About 100 inmates to stage hunger strike at Lindsay jail over inhumane conditions
Provincial government says complaints about the jail are unfounded
About 100 inmates are expected to stage a hunger strike at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont. on Monday morning to protest what they say are inhumane living conditions inside the facility.
Kim Schofield, a criminal defence lawyer in Toronto, said the complaints of inmates are long-standing, but conditions in the prison, northeast of Toronto, have gotten worse since restrictions were imposed on the facility in March to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The hunger strike is set to begin at breakfast and will involve inmates on about five wings of the prison, she said. It will continue until all demands are met by correctional officials. The inmates do not feel heard, she said.
"They have various demands that are really very, very basic," Schofield said on Sunday. "You can't just lock people in a box and not tend to other needs."
Inmates are frustrated about a lack of drinkable tap water, dirty clothing, declining food quality, a lack of programming, no access to family members, no ability to get books or copies of the Criminal Code, a lack of healthy options at the canteen, a lack of good quality hygiene products, limited access to television and bad air quality, according to Schofield.
Religious diets, including Kosher and Halal, are not being accommodated, she added. The quality of food has declined since the pandemic, she said.
One inmate says the conditions are harsh compared to those at other prisons. Some cells are damaged, with broken mirrors, sinks and toilets, there are many lock downs, and some inmates would rather plead guilty to a crime if it means getting transferred to a federal prison, which is considered more appealing.
The prison also locks down inmates at 6:30 p.m., whereas some other prisons lock down at 8 p.m. or later. Some people, who have not been convicted yet but are being held there, feel they are being treated unfairly.
Since March 14, due to the pandemic, all personal visits have been cancelled, which means inmates are not seeing their children and other family members who are a source of support while they are in custody.
Schofield said the concerns have come to a head because of the pandemic and a failure by prison managers to resolve problems.
"I think that what we can't lose in this whole response to the pandemic is basic human rights ... And I do fear that the humanity has been lost or sacrificed at the altar of safety," Schofield said.
Complaints 'unfounded': Ministry of the Solicitor General
In a statement to CBC Toronto, Ontario's ministry of the solicitor-general says it has looked into the complaints and determined that they are "unfounded."
"Inmates at CECC have not raised any of these concerns with local management at this time," the ministry said in the email.
Additionally, the ministry said water at the facility remains drinkable and that inmates have access to phones, which are cleaned between use to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In response to inmates' claims that they have received a lack of programming and outdated reading material, the ministry says that due to COVID-19, many external organizations and volunteers have temporary suspended visits to correctional institutions.
"In these cases, individual correctional institutions make efforts to connect and work with the agencies to deliver programming where possible and will provide literature and other resources to inmates that an agency makes available to us," the statement reads.
Should inmates decide to refuse meals, the ministry says it has "policies and procedures for responding to situations."
770 complaints made about prison in 2018-2019
Meanwhile, Linda Williamson, communications director for Ontario's Office of the Ombudsman, said the prison has been number one on a list of the most complained-about correctional facilities in the province for the past five years.
In 2018-2019, for example, there were 770 complaints about the prison, while in 2017-2018, there were 773 complaints. The Ombudsman compiles a list of the 10 correctional facilities subject to the most complaints in its annual report every year.
According to Schofield, the demands and allegations of the inmates are as follows:
- Drinkable water provided to inmates at no cost and the prison to fix the water system to allow for better water in general. Currently, inmates must pay $1.20 for a 500-millilitre bottle of water.
- Clean clothing and a guarantee that the "rolls," which is a change of linen consisting of two towels, two boxer shorts, two shirts, and three pairs of socks, will be delivered twice a week. The change in linen is often not delivered on time. Clothing is sometimes covered in feces, urine and blood stains. If a change in clothing is missed, then inmates have only two pairs of boxer shorts for an entire week. Also, inmates want better quality shoes, with more support for their ankles, and preferably the same shoes that inmates at the Toronto South Detention Centre receive.
- At least three more phones or permission to use the available phones for a longer period of time. Inmates are locked up at 6:30 p.m. every night and only 12 calls are allowed between 5:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. per 32 inmates. "People end up fighting for the phone because they are being prevented from speaking to family and their lawyers," Schofield said.
- Food that hasn't expired and a better quality of fruit. Religious diets and allergies need to be accommodated.
- More healthy food options available and cheaper prices at the canteen. Also, more choices for hygiene products and better quality.
- One nail clipper per range, which is about 28 to 32 inmates, and another hair clipper and a barber to come in and cut hair once a week and proper shower curtains. Without such services, inmates are forced to go to court looking unkempt.
- Skype visits with family members, such as are provided in federal prisons.
- Inmates want the ability to receive books from people on the outside or publishers that send to jails. Inmates also demand one copy of the Criminal Code per range. And they want a copy of the Central East Correctional Centre policy book that outlines prisoners' rights and the facility's complaint process.
- Additional programs available to help prisoners with their issues. They also demand access to the gym facility, which is only available to guards, and more jackets for winter.
- Greater access to television so that all inmates can see, hear and watch the news.
- Air filters to be cleaned monthly.
With files from Muriel Draaisma, Ieva Lucs, Angelina King