The Edmonton Institution for Women in Edmonton is shown on November 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

The Edmonton Institution for Women in Edmonton is shown on November 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Researchers flag increase in COVID-19 cases in Canadian prisons, jails

Since Dec. 1, there have been over 1,962 cases in Canadian prisons and facilities

Rights advocates and researchers are sounding an alarm about COVID-19 cases in Canadian prisons and jails, saying the numbers in recent weeks have surpassed the total during the first nine months of the pandemic.

The researchers say that from March to the end of November, there were 1,864 reported novel coronavirus cases among prisoners and jail staff in Canada, more than half of which were in October and November.

Since Dec. 1, there have been over 1,962 cases.

Prisoners have accounted for about 80 per cent of reported COVID-19 cases linked to prisons and jails during the pandemic, according to the data.

The findings emerged Monday through the Prison Pandemic Partnership, which brings together academics who study corrections and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

They are calling on provincial, territorial and federal governments to take bolder steps to protect people in correctional institutions.

Abby Deshman, director of the criminal justice program at the civil liberties association, cites concerns that some inmates do not have adequate access to masks or cleaning and hygiene supplies.

“The people confined in our prisons and jails are at high risk both of contracting COVID-19, and of serious illness and death as a result,” Deshman said in a statement accompanying the latest figures.

“We need to make safe and effective community supervision — which would allow people to effectively physically distance — the number 1 priority. For those who continue to be supervised in jails, effective and humane public health measures need to be implemented.”

When the pandemic began, the number of people in custody in most provinces and territories started declining, said Justin Piché, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa and member of the partnership team.

Since then, many governments have “taken their foot off the gas as the number of COVID-19 cases accelerated past them,” Piché said.

“Now is the time to do more to contain COVID, not people”.

The initial findings of the partnership “likely represent the tip of the iceberg” due to inconsistent availability of relevant figures, said Kevin Walby, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg and the team’s principal investigator.

“In order to put in place measures to prevent and limit the impact of COVID-19 in prisons, clear and full data is needed.”

According to the latest Correctional Service of Canada figures, 1,211 federal inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, but of these only 73 cases were still active.

Four federal inmates with a COVID-19 diagnosis have died since the beginning of the pandemic.

Since the spread of COVID-19, the federal Parole Board has streamlined a number of its policies, noted Mary-Liz Power, a spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.

Since March 1, the number of men in federal custody has declined by 1,402, or over 10 per cent, and women by 51, or over seven percent, she said.

“This downward trend in the overall federal inmate population is expected to continue over the coming months.”

The government has also provided $500,000 to five voluntary organizations to develop pilot projects to help reintegrate offenders under supervision at community-based residential facilities, she said.

In addition, the Correctional Service has put in place extensive infection prevention and control measures at institutions across the country, Power said.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

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

Just Posted

Record-setting high jumper Emma de Boer, who lives in Cloverdale and attends Holy Cross Regional High School in Fleetwood, will train and study architecture at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) next fall. (submitted photo)
Surrey jumper on a high after recruitment by UPenn track team

High jumper Emma de Boer aims to leave Cloverdale for Philadelphia next fall

Surrey RCMP Gang Enforcement Team street check. (File photo)
Surrey RCMP gang enforcement team seizes five vehicles

This was over 13 days, as SGET continues to target gang activity in this city

File photo
Surrey to borrow $150 million for three major recreation projects

That’s for a sports complex in the city centre, a sports and ice complex in Cloverdale and a community centre in Newton

The White Birch proposal for a six-storey rental-only building at 1485 Fir St. was turned down by council on Monday night. (Contributed rendering)
White Birch developer feels ‘betrayed’ by City of White Rock council

Application for new rental building at 1485 Fir St. turned down by council

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)
Modelling of predicted transmission growth from the B117 COVID-19 variant in British Columbia. (Simon Fraser University)
COVID-19 variant predicted to cause ‘unmanageable’ case spike in B.C: report

SFU researchers predict a doubling of COVID-19 cases every two weeks if the variant spreads

RCMP officers wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 stand by. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
RCMP appeal for witnesses after hit-and-run leaves girl, 17, in critical condition

The Metro Vancouver teenager was found unconscious and critically injured after being hit: police

The Brucejack mine is 65 km north of Stewart in northwestern B.C. (Pretivm Photo)
B.C. mine executives see bright gleam in post-COVID future

Low carbon drives demand for copper, steelmaking coal

Most Read