A prisoners advocacy group is calling on Minister of Corrections Christine Tell to resign from her position over her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in correctional centres.
Beyond Prison Walls Canada said that inmates are starting a hunger strike at Saskatoon Correctional Centre and Pine Grove Correctional Centre.
In a letter addressed to Tell and sent to media, prisoner advocate Sherri Maier accused Tell of being negligent over her handling of COVID-19 in correctional facilities.
“You had months to prepare for this virus entering into the institutions you watch over,” Maier’s letter stated.
Inmates participating in the hunger strike want Tell to resign and or improve conditions in jails and prisons.
“What’s going on in the women’s jail is horrible and there needs to be a lot of light shed on what these women are going through,” Maier said.
A letter released by Maier from Pine Grove Correctional Centre inmate Carmen Cardinal Napope alleged that inmates are not provided with clean masks. One inmate used old masks to create a streamer and was told to take them down. Another inmate asked for a mask and was told by the guard to wear one from the streamer of used masks, the letter alleged.
“They’re told buy your own (mask). Well where are you going to buy the mask from, it’s not like they can go to 7-Eleven and buy a mask,” Maier said.
Napope’s letter also accused guards of only bringing one item when inmates ask for a broom, mop and cleaner.
Maier said yesterday she received a call alleging that inmates had to stand outside while guards took away their feminine hygiene products, clothes, pillows and blankets.
“This is the conditions they are fighting for because they want them to stop,” Maier said.
The hunger strike is supposed to last three days and after that it is up to the inmates to decide what they want do. It started with Corey Charles Cardinal, an inmate at Saskatoon Correctional Centre. Maier was informed on Monday afternoon that Cardinal was taken to segregation unit “for starting this hunger strike.”
Maier said she was told inmates are still following the hunger strike.
Inmates at Saskatoon Correctional Centre are aware of that alleged situation at Pine Grove and that is part of their motivation behind the strike.
“Corey and them were very upset with the way the women we’re being treated and they knew for sure they had to continue with this action,” Maier said.
Napope writes in the letter that her unit, which is the unit 2 dorm unit, is referred to as “the forgotten unit of the orphanage.”
“The guards even refer to our unit as this because they just leave us in there,” Napope’s letter alleges.
Maier believes that Tell has failed the inmates in correctional facilities. She was told in the early spring or summer that trailers had arrived at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre.
“Those trailers were supposed to be for a COVID-19 outbreak. Great she got the trailers but she didn’t make them function-able, had she made them function-able when they got there – when the first outbreak came here about a month ago – they would have been able to contain it.”
Maier said that inmates and their families at least deserve an apology.
“That’s one thing that a couple of inmates have asked for. But will she give it? Probably not.”
The Regina Leader-Post reported that 15 Pine Grove and 48 Saskatoon inmates are participating in the hunger strike.
A statement from Tell said the government has taken a number of measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in correctional facilities. This includes “mandatory masking, testing upon admission as directed by public health authorities, quarantining new admissions for 14 days; and establishing temporary structures to provide flexibility in managing correctional population.”
Tell also stated the corrections staff are working to ensure offenders are provided with regular communication about COVID-19 measures and precautions. Correctional staff have also taken additional steps to make sure inmates remain in contact with friends and family, and free calls to elders and chaplains.
The statement also addressed the hunger strike.
“We are aware that there was a tray refusal at Saskatoon Correctional Centre and Pine Grove Correctional Centre and our focus continues to be the health and safety of the inmates and staff, which includes nutrition. Staff will continue to work with advocates and inmates to resolve this situation.”
Inmates can raise their concerns with the provincial ombudsman, Tell further stated.
As of late Monday afternoon, Maier said she had not received a response from Tell. Maier said she “probably won’t” get a response, but believes Tell needs to respond to the inmates whether it be directly or through her.
Community action is scheduled to take place throughout the week.
“It’s a peaceful protest. These guys aren’t trying to cause a bunch of noise and damage things and start a riot or anything. They just want their voices to be heard and what’s being done to be changed.”