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

From the left, Midway RCMP seized suspected cannabis, cocaine and fentanyl from a truck pulled over by Conservation Service Officers in the West Boundary Monday, Jan. 17. Photo submitted
Midway RCMP find suspected drugs in traffic stop by Conservation Service Officers

Cpl. Phil Peters said the CSOs were stopping local hunters on Highway 33

A Grand Forks Fire/Rescue water tanker makes it way up the hill on Gibbs Creek Road after a homeowner doused a chimney fire Wednesday, Jan. 20. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Rural Grand Forks homeowner douses chimney fire

Grand Forks Fire/Rescue said the man’s quick thinking put out the flames

Amanda Parsons, a registered nurse on staff at the Northwood Care facility, administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine to Ann Hicks, 77, in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-Pool
61 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

Twenty-nine people are in hospital, seven of whom are in intensive care

(Big White Ski Resort)
28 more cases of COVID-19 linked to Big White cluster

More than 200 cases have been identified since the cluster was announced

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Interior Health has declared the Cariboo Chilcotin a community cluster. (Angie Mindus photo)
Interior Health declares Cariboo Chilcotin region a COVID-19 cluster, 215 cases since Jan. 1

Most cases are related to transmission at social events and gatherings in Williams Lake

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Vernon's Noric House long-term care facility is dealing with an influenza outbreak amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (File photo)
Two more deaths at Vernon care home

Noric House case numbers remain steady, but death toll rises

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

The Elk Valley Hospital is adapting to meet the needs of patients in the Elk Valley.
1-in-5 COVID tests coming back positive in and around Fernie, sparking concern

Dr Ron Clark of Elk Valley Hospital said one in five tests was returning positive for COVID-19

Throughout December, RCMP conducted CounterAttack road checks as police worked to keep roads free of impaired drivers. (BLACK PRESS file photo)
‘You can’t make this stuff up’: Stories from the B.C. CounterAttack campaign

Amusing, yes, but a reminder impaired driving affects ability to drive and to make good decisions

Most Read