'They shouldn't be sentenced to death': Inmates' families protest handling of COVID-19 at Saskatoon Correctional Centre
SASKATOON -- A small group of protesters showed up outside Saskatoon Correctional Centre on Tuesday morning, concerned about the treatment of inmates during an outbreak of COVID-19.
On Monday, there were 116 active cases of the virus amoung inmates and 26 among staff, according to Saskatchewan Government Employees' Union.
“I'm gonna stand out here and freeze, because nobody's listening to them in there, they need somebody out here to help them,” said Chantelle Reimer, who’s partner Tyler Magnus has been in the centre for just under three months.
“There's no social distancing, his bunks are about two feet apart, and he can touch shoulder to shoulder. There's one shower for 20 men that has a crack in the floor with black mold growing out of it,” she said.
“Their food portions have been cut down a lot now because of the COVID. They got cut off their canteens, so they don't get extra fluids like tea or coffee to help them get through it.”
Reimer, carrying a sign that says ‘Inmates are people too’, says Magnus is sick. He hasn’t tested positive for COVID-19, but it’s only a matter of time before he does, she said.
“He's living with 16 other people that tested positive,” she said. “He's going to get it. So it's just like, it's a death sentence. You don't know if you'll make it out.”
Reimer’s son Drake was there as well, carrying a sign saying “Release remand.”
“I love him very much,” he said of Magnus. “I miss him a lot.”
Jennifer Lounsbury showed up in support of her son Alex, who’s been in the centre “a couple of months”.
“He's not feeling very well, he's scared to death. He's going to have the COVID,” she said. “I'm going to stay here until they do something for these inmates that have it and don't have it, because they have no rights at all in there.”
“They shouldn't be sentenced to death, is basically what it is. Because they did a crime does not mean that they deserve this treatment.”
The John Howard Society is one of four groups, including the Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan, Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan, and Classic, an inner city legal clinic in Saskatoon, to send a letter to the Government of Saskatchewan on Tuesday, calling on it to address the issue of safety for inmates and facility staff.
“Saskatchewan holds inmates on what's called remand at twice the national average, so we're calling for that number to be brought down,” said Pierre Hawkins with John Howard Society.
“The fact is that that's only supposed to be used when absolutely necessary, and in Saskatchewan we use it more than that, so half of people in Saskatchewan correctional facilities are on remand. We would like the number of people held on remand to be brought down.”
Hawkins says they’re asking that the incarcerated population “who are elderly, immunocompromised, non-violent offenders” who are “susceptible to to complications from COVID-19” be released into the community.
“There are many people in Saskatchewan serving sentences in the community,” he said. “They are managed and monitored by the correctional system. We have the structures in place required to do that kind of work with those kinds of sentences, and so we think that those should be used more.”
Saskatchewan Minister of Corrections, Policing, and Public Safety Christine Tell says the province has “no ability to release people that are on remand” or to release “sentenced offenders”.
“They are remanded by a court or justice of the peace, they are sentenced to serve an offense, serve the time for an offense by the court,” she said.
“Remember that our correctional facilities are the back end of the entire system, so we can't say we're not going to take people. We have to take people, there's no such thing as as no vacancy sign, regardless of what we're dealing with. That's not up to us at all, and we have we have no ability to affect that particular initiative.”
Tell also says there’s “no possible way for us to find out” how the virus managed to get into the facility, and while there are precautions like enhanced cleaning measures, hand sanitizer for staff and inmates, and mandatory masks, they aren’t able to “guarantee social distancing in a correctional facility” with only “so much bed space.”
“We have other facilities in the province and if need be, some of the offenders will be moved there,” she said. “If we have to take some out to Prince Albert, or Regina, depending on the nature of the offense and all of that.
“At this point in time that's about all we can do.”