From the Barton Prisoner Solidarity Project (March 21, 2020):
The Barton Prisoner Solidarity Project started with the goal of thinning the walls that separate prisoners from the rest of the community, amplifying their voices and former prisoners. Our group includes former prisoners, the loved ones of folks locked up, and Hamilton residents who believe that a world without prison is possible.
We have opened a phone line for folks inside to call and tell us about the conditions that they are experiencing and have gotten that number into the jail via a banner being held for prisoners to see. Since the outbreak these folks are not seeing visitors, experiencing even slower mail and are almost all triple-bunked. We want to establish contact with folks on the inside now so that we have some solid links as the situation changes.
Canadian jails are going to be unmanageable breeding grounds for COVID-19. This virus will undoubtedly thrive on overcrowded conditions of disproportionately immuno-compromised people living without access to proper sanitation or healthcare. As we’ve seen in China and Italy, once the virus gets into a jail it’s almost impossible to control the spread, and it’s nearly impossible to keep it out.
So far, we’ve talked to about two dozen inmates on a number of different ranges. The goal is to have lines of communication set up so that as things get worse, we will be able to hear what’s happening for prisoners and help to amplify their voices and demands. Here’s some of what we learned so far:
- Prisoners showing signs of sickness are being thrown in segregation for weeks.
- Medical care takes a month to access at the best of times and the expectations for that to change are low.
- Access to disinfectant was always restricted, but now the jail is running out. Access to adequate soap is unreliable.
- No measures are being taken to clean cells between inmates.
- Visits have been cancelled, even though those already occured only through glass. All professional visits are cancelled and lawyer visits are restricted. Money can no longer be dropped off for inmates to refill their canteen funds.
- The library service is cancelled so the very limited access to books that usually exists is gone. It is impossible to get books from outside at any time, and mail takes about 4 weeks to reach inmates, when it arrives at all.
- Every range we were able to reach is triple bunked, 30 inmates in spaces designed for 10. Tensions are high and clashes between inmates and between inmates and guards are increasing.
- Jail superintendants have been granted the authority to release inmates with less than 30 days in their sentence early, and this has been happening at Barton. However, only a very small number of inmates at Barton are sentenced — nearly all are in pretrial custody.
Over the next several months please help amplify the voices of one of the highest risk populations in Hamilton by following the Barton Prisoner Solidarity Project on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where we will be posting updates about conditions in the jail and passing on messages and demands from those stuck in cages.
Follow the group’s social media pages for updates from prisoners talking about the conditions inside:
– Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bartonsolidarityproject
– Twitter: https://twitter.com/ProjectBarton
– Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bartonprisonersolidarity/
Donate some money to support the Barton Prisoners Coronavirus Phone Line: https://ca.gofundme.com/f/f7h4t6-coronavirus-phone-line-for-barton-jail-prisoners
Do you have a loved one at the Barton Jail? Contact the group by email at firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved.