Masks and temperature checks now mandatory at Ontario jails for all staff and visitors

Correctional officers at the Niagara Detention Centre said masks would keep both inmates and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ministry of Labour investigated after work refusal over access to masks at Niagara jail

The Ministry of Labour sent an inspector to the Niagara Detention Centre after correctional officers refused to search inmate dormitories without masks. (Ministry of the Solicitor General)

All staff and visitors at Ontario correctional institutions are now required to wear masks in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The personal protective equipment was made mandatory at all times Wednesday, according to a spokesperson from the Ministry of the Solicitor General.

"We have also rolled out temperature checks for all staff and visitors," added Kristy Denette, explaining that measure was implemented at facilities across the province earlier this week.

"Inmates get temperature checks on admission and as appropriate during their incarceration," she added.

Correctional officers at the Niagara Detention Centre were told they would be supplied with masks when entering the building as of 10 a.m., said Mark Mrmak, president of OPSEU Local 252.

The new measure comes after the Ministry of Labour sent an inspector to the Thorold facility last week because several officers refused to search inmate dormitories without masks.

Mrmak previously told CBC the centre had surgical masks in stock and that wearing one had not been a problem before the pandemic.

The virus is even more of a reason for correctional officers to wear masks in order to protect both staff and inmates, he argued.

"Essentially you're walking into a room that's full of inmates and they're free to roam … and you're pretty much walking all among them," he said at the time. "Social distancing, that doesn't exist."

Worries about protective gear and masks in particular were shared by employees at correctional facilities across the province, said Mrmak Wednesday, adding he was happy to see the government taking them seriously.

"It actually feels like someone was listening to us and took our concerns and addressed them. I hope our members do feel proud."

The union president was one of the people charged with distributing masks this morning and said while staff appeared shocked they got what they wanted, they were pleased with the extra level of protection.

"I took pride in handing these things out and it seemed staff were appreciative," he said.

More protection for everyone inside

Standard surgical masks will now be used in all areas unless an N95 mask is deemed necessary.

There haven't been any cases of the novel coronavius at the jail yet, and Mrmak said he's hoping the masks his members fought for help keep it that way.

"The whole purpose of this really was about staying safe and protecting … not only the staff but all the inmates in the institution," he said. "We believe we achieved more safety and more protection for everyone inside those walls."