More than 100 inmates at the super jail in Lindsay, Ont., are on a hunger strike, demanding conditions such as water and television access and food quality be improved and changed.
According to their Toronto lawyer Kim Schofield, the strike at the Central East Correctional Centre began on Monday morning at breakfast and will continue until “all demands” are met by jail officials. Schofield says the the strike involves inmates at five wings in the jail.
Among the inmates’ demands, Schofield says includes free bottled drinking water as they claim the jail’s tap water is not drinkable. They claim the water “smells like urine” and also causes “itchiness and rashes” after showers and handwashing.
The inmates claim if they want bottled water — which is provided to correctional officers — they must pay $1.20 for a 500 millilitre bottle.
The Ministry of the Solicitor General said staff are working with the inmates on all of their concerns and is following policies and procedures when inmates refuse meals. Specific details were not provided.
However, the ministry refutes the inmates’ claims about the quality of the tap water.
“The ministry can confirm that the water at the correctional facility remains drinkable and inmates are not required to buy bottled water to drink,” spokesperson Kristy Denette said in an email to Global News Peterborough.
The inmates also claim those who require religious-based meals are receiving food prepared in January and that fruit is mouldy or food arrives already open.
They also claim food allergies and dairy restrictions are being ignored.
“So prisoners have to choose between not eating or becoming sick from allergens in the food,” their statement reads.
The inmates also argue the canteen only offers junk food.
The ministry says all inmates are provided three “nutritionally balanced” meals plus one snack each day and that all Ontario correctional facilities provide health options per Canada’s Food Guide.
“Inmates who require a special diet for medical, religious or lifestyle reasons are accommodated accordingly,” Denette said.
“All menus meet or exceed dietary requirements and contain all the nutrients for the promotion and maintenance of good health.”
Since the novel coronavirus pandemic was declared in March, inmates have not been permitted to have any personal visits. The inmates on the strike say they should be at least permitted to have visits via online services such as Skype.
Denette says the ministry recognizes the importance of contact with friends and family and allows inmates access to phones, which are cleaned between each use.
Personal visitation remains “temporarily paused” at all institutions and voluntary asymptomatic testing of all inmates continues to help limit the potential spread of COVID-19.
“Our top priority remains the health and well-being of our staff and appropriate supervision of those in our custody,” she said. “We continue to work with public health experts to limit the potential spread of COVID-19 within our correctional facilities.”
Clothing, shoes and toiletries
Inmates say each week they receive two towels, shirts and underwear and three pairs of socks. They claim the clothing arrives with feces and urine on them and that boxers will get wet since they cannot shower naked with female guards present. They want more clean clothing, proper shower curtains along with better quality shoes, unlike the current shoes which are “flat with no support.”
The inmates also demand additional nail and hair clippers and a visit from a barber at least one a week to cut hair that occurs at other jails so inmates are not “forced to go to court looking unkempt.”
Denette says the Ministry continues to provide “adequate supplies” of soap, toothpaste and other toiletries, and additional items are available in the canteen.
Books, exercise, phones and television
The inmates also claim they’re unable to obtain books from family like other prisons in Toronto — that includes access to books about the Criminal Code to learn about their rights or the law.
They also claim the gym is only accessible for guards and that only 30 jackets are made available for inmates to go outside in the yard.
The inmates also argue that watching television on a 20-inch screen is limited to only a certain number of cells and they want more and larger TVs.
More phones are also needed or extend the current 20-minute allotment per call.
The ministry did not respond directly to those specific demands but said the jail is working on implementing interim measures including adding a greater variety of items in the canteen and additional entertainment options to “ameliorate the impact” of the lack of socializing due to the novel coronavirus pandemic
She also noted many external agencies have currently suspended operations which normally provided programming and literature and resources for inmates.
A hunger strike at Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre earlier this month lasted a day after inmates protested food quality and access to sanitary supplies.