The Ministry of Corrections and Policing is taking significant steps to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan’s correctional centres.
The government has confirmed that two staff at Saskatoon Correctional Centre have been identified as having COVID-19 through testing. They have since been directed by public health authorities to self-isolate at home. The ministry is working with public health authorities to determine who these individuals might have come into contact with within the correctional facility and what measures need to be taken as a result.
Early Friday afternoon, the union that represents workers at the facility, the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU), sent out a release about the confirmed cases before the government confirmed the situation. The SGEU says this raises serious concerns regarding the safety of their members across the justice system.
“We have been asking the government for a plan for our corrections officers since the pandemic first broke. We are working with government and, while they are assuring us they are doing everything they can, we need more transparency,” said SGEU President Bob Bymoen in the union’s release.
“More information is needed and we need clarity on actions being taken. The health and safety of front-line staff must be a top concern.”
SGEU added that overcrowding in correctional facilities and close confinement are leading to specific challenges for corrections workers during the current pandemic.
Bymoen noted that some actions the government must prioritize are increased testing of inmates, corrections staff, and deputy sheriffs; immediate provision of essentials for staff in correctional facilities and courts such as masks and gloves; and open and transparent pandemic communication for staff and inmates.
The government says corrections will work with public health authorities to determine next steps if it is confirmed that a staff member has COVID-19.
Currently, no offenders in provincial correctional facilities have been confirmed as having COVID-19. There is currently one unit at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre on quarantine as a precautionary measure for what is believed to be a non-COVID-19 illness.
The ministry is exploring how to more effectively manage the sentenced offender population in our provincial correctional facilities in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, and is using existing infrastructure and program space within correctional facilities to create additional separation between offenders and staff.
Personal protective equipment is being provided to corrections staff and offenders based on criteria established by the World Health Organization and public health authorities.
Other measures being taken include:
- restricting the movement and placement of offenders within the facility;
- suspending or limiting programming to smaller groups of offenders to ensure adequate social distancing;
- increased communication to staff and offenders about proper hygiene and contagious disease precautions;
- enhancing cleaning protocols in all facilities for common areas and equipment; and
- thorough and regular hand washing with soap and water by facility staff.