SASKATOON -- Inmates at a federal correctional facility located in Saskatoon will be among the first in Canada to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, according to Correctional Service Canada (CSC).

Coronavirus immunizations for inmates held in custody at the Regional Psychiatric Centre (RPC) in Saskatoon are expected to begin Friday, CSC said.

The immunizations will be reserved for older inmates from whom COVID-19 poses the greatest risk and those who are considered medically vulnerable.

According to the National Medical Advisor for CSC, Dr. James Worthington, the decision to provide vaccines to inmates was based on recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

“CSC is governed by the Correctional and Conditional Release Act and it's our duty to provide health care to inmates within federal correctional institutions. We are required to provide essential care. Vaccination is one of those aspects of care regarded as essential,” Worthington said.

Worthington says CSC works closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada  and it has received doses of the Moderna vaccine.

The first shipment will immunize approximately 600 older offenders nationally, prioritized by age and underlying medical conditions. 

Worthington said he doesn’t know when CSC receive more vaccines and doesn’t anticipate that will happen in the next 30 days.

Justin Piche, an associate professor of criminology in the social sciences department at the University of Ottawa, is in favour of inmates receiving the vaccine and says federal prisoners are becoming infected with COVID-19 at least 5 times the rate of the general population.

“With 1,196 positive federal prisoner cases and around 12,528 prisoners (on December 27) we arrive at 9.5%, for a rate of roughly 1 out of every 10 federal prisoners,” Piche said.

Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert had an outbreak of COVID-19 in December, and currently has 72 active cases among inmates in maximum and medium-security units. Some staff at the facility also tested positive are off work due to their condition. 

The RPC is one of five CSC facilities across Canada where vaccines will be distributed from the current supply.