Saskatoon

Province-wide group calls for massive release of Sask. prisoners to stop spread of COVID-19

A province-wide group of law professors, lawyers and legal groups is calling for a massive prisoner release from Saskatchewan jails.

Group of 30 includes lawyers, law profs and legal support groups

The group wants one-inmate-per-cell and proper distancing in dormitories. (Dan Zakreski/CBC)

A province-wide group of law professors, lawyers and legal groups is calling for a massive prisoner release from Saskatchewan jails.

"We're asking specifically for the Ministry of Corrections to look at releasing people convicted of non-violent crimes. People over 50 people who are immunocompromised," said Pierre Hawkins, legal counsel for the John Howard Society.

"Cells are occupied by individuals. So as it stands there's a lot of double-bunking in the system. And so we would like to make sure that one inmate could stay in a cell if they would like and that in dormitories the people are able to maintain that social distancing, two meters, that's recommended by the public health authorities."

The group sent an open letter with 30 signatories to Corrections and Policing minister Christine Tell.

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It says COVID-19 poses a risk in jail because of overcrowding, the healthcare issues of inmates and the movement of people.

"This overcrowding will lead to the unmanageable spread of disease," the letter says.

The letter says that people need to appreciate that issues inside jails could easily become issues outside jail if no action is taken.

"The significant traffic in and out of correctional facilities every day will continue. Correctional and medical staff come and go regularly," it said.

"New admissions and releases happen daily. It is not a question of whether the virus will spread through the prisons, it is a question of how quickly."

During a news conference Friday, the ministry said it had reviewed the letter and that some of its recommendations  had already been put into place. 

"This includes but is not limited to enhanced cleaning measures and the hiring of outside cleaners, suspending or limiting programing to accommodate smaller groups of offenders, increased communication on preventative hygiene measures and controlled access to hand sanitizer," ministry spokesperson Noel Busse said.

He said inmates have access to free calls to chaplains or elders on top of two free 10-minute calls daily.

The ministry said it had no plans to change early release or reintegration programming. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.

With files from Bryan Eneas

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