Calls for the release of certain federal inmates as the COVID-19 epidemic increases

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OTTAWA –
Prisons must step up COVID-19 testing and health measures to help prevent massive epidemics among incarcerated populations, as well as release some offenders immediately, more groups urged on Saturday as the number of cases increased in several facilities.

“The situation is dire and action must be taken quickly,” the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies said on Saturday in a statement that “sounded the alarm” about the infection rate at Joliette Institution for Women. in Joliette, Quebec.

The facility for women, about 75 kilometers northeast of Montreal, has 50 confirmed cases, the group said – versus 10 on April 7.

This means that 60% of prisoners are infected, as only 80 people are currently incarcerated in the facility, according to the group, which acts as an advocate for women in federal custody. He noted that the number of cases could be higher due to delays in the test results.

“The example that Joliette so sadly demonstrates is that, by the very nature of prisons (lack of hygienic environment, physically impossible from a distance), once COVID-19 enters a prison, it is extremely difficult – if not impossible – to stop its rapid spread, “said the group.

“This puts an already vulnerable population even more at risk. “

In Joliette, what used to be called segregation units is used to isolate sick prisoners, the group said – a move the group calls cruel, punishing, disingenuous and ineffective in containing the spread.

Other women’s prisons are also seeing cases.

Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ontario now has nine confirmed cases, the group said, while Fraser Valley Institution for Women in Abbostford, British Columbia, reported its first confirmed case on Friday.

“Joliette is an example of the situation in which these other institutions could find themselves in a short period of time,” said the group, whose six regional teams and the national office receive dozens of calls from women in prisons daily. looking for support.

The prisoners told the association that in most cases only symptomatic people are tested.

“We need immediate action and the safe release of as many people as possible. “

The group’s call was picked up by the Congress of Indigenous Peoples, saying in a statement on Friday that it had been calling for action for more than a month.

He heard detainees describe prison conditions, including non-compliance with social distancing protocols and lack of sanitary supplies, among other problems.

Congress reiterated its “call for immediate action to combat overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in federal prisons, and to immediately release low-risk and non-violent offenders, those nearing the end of their sentences and those who suffer from serious chronic health problems ”.

Also on Friday, a coalition of rights groups in British Columbia. called for the immediate release of as many detainees as possible after the death of a prisoner at Mission Institution this week. The epidemic at the medium-security facility has more than 60 confirmed cases on Friday, including many detainees.

This Canadian Press report was first published on April 18, 2020

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