Advocate says steps needed to avoid more COVID-19 outbreaks in Saskatchewan prisons

An advocate for those in Saskatchewan’s criminal justice system is speaking out after the province released a detailed report on a significant COVID-19 outbreak at the Regina Provincial Correctional Centre last week.

“I know at the John Howard Society we’ve heard from a lot of families that are concerned about their people inside,” John Howard Society of Saskatchewan CEO Shawn Fraser says.

On December 31, the province confirmed that 54 inmates, as well as three staff members, had active cases of COVID-19 in their daily case update.

Read more: Inmates, organizations concerned as COVID-19 takes hold in Saskatchewan Penitentiary

Fraser says a significant step that could be taken to prevent outbreaks would be to reduce the overall number of inmates in Saskatchewan jails and prisons.

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He thinks that a reduction in both remand and sentenced inmates earlier this year prevented early outbreaks, but says that trend has reversed.

“We did a great job in the first round of the pandemic in actually bringing our numbers down, from around 2000 inmates across the province to around 1500 inmates,” Fraser said. “Through the summer and into the fall that number crept up to about 1800. And that’s almost full capacity.”

He says he’d also like to see releases considered for elderly and immunocompromised inmates.

“That doesn’t mean a free for all. That doesn’t mean flood the streets. It means use the mechanisms we have in our control to get people out of prison that can.”

Fraser said the per capita number of remand inmates in Saskatchewan is around twice the national average.

Read more: Inmates in Canadian prisons should get speedy access to coronavirus vaccine: advocates 

Fraser also said he’d like to see voluntary testing introduced for Saskatchewan inmates.

According to the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety website, “all offenders who display symptoms are tested and required to isolate until the results come back.”

The website also states that “all new admissions to provincial correctional facilities are assessed for 14 days on assessment units prior to being moved to general population.”

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Global News has reached out to the province for comment and will update this story when we receive a response.

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