SASKATOON -- Physical distancing recommendations and strict laws around how many people can gather at one time were not being followed at a Saskatoon prison, according to union members at the Regional Psychiatric Centre (RPC).

Correctional Service Canada (CSC) says it is doing its part to protect staff and inmates at RPC. In a statement to CTV News, CSC said it has modified routines across its institutions to limit “comings and goings,” suspending all visits to inmates, work release orders for offenders and all prison transfers.

The CSC adds that group education and programs in the centre have been suspended and says it is in close contact with local public health officials for advice and consultation.

But an anonymous letter, dated March 30, written by ‘a concerned member of the public’ details a different account, describing an evolving and unsafe situation at the prison.

CTV News reached out to union members who corroborated the contents of the anonymous letter. The letter claims RPC management is ignoring provincial physical-distancing orders, which is placing corrections workers at risk amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A union member, who CTV has agreed not to name out of fear of retaliation, said RPC was under a lockdown but claims it was lifted Friday, March 27.

The CSC confirms the prison is currently not under lockdown.

Before the lockdown, the letter claims directions on social distancing, group encounters and proper hand washing were ignored.

The letter also references four Saskatoon Correctional workers who tested positive for COVID-19. That number now sits at five, although those workers are employed at the Saskatoon Provincial Correctional Facility—not RPC.

The union member CTV News spoke to said RPC has agreed to a routine limiting inmate movement by keeping them in their cells and allowing fewer inmates out at one time.

COVID-19 a 'joke' for some

James Bloomfield, regional president for the union representing corrections workers (UCCO-SACC-CSN) said RPC is facing challenges during the pandemic because of a dense population in the prison. He added his members report encountering inmates who aren’t abiding by physical-distancing recommendations, adding his members are challenged by inmates who aren’t taking this pandemic seriously.

He said the union is working with the employer to see what repercussions can be handed down to inmates.

“Some think it’s a joke, depending on what institution you’re at,” he said.

The letter claims RPC already has poor hygiene because of the inmates and inadequate personal protective equipment.

CSC said in a statement it has enhanced cleaning protocols, including disinfecting common areas of contact, and it continues to educate staff and offenders around prevention and the spread of illness.

CSC adds it will continue to work with Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, and its union in taking the necessary steps to ensure everyone’s safety.