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Nearly 30% of Ontario inmates are in COVID-19 isolation

According to the most recent information from the province.

That number, along with the number of cases, has doubled over the past week, with the number of adult prisons in an active outbreak rising from nine to 15 out of 25. Last week, there were at least 164 staff cases .

Criminologist Justin Piché, who tracks COVID-19 cases in correctional facilities, calculates that 20% of all cases in Ontario prisons during the pandemic were reported in the first two weeks of January.

Piché, who has advocated for reducing the prison population and improving security measures since the start of the pandemic, says the latest figures are particularly alarming.

“The government must act because the status quo is detrimental to public health and community safety,” he said.

As of January 12, there were 1,961 detainees in medical isolation, compared to 1,041 on January 5. Ontario’s prison population was 7,164 inmates as of Jan. 6, according to a COVID-19 briefing note released by the Ministry of the Attorney-General.

Medical isolation, according to a department spokesperson, means the inmate is “placed on droplet precautions and isolated from the rest of the prison population while they receive appropriate medical care.”

According to ministry guidelines, droplet precautions include requiring staff to wear additional protective equipment, including a Level 2 mask, gloves, gown and eye protection, and for the inmate to wear a surgical mask when on duty. he is outside his cell or when the cell door is open. Time out of the cell is very limited, although the ministry says inmates should still have access to showers, court time and phone calls.

Although the guidelines state that inmates should be placed in individual cells for medical isolation, this is becoming less likely with the increase in the number of inmates requiring medical isolation.

The highest current case count is in Thunder Bay, which faced a severe outbreak last year that resulted in more than 200 cases among inmates and staff as well as public health warnings about the spread in the community. As of January 12, there were 75 inmate cases at the Thunder Bay jail and at least 30 staff cases have been reported by the local union.

George Joseph, a defense attorney practicing in Thunder Bay, said he had clients at the jail who were spending 23 hours a day in their cells due to efforts to stop the spread of the virus.

“The Thunder Bay jail problem is further exacerbated by the fact that the facility is a 100 year old facility. It was supposed to hold 70 inmates and there are over 200 inmates now,” he said. “Before the pandemic, the prison was essentially unfit for human habitation. After the pandemic, it’s worse.

Some inmates from North Bay Jail, which has 44 inmate cases, and Thunder Bay Jail are being transferred to other provincial correctional facilities ‘to help manage current outbreaks and maintain the safety and security of inmates who will stay in these establishments. Transferring these inmates will also help prevent the risk of COVID-19 infection in institutions and create additional capacity to manage close contact isolation requirements,” said a Ministry of the Solicitor General spokesperson. .

Prisons with active outbreaks on Friday are Brockville Jail, Central East Correctional Center, Elgin Middlesex Detention Center, Hamilton Wentworth Detention Center, Kenora Jail, Maplehurst Correctional Complex, Niagara Detention, North Bay Jail, Ottawa Carleton Detention Center, Quinte Detention Center, Sarnia Jail, Thunder Bay Jail, Toronto East Detention Center, Central Toronto South Detention Center and the Vanier Center for Women.

The province does not publicly disclose the number of inmates hospitalized or deceased due to COVID-19. There has been one inmate death in an Ontario jail due to COVID-19 confirmed by the coroner’s office, pending an inquest.

There are also outbreaks at Warkworth prison, which has 95 cases, and Millhaven prison which has 6, according to Correctional Service Canada.

Alyshah Hasham is a Toronto-based journalist who covers crime and justice for the Star. She can be reached at 416-869-4462. Follow her on Twitter: @alysanmati