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COVID-19 outbreaks reported at prisons in Ontario

Friday, December 18, 2020 @ 12:43 PM | By John Schofield


COVID-19 outbreaks affecting at least 88 inmates have hit three federal prisons in the Kingston, Ont., area, according to the Correctional Service of Canada.

Eighty cases have been diagnosed in the medium security unit of the Joyceville Institution, five have been reported in the medium security unit of the Collins Bay Institution and another three at the Warkworth Institution, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) stated in a Dec. 17 news release.

In a Dec. 17 Tweet, Tom Engel, president of the Canadian Prison Law Association, said the outbreak at Joyceville is affecting more than one-third of the inmates there. Inmate advocates warned early in the pandemic that correctional facilities were at high risk for COVID-19 outbreaks, that non-violent offenders should be released and needed a comprehensive plan implemented to protect other inmates.

The CSC news release states that the inmates who tested positive and their close contacts are being medically isolated and closely monitored by staff.

“The inmates at Collins Bay and Warkworth who just tested positive were recently at Joyceville and, based on the initial epidemiological investigation, it appears that the inmates were exposed to the virus at Joyceville Institution,” the release noted.

The CSC also reported that all inmates recently transferred out of Joyceville Institution are being medically isolated in their respective institution and monitored by staff. Contact tracing is being conducted and testing is being offered to all staff and inmates at the three institutions.

According to the news release, CSC had already suspended visits in the Ontario region and implemented a series of infection prevention and control measures before the current outbreaks. “CSC is working closely with its public health partners to contain the transmission of COVID-19 to the greatest extent possible,” it said.

In recent months, the CSC has reported positive COVID-19 cases involving inmates at a number of other prisons, including the Drummond Institution in Quebec, Stony Mountain Institution in Manitoba and the Edmonton Institution for Women.

In Ontario, an outbreak involving at least 25 inmates is underway at the Toronto South Detention Centre, according to news reports. A smaller outbreak is also affecting the Toronto East Detention Centre.

An organization called the Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project has started an e-mail campaign calling on the government of Premier Doug Ford, Toronto Public Health and others to reduce the prison population and take steps to better protect inmates from COVID-19.

“In Ontario,” reads the campaign page, “both our federal and provincial governments demonstrate that they do not value the safety and well -being of people inside — most of whom are still awaiting trial.”

In a blog post, Kate Mitchell, an associate lawyer with Kingston-based Borys Law who works primarily in correctional law, notes that provincial inmates can apply for temporary absence permits (TAPs), which could take on a more important role during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“TAPs allow inmates to leave the institution for a certain period of time,” she writes, “but only if the decision-maker believes it is necessary or desirable that an inmate be temporarily absent from a correctional institution for medical or humanitarian reasons or to assist the inmate in his or her rehabilitation.”

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily please contact John Schofield at john.schofield@lexisnexis.ca or call 905-415-5891.