SASKATOON -- Inmates at the Prince Albert Correctional Centre (PACC) say they need better access to health care.

Brandon Holmes said his knee injury coupled with a recent leg surgery leaves him barely able to walk. With troubles getting a crutch or knee brace, he said he’s resorted to tying towels around his knee for support. He said he weighed 250 pounds when he was arrested in October and has since started starving himself to alleviate the pressure.

Holmes said he’s had to wait up to almost two weeks to get a crutch and then it was taken away.

“I’m just trying to help myself so I don’t have to be in pain … I know my rights and I know that I have limited status in here, but I’m not going to give up on my beliefs and on my rights system,” he said.

Holmes said he had to have surgery on infected dog bites on his leg. He believes the surgery could have been prevented without a delay in scheduling a doctors appointment, caused by a high demand for medical attention among inmates.

Joseph Waterhen, also a PACC inmate, said he’s experiencing barriers to addictions treatment. He said staff denied him from spending the last month of his sentence in treatment.

“I have a disease,” he said. “It’s a cycle, and this is where I’m trying to find help for my addiction problem.”

Waterhen said he’s been in youth centres, the federal penitentiary and the provincial correctional systems about seven times. He said there’s no addictions programming or counselling because of overcrowding.

“How am I expected to have a successful gradual release into the community when I’m not finding the help that I need and deserve,” he said.

Sherri Maier, an advocate for inmates, said she’s had several inmates at provincial and federal correctional facilities contact her with concerns about access to health care, particularly mental health.

“Some of them almost seem to have to attempt suicide just to get any kind of medical treatment,” she said.

“It lacked before, but with COVID, it’s even worse, getting psychiatric help — good luck.”

Maier said it seems like there’s enough staff at jails, especially in the federal system, but that “they’re not willing to work with the inmates.”

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice said in a statement that inmates can request medical attention at any point during incarceration.

“The ministry contracts with health professionals to meet the basic health and mental health needs of inmates,” reads the statement.

“Medical mobility equipment is provided if ordered by a physician and/or required as a result of the nursing assessment. Staff monitors the use of these items, which may be discontinued in instances of misuse. In those instances, all possible alternative options are then considered.”

Holmes questions how many other inmates are in a similar situation, knowing the extent of his and Waterhen’s barriers to health care.

“If that’s two of us, how many other people are there?” he asked. “We have the best health care in the world, supposedly.

“There’s people suffering in here.”

With files from Lisa Risom