“Lack of leadership” from ministry around COVID-19 in correctional facilities: NDP

Trial delays, inmate and guard safety, concerns for opposition

Prince Albert Correctional Centre. Herald File Photo

NDP Deputy Leader and Corrections critic Nicole Sarauer said her party is hearing concerns from inmates and staff at correctional facilities across the province that there’s a “lack of direction” from the provincial government.

“As a result, we’re seeing larger COVID-19 outbreaks then would’ve happened had there been proper policies and procedures in place,” Sarauer said.

Outbreaks have been declared at Dorm C of the Prince Albert Correctional Centre on Dec. 16 and Dorm B on Dec. 3. The latter has yet to be removed from the SHA’s list.

Federal facilities have also had difficulties. The Saskatchewan Penitentiary, which is managed by Corrections Service Canada, had an outbreak declared on Dec. 12. As of Monday evening, there are 74 active COVID-19 cases among the inmates, and 215 positive cases in total.

Sarauer said there are concerns about lack of programming in the facilities since they moved into lockdown. She says its important that inmates and staff are kept safe but still have access to counselling, cultural practices and contact with their lawyers.

The NDP MLA isn’t the only one raising concerns. Prisoner advocate Sherri Maier of Beyond Prison Walls Canada forwarded a letter to Corrections Minister Christine Tell written by the friend of a woman who’s son is an inmate at the Regina Correctional Centre.

The letter raises concerns about the well-being, mental health and medical treatment inmates receive during the pandemic.

“During COVID the facility has been taking all measures but still putting the inmates more at risk for mental health issues, suicide or maybe even worse, DEATH from the lack of medical attention,” the letter reads. “There are no resources for the inmates mental health and for their addictions.”

Even when inmates are released, the difficulties continue. Maier says family members of former inmates are meeting at their workplaces since they can’t gather at private residences under current restrictions.

In an interview with the Herald on Monday, Maier said she understands families want to see each other but the current plan wasn’t working. She suggested the Ministry purchase tablets for the halfway houses so recently released inmates can keep in contact from a distance.

“That’s just spreading the virus,” she said.

“Some of these guys are just coming out of jail.”

The Herald reached out to the ministry of corrections through email asking if they were aware of this issue but did not receive a response before deadline.

Sarauer said she has also heard similar concerns about halfway house residents meeting with family members at their workplaces.

“The difficulties in release planning right now with the COVID outbreaks as they’re occurring and trying to keep communities safe at the same time, again this is a a lack of leadership at the top,” Sarauer said.

She added that Minister Tell’s “lack of leadership” is affecting inmate release plans, and their ability to go home, among other things.

Sarauer has also heard concerns from inmates’ families about having access to phones to speak to their lawyers which she says results in delayed court procedures.

“I spoke with someone who also works within the court system who indicated that matters are being adjourned because legal counsel wasn’t able to reach their clients,” she said, adding that the NDP will be looking into this issue more closely.

The NDP is also calling on Minister Tell to resign from her cabinet position.

“It’s time for the province to have a Minister of Corrections that’s actually willing to do the work needed to keep our system working effectively during this time and who actually cares about their file,” Sarauer stated.