Failure to Protect Essential Prisoner Workers Undermines Public Safety

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Failure to Protect Essential Prisoner Workers Undermines Public Safety

Jordan House and Asaf Rashid

The COVID-19 pandemic is spreading through federal prisons. As of December 30, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has reported 1093 positive cases and three deaths among federal prisoners. The outbreaks show no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

Prisoners and advocates have called for action to combat the spread and keep prisoners and surrounding communities safe, including demands for decarceration and the placement of prisoners as a priority group for receiving COVID-19 vaccines. But prisoners are not only experiencing the pandemic as incarcerated people, they are also essential workers facing many of the same health... and safety issues as vulnerable workers outside of prisons.

Prisoners perform much of the custodial and maintenance work in federal prisons and, beginning in April, prisoner workers have also been producing personal protective equipment (PPE), through the CSC’s prison industry program, CORCAN. This work is necessary to help safeguard prisoners, guards, and other federal government workers. Despite their essential work, prisoners have been forced to complain, beg, and engage in work refusals to ensure basic safety on the job.

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