREASED / NO CHANGE / DECREASED
Cleaning of Common Areas: INCREASED / NO CHANGE / DECREASED
Disinfection of Common Areas: INCREASED / NO CHANGE / DECREASED
Cleaning of Cells: INCREASED / NO CHANGE / DECREASED
Disinfection of Cells: INCREASED / NO CHANGE / DECREASED

COVID-19 Related Prisoner Movement Restrictions
Number of Lockdowns (suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases):
Number of Lockdowns (work refusals):
Number of Lockdowns (other – please specify):
Number of Isolation / Quarantine Placements (at admisison):
Number of Isolation / Quarantine Placements (post-admisison):

COVID-19 Related Enhancements to Conditions of Confinement
Quantity of Food: INCREASED / NO CHANGE / DECREASED
Quality of Food: INCREASED / NO CHANGE / DECREASED
Free Canteen: YES / NO
Weekly Canteen Limits: INCREASED / NO CHANGE / DECREASED
Other (please describe): 

Suspension of In-person Visits
Personal Visits: YES / NO
Legal /Attorney Visits: YES / NO
Religious and Cultural Visits: YES / NO
Programming and Volunteer Visits: YES / NO
Oversight Visits: YES / NO
Other Visits (please specify): YES / NO

Alternatives to In-person VisitsPhone System: CHANGED DUE TO COVID-19 RESPONSE / UNCHANGED
Free Calling for Prisoners: YES / NO
Limited Number of Free Calls for Prisoners: YES / NO
Calling for/paid by Prisoners: YES / NO
Collect Calling for Prisoners: YES / NO
Video-conferencing for All Prisoners: YES / NO
Video-conferencing for Some Prisoners: YES / NO
Call and/or Video-conferencing Time Limits for Prisoners: INCREASED / NO CHANGE / DECREASED

INFORMATION AND OVERSIGHT PROCEDURES (1 March - 1 May 2020)

Written Information Provided to Prisoners
COVID-19 Symptoms: YES / NO
COVID-19 Risks: YES / NO
COVID-19 Treatment: YES / NO
COVID-19 Institutional Protocols: YES / NO
Corrections Legislation: YES / NO
Institutional Services, Policies and Procedures Manual: YES / NO
Standing Orders and Directives: YES / NO
Complaints, Grievances, Request and Oversight Forms: YES / NO

OTHER

Please add any additional information about measures taken by your ministry to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 amongst prisoners and staff in your institutions:
[add comments]

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You may also be interested in a resource I have developed tracking government measures and media coverage as it relates to COVID-19 and imprisonment. If you would like me or my students to conduct related research on your behalf or have any questions feel free to contact me anytime by email at justin.piche@uottawa.ca or by phone at 613-793-1093.

Sincerely,

Justin Piché, PhD