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

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 70 new cases overnight

The total number of cases in the region is now at 1,426

A big portion of the funding is anticipated to be used in 2021. File photo
Village of Nakusp receives $692,000 in COVID-19 relief funding

The money will partly be used to help sustain and clean municipal facilities

An employee of the Adventure Hotel was taken to hospital on Nov. 20 after she confronted a customer of Empire Coffee about not wearing a mask. File photo.
Nelson hotel employee suffers heart attack after being assaulted in anti-mask incident

An accountant at the Adventure Hotel is in hospital in Kelowna

RCMP pictured at a motor vehicle incident during snowy conditions. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Fruitvale woman charged with impaired driving in 2019 crash that killed 2 teens

A 15-year-old boy and 18-year-old woman, both from Fruitvale, died in the crash that sent the vehicle into the river

Masks are now officially mandatory in all City of Campbell River facilities. (Black Press File Photo)
Interior Health reports 49 new COVID-19 cases overnight

302 cases remain active; two in hospital

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

The COVID-19 test centre at Peace Arch Hospital is located on the building’s south side. (Tracy Holmes photo)
B.C. woman calls for consistency in COVID-19 post-test messaging

‘Could we just get one thing straight?’ asks Surrey’s Deb Antifaev

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Okanagan campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. woman loses appeal to have second child by using late husband’s sperm

Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the removal of human reproductive material from a donor without consent

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
B.C. mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

B.C. projects targeting the restoration of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds will share in $10.9 million of federal funding to protect species at risk. (Kenny Regan photo)
13 projects protecting B.C. aquatic species at risk receive $11 million in federal funding

Salmon and marine mammals expected to benefit from ecosystem-based approach

Barrels pictured outside Oliver winery, Quinta Ferreira, in May. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
B.C. Master of Wine reflects on industry’s teetering economic state

Pandemic, for some wine makers, has been a blessing in disguise. For others, not so much.

Damien Smith, with father Thomas Smith, is “frozen” with joy as he watches a special message Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds recorded for Damien’s 9th birthday on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Contributed)
Shuswap boy celebrates 9th birthday with family, community and Ryan Reynolds

People from around the world send birthday cards showing young Canoe resident he’s not alone

Most Read