COVID-19 & Prisons

Why Communities Should Care

Amidst the soaring rates of COVID-19 cases across the country, those in penal and detention systems remain some of the most invisible and vulnerable populations to its spread. Captives with limited resources and support, the exposure of incarcerated persons is heightened by confined spaces, lack of access to protective and sanitizing equipment, and inadequate healthcare.

While long term care facilities have seen some of the most devastating consequences of the COVID-19 impact, according to research, people in prison are equally if not more vulnerable. Back in April 2020, approximately 360 people in federal prison tested positive for COVID-19. This reflected a rate of 13 per 1000 in the prison population, compared to 1 per 1000 in the general population. For women in prison, it was a staggering 87 per 1000. As 2020 ends, there are now more than 1000 cases in federal prisons.

The ongoing failing restrictions to curtail the spread of COVID-19 inside the prisons has been to suspend all visits, limit physical and social activities, segregate ranges, and even 24-hour lock downs for some. Every government has acknowledged the tremendous toll that physical distancing and isolation has had on Canadians. Imagine the toll this has on people in prison.

COVID-19 in prisons has both public health and safety ramifications. We need to act on other options, other than containing people.

Contact Members of Parliament

Emails are too often only given cursory attention. A phone call to connect with your Member of Parliament (MP) is a more personal and meaningful way to be heard.

At the federal level, there are many measures that can be taken to ensure the safe release of people in prison that are, in effect, used all the time and that does not put the public at a greater risk. These can include:

  • health-related s. 29 transfers
  • exceptional and compassionate releases
  • more timely conditional release placements in halfway houses or home placements
  • and/or parole supervision, electronic monitoring devices, and community supports

Please phone your Member of Parliament (MP) and ask them what they are doing to reduce the numbers of people confined in prisons.

You can find your MP and their phone number here. https://www.ourcommons.ca/members/en/search

You can also contact Senators by province here. https://sencanada.ca/en/senators-list/

At the provincial level, you can contact your Member of Provincial Parliament or Member of the Legislative Assembly. Check your provincial government’s webpage.

If you contact your Member of Parliament, please email justiceexchange@ubishops.ca and let us know how it went.

Template
Hi _________,
My name is __________ and I am a resident of ___________. I am writing because I feel increasingly concerned about the rates of COVID-19 in federal prisons, provincial jails, and detention centres. The statistics show that positive test rates are significantly higher in these close quarters, than for the general population. 
I would like to know what you -as my representative- are doing to slow the spread of COVID-19 in facilities, and protection measures that can help protect the health of this vulnerable group. Specifically: 
(1) Have you considered expanding exceptional and compassionate release opportunities? 
(2) Are there people waiting to be released on parole, who have homes or halfway houses where they might be able to quarantine safely? Are there collaborations that can happen with community supports to help expedite supported release processes?
(3) Are there any health-related s.29 transfers that can be completed?
Thank you.

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