NDP Deputy Leader and Corrections Reviewer Nicole Sarour said her party was listening to the concerns of inmates and staff at correctional facilities across the province that are “lacking direction” from the provincial government.
“As a result, we are seeing a large COVID-19 outbreak that would have occurred if there had been proper policies and procedures in place,” Sauror said.
The outbreak has been declared at the Prince Albert Correctional Center’s Dorm C and December 16 and 12 at Saskatchewan Penitentiary, respectively. An outbreak was previously announced on December 3 at the correctional center’s Dorm B and has not yet been removed from the list.
As of Monday evening, Saskatchewan Penitentiary has 74 active COVID-19 cases among inmates, a federal facility. There have been a total of 215 positive cases on prisoners in the jail.
Srouer said that there have been concerns about the lack of programming in the facilities since they went into lockdown. She says its important prisoners and staff have been kept safe, but still have counseling, cultural practices and contact with their lawyers.
The NDP MLA is not the only concern. Beyond Prison Walls Canada prison inmate Sherry Mair wrote a letter to Corrections Minister Christine Tale, a friend of the woman who is an inmate at the Regina Correctional Center.
The letter raises concerns about the mental health and medical treatment prisoners receive during the epidemic.
“The facility is taking all measures during COVID but still putting inmates at greater risk for mental health issues, suicide or perhaps worse, DEATH from lack of therapy,” the letter reads. “There are no resources for prisoners’ mental health and their addictions.”
When the prisoners are released, the difficulties still persist. Mair says family members of former prisoners are meeting at their workplaces because they cannot assemble at private residences under current restrictions.
In an interview with the Herald on Monday, Mair said she understood that families would like to see each other, but the current plan was not working. He suggested that the ministry buy tablets for half the houses so that the recently released prisoners could be kept in remote contact.
“He’s just spreading the virus,” he said.
“Some of these people are just coming out of jail.”
The Herald asked the Ministry of Corrections via email if he was aware of the issue but did not receive a response before the deadline.
Saroor said that he has also heard about half the house dwellers meeting family members at their workplace.
“Right now the release difficulties are increasing with the outbreak of COVID as they are occurring and trying to protect communities at the same time,” said Sauer.
He said the minister’s “lack of leadership” was affecting the prisoner’s release plan and his ability to go home, among other things.
Sraur has also heard of inmates having access to phones to talk to their lawyers, who say court procedures are being delayed.
“I worked with someone, who also works within the court system, who indicated that cases were being postponed, because the legal counselor was unable to reach his clients,” he said. Said that the NDP will look into the issue more closely.
The NDP is also asking the minister to resign from his cabinet post.
“It’s time for reform for the province, which is really ready to do the work necessary to make our systems work effectively during this time and who really cares about their file,” Saroor said.