The Edmonton Institution for Women in Edmonton is shown on Wednesday Nov. 11, 2020. The Correctional Service of Canada says five inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 in Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

The Edmonton Institution for Women in Edmonton is shown on Wednesday Nov. 11, 2020. The Correctional Service of Canada says five inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 in Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Advocate says second COVID-19 wave has inmates locked down in ‘atrocious’ conditions

Contact tracing is underway and testing is being offered at the three federal institutions affected

Rising COVID-19 case count bodes ill for prison inmates, many of whom remain under partial lockdown without adequate health care, says the head of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies.

Three federal prisons have reported five cases of COVID-19 between them in the last few days as the pandemic worsens on the outside.

“They’ve compensated for the lack of ability to socially distance by locking people down in really restrictive ways, which has tremendously affected the mental health of prisoners,” said Emilie Coyle.

She called the conditions in some institutions “atrocious,” and said a toxic relationship between correctional officers and inmates conflicts with guards’ de facto role as caregivers during the pandemic.

Guidance from public health officials who are not familiar with prisons aggravates a deficient health-care system and translates into restrictions that “don’t equate to care,” Coyle said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Her advocacy group, which works with female inmates, is calling on the federal government to release some offenders so as to allow easier physical distancing behind bars, a step she says provinces have taken more readily than Ottawa.

She is also asking for more investment in rehabilitation programs to encourage community reintegration and prevent recidivism, paving the way for earlier releases.

The federal prison population fell by only two per cent to about 13,700 between March and April, while the number of Canadians incarcerated at provincial and territorial institutions dropped by 25 per cent to roughly 18,200 between February and April, according to Statistics Canada.

The changes came after Public Safety Minister Bill Blair asked the federal prison service and the parole board in March to consider releasing some inmates early to lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Nearly one-quarter of inmates in federal custody are serving life sentences and ineligible for parole, he said in the spring.

But many federal prisoners have been ensnared in a catch-22 that has hindered their release, Coyle said.

“What ended up happening was they shut everything down and nobody had access to programs, and the conditions of parole or release are usually that they’ve completed their programs within the institution,” she said.

The odds of prison depopulation seem even longer as case counts spike across the country, which raises the risk of transmission via inmate transfers and correctional officers.

The five inmates who have been detected with COVID-19 this week — two in Drummondville, Que., one in Stony Mountain, Man., and two at the Edmonton Institution for Women — are medically isolated and being monitored, the Correctional Service of Canada said.

Contact tracing is underway and testing is being offered at the three federal institutions affected, the agency said.

None of the three facilities is currently allowing visitors, a restriction that has been in place at all federal prisons in Quebec since late September due to the coronavirus spike.

“The little social activity they had with family, loved ones, spouses, children — all links with the outside world were suspended,” said Samira Figuigui, director general of the John Howard Society of Quebec.

“They find themselves really locked in their cells, sometimes 23 hours out of 24,” she said in French, calling the treatment inhumane.

As the second wave washes across Canada, the correctional service said it continues to screen employees and equip correctional officers and inmates with medical masks, on top of heightened cleaning measures and social restrictions.

“For example, in past months, we suspended visits and some activities in certain areas to limit comings and goings within our institutions,” spokeswoman Véronique Rioux said in an email.

“In addition, modified routines are in place, which means that movements are carefully considered within the institutions, including between ranges (common areas), to ensuring physical distancing is maintained.”

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusprison

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

White Rock and Surrey RCMP – along with police forces across the province – have launched their holiday CounterAttack campaigns. (Contributed graphic)
White Rock, Surrey RCMP CounterAttack campaigns underway

Enforcement ramps up to remove impaired drivers from cities’ roadways

Firefighters battle a house fire in Fleetwood on Dec. 2, 2020. (Photos: Shane MacKichan)
One man sent to hospital, two people arrested after Surrey fire

‘This was so frightening to see in person,’ witness posts after blaze at 160th Street and 89th Avenue

Statue of Lady Justice at B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Judge finds Surrey RCMP breached two robbery suspects’ Charter rights

This was in connection with the robbery of the Ritecare Pharmacy in Surrey on Oct. 10, 2017

Surrey Hospitals Foundation president and CEO Jane Adams is officially one of “Canada’s Most Powerful CEOs” as one of the winners of the 2020 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award. (Submitted photo: Surrey Hospitals Foundation)
Surrey Hospitals Foundation’s Jane Adams is one of ‘Canada’s Most Powerful CEOs’

Awards recognize 106 ‘outstanding’ who ‘advocate for workforce diversity’

This year’s White Rock RCMP children’s clothing drive was the best yet, organizers say. (Contributed photo)
White Rock RCMP children’s clothing drive ‘best ever’

Month-long annual event wrapped up Dec. 1

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

B.C. Premier John Horgan on a conference call with religious leaders from his B.C. legislature office, Nov. 18, 2020, informing them in-person church services are off until further notice. (B.C. government)
B.C. tourism relief coming soon, Premier John Horgan says

Industry leaders to report on their urgent needs next week

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
B.C. Mountie, suspect airlifted by Canadian Armed Forces from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

Photo by Dale Klippenstein
Suspect tries to thwart police in Abbotsford with false 911 call about men with guns

Man twice sped away from officers and then tried to throw them off his trail

An 18-year old male southern resident killer whale, J34, is stranded near Sechelt in 2016. A postmortem examination suggests he died from trauma consistent with a vessel strike. (Photo supplied by Paul Cottrell, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
“We can do better” — humans the leading cause of orca deaths: study

B.C. research reveals multitude of human and environmental threats affecting killer whales

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

BIG SALMON ranch in Washington State. (Center for Whale Research handout)
Non-profit buys Chinook ranch in hopes of increasing feed for southern resident killer whales

The ranch, which borders both sides of Washington State’s Elwha River, is a hotspot for chinook salmon

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

Most Read