Thursday, January 21, 2021

Loved ones of those imprisoned at Joyceville Institution demand federal government action as segregation-like conditions persist in many medium-security units


21 January 2021 - Lockdowns continue in many of the medium-security units at Joyceville Institution, but still the case count keeps growing, albeit at a slower pace in recent days. Unless achieving herd immunity is the strategy, there doesn't appear to be a plan in place to limit COVID-19 transmission. Our loved ones are in danger because of federal government negligence and differential access to health care that's said to be universal in Canada. All that we can do at this point is take calls from our loved ones, try to offer them support, and continue to petition on behalf of those inside in the hopes that their humanity and basic human rights will be respected.

Despite the continued lockdowns, more of our loved ones are contracting the coronavirus as those amongst them who’ve previously tested negative remained with others who’ve tested positive. The sick are mixed-in with the non-sick, so the potential for exposure is high and the virus is easy to contract. With each new positive test, the lockdowns get extended in affected units for up to another 28 days. 


When someone tests positive, a nurse comes in once a day to check on them. Our loved ones are offered cold water and Tylenol instead of tea, soup, and access to real medical care. There have been prisoners who’ve asked to be taken to the hospital because of breathing difficulties and have been denied.


Although public health authorities have said time and time again that people in congregate settings need to be protected, vaccines still aren’t readily available. A few of the most medically vulnerable prisoners have been vaccinated, but others have been told that vaccinations won’t be taking place for the foreseeable future, while other forms of health care are being denied. Prescription medications aren’t readily available, even for those who need to take them for mental health reasons. The clinic is closed right now. Not providing access to the proper and necessary medications, coupled with prolonged cell lockdowns, is cruel and unreasonable. 


Even if CSC manages to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the days ahead, the psychological damage being done to prisoners in the name of preventing transmission will be extensive. Some are reporting that their mental health has deteriorated to the point that they worry that they’ve suffered irreparable harm or are going to die in there. Must we remind CSC that our loved ones are serving prison sentences, both short and long, not death sentences. Must we remind CSC that corporal punishment officially ended in Canadian prisons long ago and yet they’ve subjected at least 160 of our loved ones to the bodily pains of COVID-19 through their incompetence and indifference.


The lockdown, which started well over a month ago on December 14th, was just recently lifted in some medium units on January 13th. In these units, they get 2 to 4 hour blocks on range, as well as access to yard and canteen. Everyone else in medium-security remains on lockdown for roughly 23.5 hours a day and are forced to make difficult decisions in how to spend their limited time out of cell. They’ve got to choose between taking a shower, making a phone call or doing laundry. During this time, they’re being denied access to canteen, programming and yard. A number of our loved ones haven’t seen the sun in more than a month. 


Given that new positive cases continue to pop-up, our incarcerated loved ones get further and further away from regaining access to the programs they take in good faith to better themselves and earn their release from the Parole Board of Canada. Some of them meet the eligibility requirements for a conditional release on medical grounds. Others are near or past their parole eligibility dates and are worried that when they come before the parole board they won’t be released because CSC hasn’t found a way to ensure programs are consistently available almost a year into this pandemic.


Access to PPE, cleaning and hygiene supplies, and clean sheets and clothes has been getting worse in many of the medium ranges at Joyceville. To reduce the spread of germs it’s important to stay clean, yet our loved ones on lockdown must choose between taking a shower or doing laundry to maintain their hygiene or make a call to us to try to put their minds at ease. To make matters worse, not only do they have little time to get it all accomplished, they also only have one washer and dryer to do their own laundry in each range. These machines were out of service at one point on some ranges, at a time when prisoners were only being given disinfectant spray, paper towels, and two cheap non-reusable paper masks a week. How are two non-reusable paper masks supposed to last a week? 


What this pandemic has revealed to us all is how easily what little rights and basic necessities that exist inside Canada’s prisons can be arbitrarily cast aside. Some prisoners no longer have access to fridges in common areas, which means that those not on lockdown who have access to canteen can’t refrigerate their perishable items, forcing our loved ones to rely on the unhealthy, disgusting, and cold food that’s brought in through the meal carts. Some went on a hunger strike to demand reasonable changes. In the midst of illness all around you, isolation and a lack of programming, can you imagine having to starve yourself just to regain access to basic appliances?


We want to see the conditions of our loved ones improve. Why does anyone who doesn’t have COVID-19 have to be quarantined with people who are infected with the virus? Does it not make more sense to keep all the non-infected individuals together so that the risk of catching the virus is at its absolute lowest? Providing better and more PPE would also help as the two four-hour, non-reusable masks can’t last for an entire day, let alone the entire week that prisoners are expected to use them for. Another way to reduce this risk of virus transmission is to provide more access to the vaccine in prisons as they become available in keeping with public health guidelines. A number of elderly and medically vulnerable people warehoused in federal penitentiaries, including Joyceville Institution, haven't been vaccinated.  


Ultimately, our loved ones would be safest at home with us. Everyone else would also be safer for it too as our sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers could be spared any further exposure to the torturous conditions that CSC claims keeps them and all Canadians safe. This is a dangerous lie that needs to give way to principled and reasonable actions to prevent COVID-19 infections today and social harm tomorrow.


* Contact to arrange for anonymous interviews with statement contributors *

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