Support Depopulation of Canadian Prisons & Cease the Spread of COVID-19

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During these uncertain times in the midst of a global health crisis, it is necessary for us as a society to take drastic measures in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. This call-to-action is especially critical for the vulnerable people residing within various institutions across Canada, as we have seen with outbreaks in long-term care facilities. Despite extremely restrictive measures already implemented by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), COVID-19 has entered the prison system and it is only a matter of time before this worsens and overwhelms our overburdened health care system. Cancelling all programs, volunteer, professional, and family visits was not effective. We need a de-carceral response.

As a former prisoner and prisoner advocate, I can attest to the horrible and unsanitary conditions inside our nations federal prisons and provincial jails. There is limited access to basic hygiene items such as soap, hot water, and women's sanitary products. In most provincial jails nail clippers and tweezers are shared among the entire prisoner population. Healthy food and vitamins are difficult to access, negatively impacting prisoners' immune systems. In most institutions, hand sanitizer is not available and considered contraband. Physical-distancing is not an option in prison, where many people are confined with 2-3 prisoners in a single cell or 10-12 women stuck in a single living-unit. Additionally, some of Canada's most vulnerable people are trapped in prisons, such as the aging population (people over 65) and prisoners with compromised immune systems and underlying health problems.

Even at the best of times CSC has a substandard, poorly implemented health care system that is not equipped to deal with complex health problems or outbreaks, as the Federal Correctional Investigator, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS), and the Canadian Human Rights Commission (along with many other individual, academic, and organizational prisoner advocates) consistently report. Much of this is laid out in the CAEFS open letter to our Federal Ministers, which I support: 

There are other options better suited to ensure the health and safety of every Canadian. Please support this cause.