A lot happened in Barton today and the people we talked to were feeling stressed. Late morning today the jail was put on lockdown, we got a quick call from someone just as prisoners were being made to return to their cells. While they were locked up, word came out that a prison employee had tested positive for coronavirus on Wednesday, March 25th after being told to go into self isolation on Friday, March 20th. Prisoners were allowed back out of their cells in the afternoon, so seemingly they were just locked up in case people had strong reactions to the news that they could have been exposed to the virus.
While we were on a call, a captain came on range and told prisoners that essentially nothing would change because of this, but that the institution would give them a few canteen items and a couple extra TV channels. This is insulting to say the least, especially in a context where we have repeatedly heard that ranges go days at a time without soap, where there is no disinfectant available, and that is heavily overcrowded. These handouts are a cheap parallel to moves in the federal system to temporarily reverse the Harper-era pay cuts to prisoners, effectively paying prisoners more for continuing to work during the virus.
We also learned today that prisoners are no longer able to go to the hospital for medical care. We spoke with a person who has an injury that normally would require an x-ray but who has been denied the right to that basic care because of the virus. From talking with others working on prisoners support, this might be tied to hospital policy of not allowing non-patients into the building, while the prison system requires guards to accompany prisoners. But whatever the reason, it is a shocking barrier to basic healthcare for people who need it and have literally no recourse or options.
In the absence of any sensible measure from the prison (such as, for instance, releasing the prisoners), some ranges have started trying to implement their own quarantines by preventing new prisoners from being placed on their ranges. We are in solidarity with the efforts of prisoners to defend themselves and their health; however, leaving it to prisoners to sort out amongst themselves is a way of resigning them to further violence and conflict. It’s a bad outcome and a very direct way that people inside are already experiencing harm because of the virus, compounding with the jail’s use of solitary confinement, which is a punishment, for people who are thought to possibly be sick.
We continue to call for all prisoners held awaiting trial in provincial prisons to be released. But failing that, we demand the institutions reinstate full medical care for prisoners, guarantee unrestricted access to soap, cleaning supplies, and disinfectant, end triple bunking immediately, make local calls free and unrestricted at least until visits are possible, and transfer sick prisoners to medical care rather than using punitive solitary confinement.
Things are changing fast, so keep your eyes open for updates.
(And again, this phone line was easy to set up and once people inside knew about it, the calls started coming. Consider opening some lines of communication with prisoners in your area. Let’s all have each others backs during this shitshow.)