Some inmates at Saskatoon Correctional Centre stage hunger strike to protest conditions
Inmates complain of overcrowding as COVID-19 cases near 100 at the facility
Some inmates at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre have started a hunger strike to protest conditions in the facility that, by Friday, had reported almost 100 cases of COVID-19.
Inmate Brett Karol said the jail has been locked down for about a week.
"There are guys in various dorms that have been tested positive for COVID," Karol said. "There is no isolation protocol in place anymore. We were all handed a sheet of paper saying that anyone tested positive will remain in the dorm with, you know, 30 plus guys, symptomatic or not.
"So basically, we're being told that if someone is sick, you're all going to get sick because they simply run out of room to put people once they're confirmed COVID-19," he said.
The inmates want the ministry to explain why their symptomatic peers are being isolated in a dorm along with 30-plus inmates, Karol said and also asked to know what the long-term plan is going forward.
"Back in April, they had started reducing the population inside the jails to allow for social distancing and stuff," he said. "But the numbers have since climbed quite a bit and there doesn't seem to be a plan in place going forward here."
Inmates also want overcrowding addressed and want to know why there weren't mandatory masks when the outbreak first occurred in the facility.
Karol says they also want a public apology from Christine Tell, Minister of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety, for neglecting the health and safety of inmates.
In a news release Tell said the government was "deeply concerned with the rise in cases at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre."
"We have taken strict measures, based on direction from public health authorities, to limit and reduce the spread of COVID-19, including restricting visitation, quarantining new admissions for 14 days and isolating all offenders who have shown symptoms," Tell said.
The release said they will be doing ongoing testing of all offenders at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre for the foreseeable future.
Karol said there are inmates in his area who don't know if they are positive for the virus.
"There are people that show symptoms and still haven't received the results," he said. "So we don't know what the case is going to be if they do test positive that they're basically going to lock them in there with the rest of us."
Phillip Morin, another inmate in a different area of the Saskatoon facility, was tested on Tuesday and as of Friday night said he had not received his results.
He said there were 35 inmates where he was, and four of them tested positive for COVID-19.
"There's still two inmates in here that do have that virus," Morin said. "And there's no chance of social distancing what-so-ever for inmates that are here because our bunks are like two feet apart."
He was in remand since April and said it was only last week that he received a mask.
"There's a lot of people in here that are scared," said Morin, adding he has headaches and his body aches.
"The majority of the people that are in here are on remand. They have not been convicted of a crime before the courts."
Morin, like Karol, would like to see some of the inmates on remand to be released in order to ease the crowding.
"This pandemic is life threatening. And we do have family. We do have kids. And, you know, I think that the government should definitely push for people that are on remand to be released because, you know, at the end of the day, we're the ones that are going to be suffering."
In the news release Tell said Corrections did not release any sentenced inmates in April due to COVID-19.
But Public Prosecutions did take COVID-19 into account when assessing bail matters previously during the initial onset of the pandemic.
"We understand that Public Prosecutions is currently taking the outbreak at Saskatoon Correctional Centre into account when assessing bail matters."
Karol said until some of their questions are answered, the inmates are going to continue their hunger strike.
With files from Kevin O'Connor