3 positive tests at Saskatoon Provincial Correctional Centre cause COVID concerns to surface

Cory Cardinal, founder of Inmates for Humane Conditions, says the fact COVID-19 is back inside the crowded facility is cause for concern and many inside are not confident the cases will be contained.

Correctional facility already went through outbreak in November

The Saskatoon Provincial Correctional Centre has recorded three positive cases of COVID-19 as of April 2, 2021 and the presence of the virus has some inmates fearing a second outbreak may hit the facility. (CBC News)

The confirmation of COVID-19 cases at the Saskatoon Provincial Correctional Centre has some inmates worried for their health. 

The facility has already been through an outbreak of COVID-19 in November 2020 and over this weekend an official with the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety confirmed three new positive cases have now been reported.

Cory Cardinal, an inmate at the facility and the founder of the group Inmates for Humane Conditions, says the presence of COVID-19 has put many inside the facility on edge as there's worry the virus will spread. He called the virus' presence "very disturbing."

Ministry officials indicated those who test positive are isolated in separate cells.

Cardinal says there's not much faith from those inside that the Ministry will be able to contain the virus as they feel the facility and many of its units are overcrowded. He says the pandemic has put more pressure on an already vulnerable population. 

"During the last outbreak, there were a lot of inmates feeling helpless watching the COVID levels rise," he said. 

The new cases have created an atmosphere of "uncertainty" and "fear" for those inside, he said.

Cory Charles Cardinal is a self-educated artist, writer and prisoner justice advocate incarcerated inside the Saskatoon Provincial Correctional Centre. He is the founder of Inmates for Human Conditions, a group of inmates advocating for better conditions inside Saskatchewan correctional centres. (Submitted by Abby Stadnyk)

Despite claims of inadequate measures to protect inmates, ministry officials have repeatedly said its taking all the appropriate measures to try and contain the spread of COVID-19 at its correctional facilities, saying the safety of those in its care is a priority.

Steps have already been taken to try and slow the spread of new cases, with the Ministry of Corrections noting although three other inmates were showing symptoms while not in isolation, the units and areas where they were housed are being quarantined for "precautionary reasons."

On Saturday an official with the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees Union (SGEU), which represents guards at the facility, said the three additional inmates who were tested had their results come back negative.

Cardinal calls for correctional workers to be prioritized for vaccines

However, Cardinal says the renewed presence of COVID-19 at the facility is a perfect example as to why those living and working inside provincial correctional facilities should have access to COVID-19 vaccines that protect against the virus.

"It's generally known how vulnerable we are and what happened with the severe outbreak just emphasized how vulnerable we are," he said. "That should emphasize the need, not only for inmates, but the staff too."

In the past, Saskatchewan's Health Minister Paul Merriman has stated while he has heard concerns from both the union and inmates, the province's general vaccine plan is one that's placed age as a major deciding factor. 

"I understand that the concerns that are coming out of corrections,'' Merriman said on Feb. 11, 2021. "But where we've seen the highest fatalities is, again, in that highest age."

As of Saturday, the Regina Provincial Correctional Centre is the only correctional facility where outbreaks are active, with two outbreaks ongoing.