Four offenders and two staff members at the Regina Correctional Centre have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday, according to Minister of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Christine Tell.
Providing the update to reporters on Thursday, the last day of the fall session at the Saskatchewan Legislature, she noted how the offenders that tested positive are now in isolation. Supports are being offered for the staff members who are isolating at their own homes, too.
In November, COVID-19 outbreaks at the province’s correctional centres like in Saskatoon caused the opposition NDP and advocates throughout Saskatchewan to call on the provincial government to consider releasing some remanded inmates in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission within these facilities.
When asked on Thursday if she would contemplate the release of remanded offenders, Tell said she will not interfere with the decisions of the independent judicial system.
“I am the minister responsible for public safety in the province of Saskatchewan for everyone. That includes offenders and the people at large,” stated Tell. “As such, we are not going to increase the numbers of offenders that are being released except through recognized programs or reintegration leave.”
At the Regina jail, Tell mentioned how staff are able to properly space people within the facility, including a trailer which houses 44 offenders.
She said a judge or justice of the peace has determined that those offenders have been placed in remand for a reason; she’s not looking to override their decisions.
“The offenders and the public are as safe as they can be right where they are,” added Tell. “Our independent justice system has made a determination that the offender needs to be in custody. That’s not up to me to decide whether it’s right or wrong.”
Following Tell’s comments, NDP Critic for Corrections and Policing Nicole Sarauer reiterated her party’s wish to see more initiative by the government in reducing overcrowdedness within the province’s prisons.
Sarauer pointed to Saskatchewan having one of the highest remand rates in the country, saying she does not understand why the government will not look at exploring options to release some remanded inmates. She said the pandemic has created “a ticking time bomb” at each successive jail in the province.
“I’m not sure why the minister is refusing to look into this as an issue anymore,” explained Sarauer. “She doesn’t seem to care about the safety of the staff and inmates in the facilities, and she doesn’t seem to care too much about her file, frankly.”
Sarauer said there should be a collaborative approach where all parties come to the table and have productive discussions about what can be done to address remand in the province. The NDP critic added that those conversations were happening successfully in the spring, but indicated she’s confused by Minister Tell’s refusal to look into this situation as an issue moving forward.