COVID-19 cases rise in BC prison as unions call for protection

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VANCOUVER –
The number of inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 at a facility in British Columbia. prison nearly doubled in one day, unions urging correctional officers to protect themselves.

Twenty-three inmates tested positive for the disease at Mission Institution, according to the Correctional Service of Canada, with 18 tests pending.

Three prison correctional officers also tested positive.

This is the highest number of positive tests among inmates of a national prison across the country. No other province has a combined total of more than 20.

The B.C. The prison was closed on Wednesday, the guards increasing their checks on the inmates and serving meals in the cells.

The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers says it strives to ensure that its members receive protective equipment while on the job.

But for now, staff will have a mask to use for two shifts, the union said.

If a staff member is to be within two meters of a prisoner who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, a range of protective equipment will be provided, the union said in an email.

The BC Government and Service Employees ‘Union (BCGEU) of British Columbia, which represents 1,700 employees in provincial prisons, said it heard a variety of safety concerns from its members.

Provincial prison staff have expressed concern about the possibility of enforcing social distancing protocols while working, as well as the lack of hand disinfection, said the union president.

“Our role, of course, is to ensure the safety of our members, but also that of the prison population, so yes, we are pushing for better security measures,” said Stephanie Smith, President of the BCGEU.

The measures include plexiglass barriers at officer positions as well as better screening of detainees, she added.

One inmate tested positive for COVID-19 at a provincial correctional center, but has since recovered.

The increase comes after lawyers and associations of jurists requested the release of the detainees to prevent an epidemic from spreading among the prison population.

Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, said epidemiologists around the world say that prisons amplify the contagion.

At the very least, the federal and provincial governments should eliminate double bed occupancy and remove seniors with chronic health conditions because physical distance is next to impossible, she said in an interview. .

“I think there must be an immediate withdrawal of people who can be safely managed in the community and placed in the community to depopulate or reduce the number in prisons as quickly as possible.”

The Parole Board has said it is streamlining its processes to deal with the pandemic.

With files from Terri Theodore

This Canadian Press report was first published on April 10.

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