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Nov 24, 20

Hamilton: November Update from the Barton Jail

Update on conditions at the Barton Jail, where prisoners and abolitionists have been struggling in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Originally published on North Shore Counter-Info.

As the pandemic surges and lock-down measures loom large, we wanted to offer an update about the situation in Barton jail. Our phone line has slowed down in recent months, but we’re still in regular contact with a few prisoners on different floors of the jail.

A lot of the gains that prisoners made this summer by collectively organizing have remained in place. The rotating lock-down schedule has mostly ended meaning that on most days they can anticipate getting out of their cells and spending time together on the range. Most prisoners seem to be getting visits, albeit on a new and incredibly restrictive basis. They’ve also been getting regular yard time, meaning the for the first time in years some prisoners are getting to step foot outside several times a week.

These basic freedoms, which should be taken for granted, came only after months of pressure was brought down on the administration. The sad truth is that they will likely be whittled away as public attention dwindles, and the pressures of the pandemic continue to build.

And while the administration has continued to claim that its priority is on preventing an outbreak, they still have not bothered to make basic PPE such as soap, masks, or hand sanitizer available. Over nine months into this pandemic and prisoners can still not sterilize the phones between uses, or properly wash their hands after touching them.

New inmates continue to cycle through the jail constantly, and though court appearances have resumed via the internet, the courts are still completely backlogged and some people who should have been out on bail months are ago are still languishing.

The female inmates were never brought back from Vanier (meaning that Barton is acting as a men’s prison for the foreseeable future), and the fifth floor of the jail is still being used as a “quarantine” range where inmates showing any symptoms of illness are being left in medical limbo for weeks at a time. Instead of receiving any level of care or treatment, prisoners are often just left in complete isolation until they “get better”.

Prisons still represent a major hotspot for for the virus. In October alone Canadian prisons reported over 200 new cases. Inevitably, as the the numbers in Hamilton climb so to will the reported cases in Barton, and prisoners are expressing a lot of anxieties about what another lockdown will look like for them. Will they be cut off from the outside world again? Will the food situation turn back into frozen mush packets like it did in the Spring? Will they lose access to fresh air? We are going to keep our phone line open and will do our best to publish updates and organize support for any prisoner struggles that may emerge.

Solidarity with comrades in Toronto seeking justice over the death of Coco, a 30-year old transwoman who died after an interaction with police on October 26th. Until we live in a world without police and without prisons, none of us will be free.

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North Shore Counter-Info is a platform for sharing news, analysis, and events, as well as facilitating discussion and encouraging collaboration. We aspire to provide a space for strategic reflection, engaged critique, and thoughtful debate from an anarchist and anti-authoritarian perspective in Southern Ontario.

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