Regina jail wrestles with COVID-19 outbreak after infected inmates transported from Saskatoon
Multiple cases reported at Prince Albert jail, Pine Grove Correctional Centre and Kilburn Hall
Officials at the Regina Correctional Centre say some inmates transported there from Saskatoon on the weekend of Dec. 12 were carrying COVID-19.
The officials contacted the Ministry of Justice.
"This past weekend 17 offenders were transported to RCC from Saskatoon. On each transport day, there was at least one COVID-positive case in the transport van and, as a result, all individuals who were in the van have been identified as close contacts and are required to self-isolate for 14 days," said Audrey Olson, a senior Crown counsel with Justice, in an email obtained by CBC News.
"Public Health has advised that the following individuals will not be permitted to travel back to their home communities. If released, and they are able to afford a hotel, they will be required to rent one and remain in Regina to complete their 14 days of isolation; alternatively, if they do not have funds Social Services will assist in locating a hotel for them."
This development comes as correctional centres across the province are wrestling with the virus.
As of Dec. 15, six offenders at the Regina jail were classified as positive with COVID-19. In Saskatoon, there were 86 staff and inmates positive. There are 23 positive cases at the Prince Albert Correctional Centre and three at the Pine Grove Correctional Centre.
Kilburn Hall, a youth facility in Saskatoon, has two inmates and one staff positive.
The union that speaks for correctional workers is frustrated by the lack of widespread testing at the jails, and the response from the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and Corrections, Policing and Public Safety.
On Dec. 11, Saskatchewan Government Employees Union (SGEU) sent a letter to the health authority asking that all inmates and staff in provincial correctional centres be allowed to volunteer for testing.
This letter went unanswered, said SGEU labour relations officer Glenn Billingsley.
On Dec. 15, a second letter was sent to Corrections Minister Christine Tell.
"SGEU is asking the Ministry to please take the appropriate initiative immediately to ensure the health and safety of the correctional officers and the inmates is a priority by implementing proactive volunteer testing for all correctional officers and the inmates at each of the facilities," Billingsley wrote.
It's not clear who would make the decision to clear the way for voluntary testing in the jails.
CBC requested interviews with both Corrections and the Saskatchewan Health Authority to clarify how the decisions are made.
In an emailed response, Noel Busse with Corrections wrote, "All decisions around testing are made based on guidance and direction of public health authorities."
In a separate email, James Winkel with the SHA wrote that all testing follows provincial testing guidelines. He offered a link to the government site that describes how someone can get tested — in the community.
"How these measures are implemented in correctional facilities is not directed by the SHA," he wrote.
The John Howard Society's Saskatchewan branch is also continuing to urge widespread voluntary testing in the jails.
"Being a guard is not an easy job at the best of times, but certainly now when you're going into a workplace where you don't necessarily have a sense of how much COVID is there, that's not a fun prospect to look forward to," said Shawn Fraser.
"It's incumbent on the Ministry of Policing and Corrections to make sure that there's adequate testing to know the picture of what's in there, as far as COVID cases go."