Barton Jail inmates froze for days without the heat on in Hamilton-Wentworth, advocates charge

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Published December 5, 2023 at 5:38 pm

hamilton-wentworth detention centre Barton Jail.

Numerous advocates, including an MPP, have accused the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre (Barton Jail) of providing inadequate heat and leaving inmates to freeze as temperatures plunge below zero.

Several constituents came forward to report the freezing conditions in the Barton Jail to Hamilton-Centre MPP Sarah Jama on Nov. 30, according to an open letter she released on Dec. 4. The reports came from the family members of inmates and local community groups like Barton Prisoner Solidarity Project.

The Barton Jail holds both convicted men serving provincial sentences and but mostly houses men awaiting trial who have not yet been convicted of any crime.

The Project also contacted the Ontario Ombudsmen along with 12 other parties to report inmates were freezing in their cells and were unable to seek warmth. Jama described the situation as inmates “struggling greatly in the freezing cold building.”

“Some guys are have resorted to using towels to keep warm, wrapping them around their head and necks, cuddling together and sleeping in their shoes to stay warm,” the project wrote on Facebook.

Over the last week, temperatures have fluctuated around zero in Hamilton reaching a low of -7 degrees C on Nov. 29. “Being forced to live and sleep in temperatures below freezing is not only greatly uncomfortable, it’s also dangerous,” Jama wrote.

Additionally, Jama and the Solidarity Project alleged some inmate blankets had been seized prior to the temperature drop in cell raids. This indicated “collective punishment” to Jama which left her “greatly distressed.” She called for a full investigation into these allegations.

Noting that punishment for crime is the segregation of a jail cell, Jama said it was “inhuman and illegal” to inflict further harm by depriving them of essential services. “Heat is an essential service in the cold winter months and must be provided consistently and well. Inmates do not have freedom of movement and cannot seek shelter from the cold.”

Jama sent this letter to the office of the Solicitor General Michael Kerzner, MPP of York Centre. A spokesman for Kerzner’s officer told Insauga “The ministry can confirm that the heating system at the Hamilton Wentworth Detention Centre continues to operate routinely without interruption.” However, he did not say when the heating system was turned on. 

On Dec. 5, the day after Jama’s letter went public, she confirmed heat was indeed on at the Barton Jail, but stressed that living conditions in the facility remain “horrid.” Inmates went on a hunger strike in the spring to protest these conditions which included a shortage of razors leading to health and hygiene issues, and an issue in December 2022 with the hot water coming out oily and foul-smelling.

In September, an inquest was announced into the death of Dale Barron, 55, in the prison in 2018. The inquest has since concluded, but the full report is not yet availabe.

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