Somewhere along the line, where jails are concerned, the definition of “outbreak” became meaningless. In the early days of the pandemic, I recall both official memos from institutional authorities, and also conversations I had in person with Deputy Wardens, all insisting that the precautions they were following would keep Covid out of the jails. Then I recall specific and “isolated” situations where Covid did get into the jails, resulting in various responses, including the total shut down of OCI (Ontario Correctional Institute) which continues to this day. Now we just get regular updates on how many cases are in progress at each location. I’m not at all sure how many cases it takes to add up to an “outbreak” any more and I’m sure it doesn’t matter. They keep coming.
The response to each specific situation is driven more by institutional forces than by any coherent attitude towards Covid. When OCI shut down it was because OCI could shut down. It’s a small treatment jail. Inmates were temporarily relocated to the intermittent range at Toronto South (which was unused, since no one is coming in for intermittent sentences) and then the whole program moved to Maplehurst. Now Maplehurst is experiencing an outbreak and I can absolutely guarantee that Maplehurst will not shut down no matter how bad it gets because it simply can’t. It’s too big. Maplehurst has currently stopped accepting transfers but that’s going to cause havoc with the entire provincial system around it. It’s like shutting down Union Station in Toronto. Imagine what that would do to the transit system in the GTA.
On the federal side of things, Joyceville has been dealing with a continuous outbreak for at least a couple of months. This is meant to be the first destination for newly sentenced federal inmates, where they are classified before being sent elsewhere. As a result, all newly sentenced federal inmates are still languishing in provincial jails. Note that “newly sentenced” in this context now extends back to November in some cases.
I wish there was a takeaway to this update that promises or proposes some action, but there really isn’t. It’s a complete shit show and will continue as one. The claim that any solution coming is a lie and anyone repeating it at this point knows it’s a lie. It’s only going to resolve when everything else goes back to normal also – which is looking more and more like it’s going to extend into 2022.
Unfortunately, the same advice I keep giving my clients is still the best I’ve got. Despite the terrible conditions in jails, the best route to any early release or remedy is still through the ordinary pathways – meaning parole, for anyone already sentenced. Hoping for some extraordinary remedy is a fool’s game. Of course the Parole Board does recognize conditions in jail for what they are, and takes this into account. But they still want to see a strong plan and they want to know they are releasing someone who isn’t a danger on the community. So early parole is not at all assured, despite Covid. All of which only emphasizes the need to stay focused, and recruit professional help to put together the best possible plan for release.