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COVID-19 cases more than double in federal prisons during second wave of pandemic

Stock image of chain link metal fence. (Credit: PIXABAY)

OTTAWA — Canada’s prison ombudsman is calling for alternatives to incarceration in a new report that shows the number of COVID-19 cases at federal facilities more than doubled in the second wave.

Correctional investigator Ivan Singer says new cases climbed to 880 at more than a dozen prisons between early November and Feb. 1, compared to 361 cases at six institutions in the first wave.

He says about 70 per cent of second-wave cases occurred at two Prairie facilities — the Saskatchewan Penitentiary and Manitoba’s Stony Mountain Institution — leaving Indigenous inmates disproportionately affected.

The prisons are the two largest in the country and contain some of the system’s oldest infrastructure, with an evident connection between viral spread and large shared living areas as well as poor ventilation.

Singer is calling on the federal government to prioritize early release of older inmates and to consider closure of aging, costly penitentiaries in favour of a more community-based approach to corrections.

The Correctional Service of Canada says it has vaccinated about 600 older and medically compromised offenders, and plans to begin inoculating the rest of its 12,500 inmates in the spring.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2021.

The Canadian Press