‘We won't stop fighting for safety because we understand how important it is to stop the spread of COVID-19’
This week, the Ontario Public Service Employees Unions (OPSEU) successfully pushed the provincial government to begin providing surgical masks to all workers, inmates, and visitors in Ontario’s prisons. OPSEU had been putting pressure on the government for weeks to supply these masks to workers and inmates.
Chris Jackel, chair of OPSEU’s corrections division said: "We sought these masks long before the outbreak at the Ontario Correctional Institute (OCI) in Brampton, we’re confident having them will help prevent outbreaks at other institutions."
"We won't stop fighting for safety because we understand how important it is to stop the spread of COVID-19. That's why we've been successful in our push for active screening and temperature-taking, for intake units where new inmates are kept isolated from the general population for 14 days, and for enhanced cleaning." Added said Ryan Graham, co-chair of OPSEU’s Provincial Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee (PJOHSC).
Increase in outbreaks
Unions fear that correctional facilities have a high risk of infection.
This week, there were reports of an outbreak at the Ontario Correctional Institute (OCI) in Brampton, Ont. 60 inmates and eight staff members tested positive for the virus, according to the ministry of the solicitor general. The OCI has been temporarily closed and the ministry is moving a number of inmates to another correctional facility.
Another facility, the Jolliette prison in Quebec reports that at least 193 inmates have been infected by the novel coronavirus, and at least one person has died.
Another risk is a reported rise in violence in some jails due to pressure from efforts to contain the virus. A recent report in The Canadian Press says that COVID-19 fears have led to increased tensions between inmates and correctional officers. For example, it reports that guards at the Donnacona maximum security prison in Quebec used force to quell unrest in the prison, including the use of tear gas and rubber bullets. At least one person was injured.
They report that this is not an isolated incident and that this has allegedly happened at other facilities too.