TORONTO — Mike Schreiner made the following statement on the COVID-19 outbreaks at prisons across Ontario:
“Provincial prisons across Ontario are experiencing mass COVID-19 outbreaks. The situation is out of control, but the government is nowhere in sight on the issue.
Fifteen of Ontario’s 25 jails are in outbreak. And 2,000 inmates are in medical isolation.
Prison bars don’t keep out the virus. In fact, the conditions behind bars make the risk of infection even worse.
In the first wave, the government did what was right to protect prisoners, reducing inmate populations by 30 per cent to limit spread in confined settings.
But now with the far more transmissible omicron variant, the government is silent. Mass prison outbreaks are a public health and a community safety threat. I am calling for the government to reduce prisoner and staff exposure to COVID-19 by:
- Reducing the number of people inside prisons and detention centres through rapid decarceration and non-custodial options (i.e. bail, conditional sentences, diversion programs etc.)
- Ramping up community-entry supports including emergency housing
- Providing prisoners and staff with adequate PPE including high-quality masks to prevent against airborne spread
- Ensuring that all prisoners are educated on prevention (including that COVID-19 is airborne), symptoms, treatment, and vaccinations;
- Regularly testing staff and prisoners, and ensuring that testing and isolating is done in a humane way, in accordance with human rights standards and not in solitary confinement
- Ensuring that prisoners are given access to fresh air spaces with safe physical distancing.”