Calgary

Outbreak at Calgary jail is a 'horror show,' staff union claims, as COVID cases increase to 124

The union that represents the correctional officers and health-care workers at the Calgary Correctional Centre says the COVID outbreak there is a "horror show," claiming employees feel abandoned by the provincial government.

Union alleges staff wasn't told to wear full PPE until a week after outbreak started

An unidentified female correctional officer, left, inside a federal prison. On right, the Calgary Correctional Centre, which is experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak. As of Friday, 124 cases were linked to the facility. (Correctional Service of Canada/Flickr, Google Maps)

The union that represents the correctional officers and health-care workers at the Calgary Correctional Centre says the COVID outbreak there is a "horror show," claiming employees feel abandoned by the provincial government.

"It's basically a nightmare right now inside that facility," said Bobby-Joe Borodey, vice-president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE). "They're exhausted, and they're scared, and they truly feel like this outbreak is not being handled correctly."

As of Friday, 104 inmates and 20 staff members at the jail in the city's northwest have tested positive for COVID-19. Eight inmates who previously tested positive have been released and are isolating at home. 

The outbreak was first reported Oct. 22 with 24 cases of COVID-19. There were 175 inmates at the Calgary Correctional Centre as of Oct. 23, meaning the outbreak has now infected nearly 60 per cent of inmates.

According to Borodey, staff have been wearing masks for only a month and were not instructed to start wearing full personal protective equipment until Thursday, when 118 cases were reported at the facility.

"It's unfortunate that it took that long to put those measures in place, and many members feel that a lack of those measures definitely contributed to the spread of COVID within the facility," Borodey said.

Jake, a prisoner at the facility whom CBC News agreed to use a pseudonym for as he fears retribution should he be identified, said he noticed the correctional staff feeling unsure about what to do next.

"The anxiety is really high. You're fearful, you're looking out through bars and looking through windows that don't even open," said Jake, who has tested positive for COVID-19. "And this is a provincial facility. Some guys have releases in a week, two weeks … it's not a long-term facility.

"But our health, and the long-term effects … we don't know what's going on with it."

CBC News has requested comment from the province but has yet to receive a response.

No segregation, Borodey says

Earlier this week, multiple infected inmates told CBC News they were living through inhumane conditions in solitary confinement. Those cells are typically reserved for the prison's most disruptive prisoners.

"I feel like I'm an outcast, and I feel like I'm being treated differently, even in here," said one inmate earlier this week. "I don't know what to do. I'm very depressed, and this makes things a lot worse. I feel lost."

According to Borodey, as of Friday, there is no segregation or isolation of infected and uninfected inmates within the facility.

"It was shared with me that, right now, only two of the units within the facility are COVID-free," she said. "Every other unit has instances of cases of COVID positive inmates in them. But in addition, they are sharing those units with COVID-free inmates.

"It seems that the facility itself is just not equipped to deal with the number of inmates that are now infected."

Alberta Health Services order

Last week, Alberta Health Services ordered that asymptomatic staff who were otherwise required to self-isolate at home were permitted to return to work at the facility.

"All appropriate personal protective equipment is being provided for staff, and infection prevention precautions within the facility are in place," the order read.

"Again, this approach is necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible, protecting those who have not already been exposed, while maintaining operations at the centre."

The order also stated that asymptomatic staff from the facility were required to travel only to and from the facility, and were not scheduled to work in any other facilities.

"The number of staff that are able to fill the shifts is decreasing," Borodey said. "It will be necessary to, very likely, to bring in outside resources for help, coming from other facilities."

About the Author

Joel joined CBC Calgary in 2019. Reach him by email at joel.dryden@cbc.ca

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