The wife of an inmate at the South West Detention Centre is concerned that the jail is not taking proper precautions to protect everyone from COVID-19, after the Ministry of the Solicitor General confirmed one of the inmates has been infected with the virus.
Jennifer Dagenais said her husband Joshua Barreira has told her that new inmates coming into the intake isolation unit, where he just spent 14 days, are mixing with other inmates who have already been there.
"Now, let's say he's been there for five days. New guys are coming in and they're putting them in the people's cells who have already been under quarantine for however many days," said Dagenais.
"He said it's getting to a point where it's so full, there are times where it's three guys to a cell."
Cells are only meant for two people, according to OPSEU local president and correctional officer Ryan Graham. Each cell stands about two metres long and three metres wide.
The Ministry of the Solicitor General confirms the inmate with COVID-19 was in the intake unit where Barreira had been held.
Officials from both the union and the provincial ministry refute the family's claims, however, saying inmates only share a cell with others who they came in with on a particular day.
That's something the regional health unit has called for in the past.
"Anyone who is coming into the detention centre needs to isolate independently," the region's medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed said during the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit's Sept. 9 briefing.
Graham added that inmates are transported to the jail by police together — so if one has infected the other with COVID-19, that would have already happened before they arrived.
But he does admit there are some inmates sharing three to a cell, which the union has been fighting against for quite some time.
"Obviously, three to a cell is a last-case scenario. If they have available beds where they could make a makeshift intake unit, that can have all the proper precautions, all the proper staffing levels and all that, then they should be exhausting those before resulting in triple-bunking situations," said Graham.
The situation is particularly troublesome, he added, because inmates normally spend about 23 hours a day locked up in the cells, something that wouldn't be happening without the COVID-19 crisis.
In a statement to CBC News, the Ministry of the Solicitor General said it has made "several important operational changes" across all its correctional institutions, such as:
- Providing personal protective equipment for all staff, as required.
- Requiring all staff and visitors to always wear masks (masks are also provided to inmates, if required).
- Requiring temperature checks for staff and visitors.
- Working with local public health units to test inmates and staff as appropriate, including newly admitted inmates.
- Medically isolating affected inmates, as appropriate.
- Increased cleaning measures.
There are currently no details on the inmate infected with COVID-19. The ministry said they are in "medical isolation and receiving medical care, as appropriate."