Advocates lobby feds and province to help inmates in Saskatchewan jail falling ill to COVID-19

Inmates being held at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre are being hit hard by the second wave of COVID-19.

“Back in March we wrote a letter to the premier and of course we cc’d minister tell regarding the first wave of COVID-19,” said Kim Beaudin, vice-chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. “We were very concerned our people would be like sitting ducks. In that facility particularly a lot of people who have been remanded.

“The second wave came rolling along look what’s happening it’s actually far worse then the first wave.”

Beaudin wrote to Justice Minister David Lametti, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett asking the federal ministers to intervene.

“Our people are now facing a death sentence in Saskatoon Correctional Centers due to Covid-19” wrote Beaudin in the letter. “These are lives being intentionally put at risk, and is nothing short of a genocidal, colonialist policy.”

According to the province’s ministry of corrections, 130 of the 476 inmates have test positive for the virus. Several staff have tested positive as well.

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A group of Saskatoon organizations wrote to Saskatchewan’s justice minister in late October.

Pierre Hawkins, public legal counsel for the John Howard Society and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, says the way inmates are housed is concerning.

“We are concerned that the cautious and thorough approach taken by Public Prosecutions to find creative alternatives to incarceration in the context of bail hearings and sentencing have fallen by the wayside,” wrote Hawkins in a Oct. 28 letter to Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan. “Our best information suggests that inmate counts have returned to pre-pandemic levels.”

The advocates want some inmates released to stop overcrowding and allow social distancing.

“In Saskatoon correctional centre a lot of inmate housing is in dormitories. We know that in dormitories it’s very difficult to social distance because you have bunk beds that might be a meter or two a part.” Said Hawkins

Many of the inmates are in remand.

“Affectively we asked the province to and the prosecution service to reduce its use to remand so people who are held awaiting trial,” he said.

“We also asked for the ministry of corrections and policing to use its powers under the legislation it’s temporary absence in reinterpretation program in order to let out elderly non violent immune compromised people.”

Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Corrections said in an email they are exploring options for accommodations but no decision has been made.

They currently have halted jail admissions-and continue to test inmates and staff.

Reporter / Saskatoon

Priscilla is Cree and a member of Mistawasis Nehiyawak in Saskatchewan. She has worked with APTN National News in the past as a reporter in Winnipeg, host for an entertainment segment, and the 2010 Winter Olympics. Wolf is an alumni of the INCA –Indian Communications Arts Program at FNUC & has a BA of Indigenous Studies from the University of Regina. She brings over ten years of experience working in media across the prairie provinces.