In the penitentiaries, the second wave broke more brutally than the first. At Archambault penitentiary in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, there are 54 active cases of COVID-19.
From the end of March to the end of May 2020, 361 inmates were infected across Canada, while between November 2020 and February 2021, 880 cases were recorded.
When they do not pose an undue security risk, prisoners who are elderly or have medical problems should be granted early release.
This is among others what M recommendse Ivan Zinger, Correctional Investigator of Canada, who is releasing a report today providing an update on the second wave of COVID-19 in federal penitentiaries.
Whether in the federal penitentiaries covered by this report or in provincial prisons, COVID-19 has been particularly difficult for inmates, who have seen the various programs aimed at their reintegration into society being canceled.
In various places, prisoners were often confined 23 hours a day in a cramped cell to live in great idleness and without visitors. Even today, in federal penitentiaries, “the relaxation of restrictions, the resumption of programs, the reinstatement of visits as well as the opening of gymnasiums, courses and libraries are done slowly, inconsistently and unevenly”, written Me Zinger.
Programs have not largely resumed and “waiting lists are long for access to a whole range of health services, especially dental care.”
As the second wave was particularly virulent in the Prairies, “the number and proportion of Aboriginal people who have contracted the virus has increased dramatically,” we read. More specifically, while they only accounted for 21.5% of infections in the first wave, Aboriginal inmates account for 57.1% of those who tested positive in the second wave ”.
Small consolation, “the six establishments which experienced an outbreak during the first wave did not report reinfection”.
The correctional investigator also notes that the relative dilapidation of the establishments seems to have something to do with it. At Saskatchewan Penitentiary, in the medium security sector – the oldest section – the virus has spread like wildfire, while transmission in the newer maximum security sector “has been slower, less virulent and more contained ”.
“In this sector, the ventilation system is more modern, the cells are fitted with doors and the collective living environments are smaller”, specifies Me Zinger.
As already mentioned in The Press, there are more than 3,800 empty cells in Canada, “the equivalent of seven medium-sized penitentiaries”, notes Me Zinger.
The large number of empty cells is partly explained by COVID-19, which has notably slowed the pace of the courts, but not only.
The former government of Stephen Harper, which had promised to tighten the screw on crimes, had enacted laws providing, among other things, for tougher sentences and more difficult to obtain parole. Believing that this would lead to longer sentences and an increase in the number of inmates, the government had extended several million to expand penitentiaries. However, the implementation of the laws has not in fact resulted in significant increases in the number of prisoners.
“It is time to reallocate staff and resources to better support the safe, healthy and timely reintegration of offenders and to consider the phased closure of some run down penitentiaries.”