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Prisoner worried for fellow inmates' lives at Baffin Correctional Centre amidst COVID-19

Prisoners are worried for their health and well-being during the pandemic. Meanwhile, the Nunavut government did not specify its plans if COVID-19 should find its way into the prison.

'We feel like we’ve been given a death sentence,' Guy Uniuqsaraq says from inside jail

A picture of Guy Uniuqsaraq, 32, at the Baffin Correctional Centre. Uniuqsaraq said that he is concerned that he isn’t aware of any prisoners being tested for COVID-19 at the prison. (Thomas Rohner/CBC)

Confined in close quarters during a pandemic, prisoners at the Baffin Correctional Centre worry for their lives amidst COVID-19, says a prisoner at the Iqaluit jail.

"We feel like we've been given a death sentence," Guy Uniuqsaraq, 32, told CBC News over the phone.

Uniuqsaraq said that he is concerned that he isn't aware of any prisoners being tested for COVID-19 at the prison.  

Nunavut's legal aid agency, which advocates on behalf of Nunavut prisoners, says the Nunavut's corrections division is unprepared for the pandemic. 

"Regardless of the good intentions of the people in corrections to try and manage and respond to this, in the event that COVID-19 comes to the territory and people in custody get sick, they will not be able to respond; they will not have the resources to respond," said Benson Cowan, chief executive officer of the Legal Services Board. 

A spokesperson for Nunavut's Justice Department said in an email that the government "has been working diligently at all levels to ensure we have a plan in place." 

"Our goal is to ensure the virus does not enter into the facility." 

The government said it has implemented a number of preventative measures at its correctional facilities, including: 

  • Releasing more prisoners from custody than usual.
  • Banning all personal and media visits to jails.
  • Isolating prisoners at intake for 14 days.
  • Providing additional hand sanitizer stations in jails.
  • Outfitting response/containment kits with gloves, masks, face shields.
  • Increasing food and stock supplies.
  • Increasing cleaning protocols. 

The government did not specify its plans if COVID-19 should find its way into the prison. 

"Given the heightened security risks associated with corrections, we cannot provide specific details regarding our human resources or individual institutional plans." 

Concerns about access to the outside

Cowan said those in prison are among society's most vulnerable people because some of their freedoms have been removed. 

"They can't exercise the freedom of movement, they can't just walk away and make themselves safe. So the onus on the government and the actors in the justice system, including the [Legal Services Board], to work to try to reduce that risk is huge," Cowan said. 

People are raising more and more concerns in here.​​- Guy Uniuqsaraq, prisoner at Baffin Correctional Centre

In light of banning all personal and media visits to the jail, Cowan said corrections should immediately provide free long-distance calling to those prisoners who remain incarcerated. 

The Department of Justice said in an email long-distance calls are now free for inmates, at all of Nunavut's correctional facilities. 

But there are other hurdles prisoners still face. 

Because of COVID-19, inmates can no longer send mail.

Uniuqsaraq said a recent meeting — between house-leaders of each unit at the jail and the in-charge officer — aimed to address this.

"Guys who send cheques to their families, they can't do that now because there's no mail allowed," Uniuqsaraq said. 

The meeting did not result in a solution yet, he added. 

"People are raising more and more concerns in here," said Uniuqsaraq. 

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