The Toronto South Detention Centre is shown in Toronto on October 3, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

The Toronto South Detention Centre is shown in Toronto on October 3, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Advocates critique rising jail figures in some provinces after initial COVID-19 fall

Only the federal prison systems and British Columbia’s system continued a decreasing trend over the summer

A report by advocates for Canadian inmates is criticizing the rising rates of incarceration in at least two provincial jail systems amid the continuing pandemic.

About a year after the first COVID-19 cases emerged in Ontario jails, the update by the Prison Pandemic Partnership says the risk to inmates increases when there is less space.

The partnership — which includes the Centre for Access to Information and Justice, the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association — estimates that more than 7,000 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to Canadian jails and prisons, including over 5,000 infections among prisoners.

It says at the outset of the pandemic, from March through June last year, prison populations across the country fell in an effort to increase the space available and enable physical distancing.

However, the study used Statistics Canada data to show that most provincial and territorial jail systems started to put more people back in jail over the summer.

By September last year, incarceration rates had gone back up — though still remaining below pre-pandemic levels — in Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon.

Only the federal prison systems and British Columbia’s system continued a trend over the summer of decreasing their populations.

The federal prison population, which was at about 13,891 last February, fell five per cent to 13,141 by June, after the first wave of COVID-19, and as of January this year it was down 10 per cent to 12,500 prisoners.

However, in Ontario, where the jail population initially dropped to 5,811 from 8,269 last June, the figures have been going up. As of Monday, the number of people in custody had reached 7,131.

In Nova Scotia, there were about 440 people in custody pre-pandemic, which fell to 268 by June last year, but the figure had rebounded to 353 as of Monday.

In contrast, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan have continued downward trends in jail populations since September, the report notes.

The partnership didn’t have recent data on inmate counts for Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Yukon and Newfoundland and Labrador.

“The rising incarceration rates in some jurisdictions, particularly in Ontario where a number of provincial jails and prisons have experienced large outbreaks since December 2020, is deeply concerning,” the report says.

“Crowded congregate settings are susceptible to large outbreaks of COVID-19.”

The report notes that in most jurisdictions, vaccination campaigns targeting prison settings have yet to begin.

The partnership says it is calling upon federal, provincial and territorial governments to “act now by ramping up efforts to divert and decarcerate people from custody accompanied by supports in the community, such as housing.”

Andrew Morrison, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Solicitor General in Ontario, said the issuing of more temporary absences to people who serve custody on weekends is “allowing (inmates) to serve their time in the community.”

He noted the ministry is working with police, courts and others in the justice system to reduce the numbers coming into custody but added the department must still “ensure community safety remains paramount.”

In Nova Scotia, Justice Department spokeswoman Heather Fairbairn said there are no active cases of COVID-19 in the province’s jails, and there have been only two cases to date.

“We continue to manage admissions and releases as we have since March 2020, with eligible inmates considered for temporary absence and early release,” she wrote in an email on Monday.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusCrime

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A map showing where the most number of cases were recorded from April 23 to 29. This map, revealing a breakdown of infections by neighborhood, was pulled from a data package leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week (and independently verified).
36 Abbotsford schools flagged for COVID-19 exposures in the last 2 weeks, shattering record

Clearbrook Elementary recorded an ‘exposure’ on all 11 school days

<a href="Facebook users reported seeing a body on the side of the road this morning." target="_blank"></a>Facebook users reported seeing a body on the side of the road this morning. (File photo)
Man killed in fatal hit-and-run collision between Abbotsford and Chilliwack

Body reported at 6 a.m., police close North Parallel Road, single highway lane as they investigate

Westbound traffic is slow moving on Highway 1 following a crash that has police blocking one lane. Google Maps screenshot taken at 9:07 a.m.
TRAFFIC: Crash on North Parallel Road causes road closure, single westbound Highway 1 lane blocked

Abbotsford Police investigating, roads closed between McDermott and No. 3 Road

Kassandra Clack of Abbotsford has been named one of 18 finalists in the Jim Beam Virtual National Talent Search, taking place in June.
Fraser Valley country singer Kassandra Clack a finalist in national talent search

18 finalists vie to win Jim Beam Virtual National Talent Search in June

Mandeep Grewal was gunned down outside an Abbotsford bank in October 2018. Police said a violent gang war to control drug-line territory was going on at that time. Drug charges have now been announced against seven people. (FILE PHOTO: John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
7 people face 38 charges related to gang drug activity in Abbotsford and Mission

Police say investigation began in 2018 into expansion of Brothers Keepers’ drug line

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

After Bobby Henderson apologized online for his comments to a Toronto reporter, the Langley Rivermen announced that he was no longer team coach and general manager and in fact, had ‘parted ways’ with the franchise in March. (file/Twitter)
Former Langley Rivermen coach and GM apologizes for comments to Toronto reporter

Bobby Henderson blames stress due to the pandemic for his ‘disparaging’ remarks

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman’s body found in Kootenay National Park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country's crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of May 9

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

People pass the red hearts on the COVID-19 Memorial Wall mourning those who have died, opposite the Houses of Parliament on the Embankment in London, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. On May 3, the British government announced that only one person had died of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kirsty Wigglesworth
For a view of a COVID-19 future, Canadians should look across the pond

Britain, like Canada, is one of the only countries in the world to delay second doses for several months

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton superstar McDavid hits 100-point mark as Oilers edge Canucks 4-3

NHL scoring leader needs just 53 games to reach century mark

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

Twenty-nine staff members at Sunrise Poultry Processors Ltd. in Newton have tested positive for the virus, according to an information bulletin from Fraser Health Saturday (May 8). The health authority issued a 10-day closure order, effective May 7. (Image: Google Maps)
29 staff test positive for COVID-19 at Surrey poultry processing plant

Meantime, outbreak over at Surrey Memorial Hospital

Most Read