'Like animals': Former Sask. Penitentiary inmate critical of conditions during COVID-19
SASKATOON -- A former inmate of Saskatchewan Penitentiary is considering legal action against Correctional Service Canada (CSC) due to what she claims is disregard for her health and welfare while incarcerated.
“We need respect. We need that for our mental health. We’re treated like animals and we’re not animals, we’re human beings too,” Jasmine Vallee said.
She says she’s speaking out to let the public know what’s been going on inside.
Vallee tested positive for COVID-19 while serving a sentence in the medium security unit for domestic violence and robbery. She was in custody from February 2020 to June 11, 2021.
Vallee is transgender and says she was put in a separate unit in medium security for her safety.
She says the changes in the day-to-day operations of the jail were noticeable once the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Everyone on her range was not let outside for six months, she claims.
“I struggle with depression and suicidal ideation and living in my own head, I really needed to be outside,” Vallee said.
She alleges nurses would drop off medications on her range but they didn’t provide any health care to inmates. She also says she was denied medical and psychiatric care.
Vallee says she tested positive for COVID-19 while in jail and got sick.
“Health care only checked on me once. I was having severe asthma attacks, respiratory issues, and I needed health care. I pushed my panic button and nobody showed up,” Vallee said.
She says the guards stopped taking inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 off the range and left them in their cells.
Inmates were put under a 23.5 hour a day lockdown and only allowed out of their cells for about 15 minutes a day, she said.
Vallee says she thinks they did this in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19 but the confinement hurt her mental health.
She says addiction counselling, education courses, psychiatric consultations disappeared completely.
Vallee filed a written complaint while in jail but says she never got a response.
In response to an interview request, CSC spokesperson Kelly Dae Dash provided a written response to CTV News regarding Vallee’s allegations.
“During the timeframe you specify, Saskatchewan Penitentiary was experiencing outbreaks of COVID-19, which required an adaptive approach. We put in place a comprehensive testing strategy and worked to test, trace and medically isolate to prevent spread. This also required CSC to modify routines to ensure we could maintain layers of protection, including physical distancing,” Dash said.
Dash said programming at Sask Pen was also temporarily suspended during the outbreaks but once they were declared over, “inmate movements, including time outdoors, programming and employment resumed.”