Two inmates at Mission Institution have tested positive for COVID-19, marking the second positive case at a prison in B.C. in the past 48 hours.
Two other inmates have been tested for the novel coronavirus on Friday (April 3), but results are pending, the Correctional Service of Canada confirmed to Black Press Media.
All four inmates are currently in self-isolation.
“We are closely and carefully following direction from public health officials, while following strict protocols to avoid further spread in the institution,” the federal agency said. Nine other inmates were tested but those results came back negative for the virus.
Fifteen corrections officers who were potentially exposed to the virus, are now self-isolating in their homes to await test results, according to a corrections officer who works at the facility.
The officer spoke to Black Press Media on the condition of anonymity.
“The institution is now on lockdown. [Management] is trying to minimize this the best they can, but up until the exposure the place was running – not as-per normal – but pretty close,” the officer said. “[They] stuck their heads in the sand up to this point.”
Concerns by staff and the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers have been raised over the lack of personal protective equipment, also referred to as PPE, available to staff while on the job.
“There was an inmate that went out to the hospital with escorting officers,” the correctional officer continued. “When they got to the hospital, the doctor was flabbergasted and disgusted, because the inmate was coughing and the officers were provided with no PPE.
“It’s been an issue to get our hands on it… but at this point, when we’re dealing with positive cases in the jail, we need that stuff.”
The corrections officer’s claims have been mirrored by other workers in federal facilities.
Rick Ghuman, the president of another federal prison, Matsqui Institution, said that nurses and correctional officers were “denied the ability to use PPE” when bringing new inmates into the prison on Friday.
Today I went to work as a Federal Correctional Officer. Both CX and Health Care Nurses and Correctional Officers were denied the ability to use PPE during an intake of New Offenders. This is the reality we face during a pandemic #COVID19 1/3
— Rick Ghuman (@rickghuman) April 3, 2020
The protocols are also being questioned by the inmates themselves, the correctional officer said.
“They all have TVs, they all watch the news,” the correctional officer added. “You can’t even enter Quebec, and in here, during the dining hall, you have 50 to 100 inmates sitting there, eating like nothings going on in the world… This place is treating it like it’s nothing.”
Black Press Media has reached out to Corrections Canada for comment.
Feds have requested Parole Board look into releasing non-violent inmates to prevent spread
Any inmate who shows symptoms that point to COVID-19 is isolated from the rest of the prison population, according to Correctional Service Canada. Public visits, transfers of prisoners and any non-essential work within facilities have been suspended across the country’s federal prison system to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.
“We have hygiene measures in place to prevent the spread of viruses, and also cleaning, disinfecting, and proper laundry and waste disposal processes,” the agency said.
Five inmates have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Ontario, according to Corrections Canada data. Seven more inmates have tested positive in Quebec, including five at the maximum-security Port-Cartier Institution, where serial killer Robert Pickton is serving a life sentence.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has asked the federal prison service and the parole board to look at early release for some offenders, following requests from advocates across the country to release non-violent offenders nearing their release date as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons.
But the union representing corrections officers doesn’t agree with this measure.
“The release of a few inmates would not solve the potential spread of COVID-19 in our facilities; it would only increase the risk for Canadians,” the union said in a statement.
“The focus must be on changing routines in our institutions to respect social distancing and self-isolation practices to every extent possible. Canada is in crisis, and its citizens are already dealing with a potentially deadly threat. It is irresponsible to introduce further threats into our communities.”
Instead, the union has called for the federal agency to implement a suite of measures in prisons where inmates have tested positive for the virus, including only allowing correctional officers who did not come into contact with infected inmates to be shifted, implementing enhanced cleaning protocols and taking daily temperature readings of all workers upon the start of their shift.
B.C. correctional centre also dealing with outbreak
Okanagan Correctional Centre, which is run by the provincial government, had the first B.C. inmate to test positive for COVID-19, which was announced by Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday (April 2). Henry said that prisons were an area of concern and measures had been in place for weeks.
“It’s always challenging in these closed environments,” Henry said. “So I know the corrections team at Interior Health and PHSA (Provincial Health Services Authority) are working on this as we speak.”
Those measures include restricting visitors and doing health checks so those showing symptoms are tested for the virus.
New people entering such facilities are also being isolated for 14 days.
According to the company that built the Okanagan facility, the prison is approximately 29,000 square metres in total area, with 11 living units and 378 cells.
The inmate who tested positive is currently in isolation, and fellow inmates in close contact with the prisoner are being monitored.