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Lockdowns at superjail prompt small-scale hunger strike

Union head confirmed hunger strike in one of 40 units at Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene, speculating continued staffing shortages as a potential cause
The Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene. Staff photo/MidlandToday.

Two concerned members of incarcerated relatives at the Penetanguishene superjail contacted MidlandToday to bring attention to a hunger strike in one of the facility’s forty units.

Both individuals requested anonymity of themselves and their incarcerated family members due to possible retaliation at the Central North Correctional Centre during the strike. The shared message was that there was a hunger strike underway, and it was a result of lockdown conditions with reduced shower time for inmates.

Richard Dionne, president of CNCC OPSEU local 369, spoke to MidlandToday on the matter.

“I can confirm that there’s a single unit that’s on a hunger strike,” stated Dionne. “It’s not facility spread; there’s one unit that’s on a hunger strike and has been for a bit.”

According to Dionne, a hunger strike is defined when three consecutive meals over a 24-hour period are provided to inmates who decline to accept.

When asked if basic needs were being provided for the incarcerated across the facility including the single unit, Dionne responded in the affirmative.

“Other than the unit that’s refusing their meals, the basic needs are there. They’re showering on a regular basis; although we are restricting movement, we are still providing shower programs allowing them to get out of their cells. And of course, they’re still getting their clothes, their meals, and their medication – all of that is still being provided,” said Dionne.

“We have 24-hour nursing here. Any inmate in distress would be taken care of by front-line staff and then nursing,” said Dionne, adding, “if anyone required (outside and/or) urgent medical attention, they’re going to receive that medical attention.”

The cause of the hunger strike wasn’t known by Dionne from those involved in the protest, admitting that various factors could be at play in the inmates’ decision to strike, including lockdowns as a result of staffing shortages for which Dionne had previously vocalized concerns.

“I have not dealt with them specifically to know that there’s demands that aren’t being met,” he stated. “I think that this is more for the attention of the issues of our staffing issues and the lockdowns. We’ve had numerous lockdowns. I can’t count the amount of lockdowns in the last six months. COVID has played into that; everything’s played into that.”

Andrew Morrison, a spokesperson with the Ministry of the Solicitor General, responded to questions from MidlandToday about the unit on hunger strike in the facility and the amount of staffing in relation.

“The ministry can confirm that the Central North Correctional Centre is operating routinely with adequate staffing levels to securely supervise the current population. As of Tuesday (June 21) all inmates are receiving and consuming their meals,” wrote Morrison in an emailed response on Thursday.

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Derek Howard

About the Author: Derek Howard

Derek Howard covers Midland and Penetanguishene area civic issues under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada.
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