Kitchener-Waterloo

An inside look at how the pandemic is being managed at Grand Valley Institution

The Grand Valley Institution faced one COVID-19 outbreak a year ago and has prevented any more outbreaks since then. Anne Marie Joyce, assistant warden, goes into detail about how they've done it.

Women's prison trying to manage issue among small group of 'very problematic' inmates

Anne Marie Joyce, assistant warden of management services at Grand Valley Institution, explains what the pandemic situation is like right now at the prison. (Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press)

Grand Valley Institution (GVI) faced one COVID-19 outbreak a year ago when eight inmates got infected.

They recovered, and since then — although a couple staff members have gotten the virus — no other inmates or outbreaks have been reported.

Anne Marie Joyce, assistant warden of management services at GVI, said the women's prison has infection, prevention and control protocols including COVID-19 testing, symptoms screening, contact tracing and the use of personal protective equipment.

"We are constantly communicating on those protocols and it takes everyone who works or lives at that site… I believe that has gone a long way in terms of preventing future outbreaks," said Joyce.

The inmate population is divided into cohorts to better manage outbreak control and help prevent spread. Joyce said this way there is more effective cleaning between classes and activities. She said there are also stickers and signs that indicate six-foot spacing.

Communicating information 

Prison staff have regularly met with the prison's inmate committee to provide updates on health guidelines and answer questions, said Joyce.

"They also have a number of questions no different than what the community has in terms of COVID," she said.

Joyce said the prison also broadcasts information on television monitors in living units. Staff are also with inmates throughout the day and help enforce rules and share information, she said.

Joyce said though in-person visits have been suspended at the prison, inmates can stay connected with loved ones through video and audio calls.

Concerns over lockdowns

The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies has previously criticized lockdown measures at the prison, citing concerns over the well-being of inmates.

Joyce said with medical-related lockdown, inmates aren't left on their own. That's when there's large scale COVID-19 testing due to reported symptoms.

"They do live in a living unit where there is a number of inmates in each house and they have common areas and they have rooms that they live in and they still can maintain that social contact. A number of them often prepare meals together because we have basically a grocery store on site where they are given an allowance and can purchase food and there is a social aspect to that," she said.

Inmates continue to have contact with staff and health care providers as the prison has an accredited hospital on site.

Working conditions

Meanwhile, the regional president for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers for the Ontario region said GVI is a "fairly good" institution to work at.

However, Robert Finucan said there has been an issue with a small group of inmates who are "very problematic."

"They take a lot of time and energy to deal with them. We've been asking, as a union, for a … unit where the problematic women from this sector can go and be managed better," said Finucan.

He said the facility isn't at 100 per cent capacity and physical distancing is manageable, however it may be a challenge at the minimum-security level where inmates are in shared spaces.

Three staff members were sent to hospital on Sunday Feb. 28 after allegedly being attacked by an inmate.

Both Finucan and Joyce could not share additional details about the investigation underway at the prison.

Waterloo regional police, the institution and Correctional Service of Canada are all conducting investigations into the incident.

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