Prison visits pose COVID-19 risk: Union

·3 min read

People travelling from Toronto and Peel regions to visit inmates at jails and prisons in other areas across the province are a real concern for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.

Rob Finucan, union president for Ontario, said the union would like in-person visits with inmates to be suspended, including at Warkworth Institution medium-security federal prison, southeast of Peterborough.

Finucan said in-person visits were prohibited at the start of the pandemic, when case numbers were far less than they are now.

“I know visits in person are important, but during this time, they do have the ability to do video visits,” he said.

Government and health officials in Toronto and Peel regions have been asking residents to travel only if it’s absolutely essential, Finucan said. “And then we’re allowing them to come for visits to our areas … so that’s our main concern is that it’s going to come into our institutions through visits,” he said.

While keeping workers and inmates in institutions COVID-free is important, keeping community members where intuitions are located safe is also crucial, Finucan said.

“Obviously when people are coming from Toronto or Peel into our communities, especially the small communities like Warkworth, they’re probably going to stop for gas, maybe stop for something to eat, and so there’s that chance of community spread also,” he said.

The union doesn’t expect in-person visits to be stopped indefinitely, but until the number of cases start to decrease, especially in the hot spot regions, Finucan said it’s ludicrous that those visitors are still allowed into institutions.

Currently, the health and safety measures in place are allowing fewer visitors than usually permitted into the visiting area at once and visitors must socially distance from both workers and inmates. Some visits last longer.

“The private family visits (PFVs), they come in for three days and then the inmate has to self-isolate for 14 days after the PFV before they go back into the institution,” Finucan said.

Although there have been cases within institutions across the country, Grand Valley Institution for Women located in Kitchener has been the only Ontario facility to have a COVID-19 case, Finucan said.

There have been 85 inmates at Warkworth Institution medium-security federal prison who have been tested for the virus, with 84 testing negative and one awaiting test results, Correctional Service Canada reported Friday.

Health measures

There are measures in place to protect the health of staff, inmates and visitors at Canadian correctional facilities.

Masks provided for inmates, if required;

Self-screening and temperature checks for staff;

Increased cleaning measures;

Testing of inmates provided by health units;

New inmates isolated for 14 days and tested before joining general population;

Expanding use of temporary absences;

Visitor access must be confirmed in advance and are by appointment only;

Health screening required for visitors. Visitors with symptoms will not be permitted to visit;

Masks required and must be supplied by visitors;

Professional visits, including legal counsel, will continue with additional screening.

Marissa Lentz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner