A Call to Pay Attention to Prisons during COVID19

A Call to Pay Attention to Prisons during COVID19

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Coalition for Justice and Human Rights started this petition to Dr. Theresa Tam (Chief Public Health Officer) and

Dear Dr. Tam;

On the 15th of March 2020, the World Health Organization released standards and guidelines for Preparedness, prevention and control of COVID-19 in prisons and other places of detention Interim guidance. This document points out:

“People deprived of their liberty, such as people in prisons and other places of detention, are likely to be more vulnerable to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak than the general population because of the confined conditions in which they live together for prolonged periods of time. Moreover, experience shows that prisons, jails and similar settings where people are gathered in close proximity may act as a source of infection, amplification and spread of infectious diseases within and beyond prisons. Prison health is therefore widely considered as public health. The response to COVID-19 in prisons and other places of detention is particularly challenging, requiring a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach.”

The WHO further reports that “the global effort to tackle the spread of disease may fail without proper attention to infection control measures within prisons.” The United Nations (1990) Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners set out that "prisoners shall have access to the health services available in the country without discrimination on the grounds of their legal situation" (Principle 9, A/RES/45/111).

We are writing as a collective of concerned individuals and organizations who are calling for immediate and concentrated efforts to respond to COVID19 within prisons across the country.   As people working within community, we believe further action needs to be taken to ensure the rights of prisoners and those employed within these institutions are taken into account.

Federally, our current numbers in prisons for inmates, according to Correctional Services Canada, is at 294 cases, not including staff infection rates. The total number of prisoners, based on 2018-2019 figures, under the care of Correctional Services Canada is 23,269 with 13,996 of these in custody and 9,273 in community in 43 institutions and 14 community correctional centres. As of May 5, there have been two COVID related deaths in the federal prisons. These figures do not include provincial institutions and prisoners.

Recognizing that people in prisons and other places of detention are not only likely to be more vulnerable to infection with COVID-19, they are also especially vulnerable to human rights violations,

Also, bearing in mind that those who work and serve within these institutions are at particular risk of contracting and circulating the virus in the community,

In order to ensure that the length of this pandemic is not extended by our lack of response in prisons and in line with calls from the WHO, 

We as a collective are calling for:

An immediate recognition of prison health as a public health concern;
Immediate mobilization of health services in prisons which involves direct collaboration between justice and health systems and community partners at provincial levels. 

A suspension of jurisdictional barriers to serving this vulnerable community;
Non-discrimination in the response to the pandemic;

Priority to non-custodial measures at all stages of the criminal justice system, taking into account personal circumstances, including health vulnerability; 

Priority be given for the release of non-violent prisoners and early discharge for those nearing the end of their terms with plans for support once in community;

Public oversight and monitoring measures including release of numbers and statistics on a daily basis providing media access; and,

The human rights of those in custody are respected, that people are not cut off from the outside world, and have access to information, adequate healthcare provision and free connection to family and community supports.

We respectfully ask for your mobilization on this critical issue and offer our assistance and support as we respond collectively to this crisis.

Respectfully signed,

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