KINGSTON, ONT. -- Advocates are calling for better protections and COVID-19 precautions in Canada’s prisons.

This comes following a series of outbreaks in Ontario institutions, including in the Joyceville Institution in Kingston, and one at the Toronto South Detention Centre (TSDC).

The Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project held a press conference outside the TSDC Monday morning alongside a number of advocacy groups, calling on the federal and provincial government to make reforms.

They say they’ve heard from friends and inmates that there are a number of COVID-19 safety deficiencies at Joyceville including:

  • Not enough inmates have N95 medical grade masks
  • There is not enough hot water provided throughout the day for hand washing and showers.
  • Inmates don’t have access to hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.
  • Prisoners were not tested properly before being transferred or quarantined, leading to cases at other institutions.

Eighty-nine inmates and five staff members have been diagnosed with COVID-19 at the Joyceville Institution since the outbreak was declared on Thursday, Dec. 17. Joyceville is a federal medium security prison, that holds up to 450 inmates.

Justin Piché, who works with the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project, was part of the press conference; he says he’s heard from a number of families on the allegations.

“It’s pretty mind-boggling actually,” he says. “It’s nine months in this pandemic. It’s not like there wasn’t time to plan for this.”

Kerri Lockery’s friend Corey Watson is an inmate at Joyceville and is one of those diagnosed with COVID-19.

“It’s hard. You hear about it from out here and it’s scary. So many people are dying from it,” she says in an interview with CTV News. “I think everybody’s kind of angry. I don’t think it’s fear, I think it’s more anger that nothing is being done.”

In a statement to CTV News, Correctional Service Canada (CSC) disputed the accounts, saying inmates have access to hot and cold running water in their cells, as well as in showers. They also say there are enhanced cleaning protocols in place, and staff, inmates and anyone entering the building are provided with masks if needed.

They also say handwashing and sanitizing stations have been added on the grounds.

“The safety and security of staff and inmates is a priority for us and we take these allegations very seriously,” says the CSC in their written statement.

The Project and fellow advocates are calling for some prisoners to be released, if it can be done safely, with those who are low-risk to re-offend.

“They need to get people out while they still can, safely, for those they’re confident it would work,” says Piché.

The group also says that issues have been found in provincial jails, like the TSDC.

“These individuals are human beings and they do have human rights, and their human rights have been disrespected on all levels,” says Zya Brown, an advocate with Think 2wice.

In a statement, the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General also disputed the accounts.

“Protecting the health and safety of correctional services staff and those in provincial custody is the ministry’s top priority.”