Hamilton

Inmates at Barton jail hold weekend hunger strike over declining quality of food

Some inmates at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre sent back their trays and announced a hunger strike to protest declining quality of food and called for the resumption of visits and end to rotating lock downs.

They join protesting prisoners at Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay

The Ministry of the Solicitor General confirms that "some inmates" are refusing some meals at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre. (Barton Prisoner Solidarity Project)

Inmates at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre staged a hunger strike this weekend to protest the declining quality of food since COVID-19 measures have been implemented at the facility.

On Saturday, prisoners in the 4B range "sent back their trays and announced a hunger strike," says a Facebook statement from the Barton Prisoner Solidarity Project. On Sunday, they said, the 3B range of around 20 people joined them in refusing breakfast. They say they confirmed prisoners in 2B have refused five meals in solidarity.

The group says prisoners have been eating the same meals back-to-back, which are sometimes served still frozen, and have received sandwiches with "soaking wet bread." The inmates are demanding an end to pre-made food trays. 

The Ministry of the Solicitor General confirmed to CBC Hamilton that "some inmates" at the prison "are refusing to eat some meals."

It said in a statement that ministry staff are communicating with inmates to address their concerns and said that the policy across all correctional facilities is to provide healthy food options according to the country's food guide. 

"All menus meet or exceed dietary requirements and contain all the nutrients for the promotion and maintenance of good health," the ministry said. 

Those in Hamilton join around 100 inmates at Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., who last week protested about access to books, the lack of drinkable tap water, dirty clothing, and declining food quality, among other conditions they described as inhumane. 

Besides food concerns, the Barton Prisoner Solidarity Project said the prisoners were striking to receive mail on time (they say inmates are only just receiving letters from two months ago), consistent access to soap, and for an end to rotating lock downs.

Necessary infrastructure, they say, has to function — the group alleges a broken urinal on 4C left 20 prisoners with one toilet for nine weeks. The ministry said that the washrooms are functioning. 

They also want visits to resume, which were stopped amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Inmates at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre are striking in solidarity with around 100 inmates at Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., who also protested last week against conditions they described as inhumane.  (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The ministry says it "recognizes the importance of inmates being able to contact their friends and family" and say they "continue to be provided access to phones" and be "allotted designated time out of their cells daily." 

The ministry also added that the facility "continues to provide its inmate population with adequate supplies of soap, toothpaste and other toiletries, and additional items are available in the canteen."

"While personal visitation is temporarily paused at all of our institutions for the safety of our staff and those in our custody, the institution is working on implementing interim measures including adding a greater variety of items in the canteen, providing extra postage and providing additional entertainment options to ameliorate the impact," it said. 

After striking for 24 hours, the Barton Prisoner Solidarity Project said that most 4B inmates would resume eating "normal meals," but would collectively refuse to eat the pre-made food trays. 

The group says the facility has offered "slight concessions" such as removing some "disgusting meals" from the menu and adding that visits, which had been forbidden due to the COVID-19 pandemic, would resume, though there wasn't a date mentioned. They have been urging people to call the prison in support of the demands. 

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