The Toronto South Detention Centre is shown in Toronto on October 3, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

The Toronto South Detention Centre is shown in Toronto on October 3, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Advocates critique rising jail figures in some provinces after initial COVID-19 fall

Only the federal prison systems and British Columbia’s system continued a decreasing trend over the summer

A report by advocates for Canadian inmates is criticizing the rising rates of incarceration in at least two provincial jail systems amid the continuing pandemic.

About a year after the first COVID-19 cases emerged in Ontario jails, the update by the Prison Pandemic Partnership says the risk to inmates increases when there is less space.

The partnership — which includes the Centre for Access to Information and Justice, the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association — estimates that more than 7,000 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to Canadian jails and prisons, including over 5,000 infections among prisoners.

It says at the outset of the pandemic, from March through June last year, prison populations across the country fell in an effort to increase the space available and enable physical distancing.

However, the study used Statistics Canada data to show that most provincial and territorial jail systems started to put more people back in jail over the summer.

By September last year, incarceration rates had gone back up — though still remaining below pre-pandemic levels — in Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon.

Only the federal prison systems and British Columbia’s system continued a trend over the summer of decreasing their populations.

The federal prison population, which was at about 13,891 last February, fell five per cent to 13,141 by June, after the first wave of COVID-19, and as of January this year it was down 10 per cent to 12,500 prisoners.

However, in Ontario, where the jail population initially dropped to 5,811 from 8,269 last June, the figures have been going up. As of Monday, the number of people in custody had reached 7,131.

In Nova Scotia, there were about 440 people in custody pre-pandemic, which fell to 268 by June last year, but the figure had rebounded to 353 as of Monday.

In contrast, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan have continued downward trends in jail populations since September, the report notes.

The partnership didn’t have recent data on inmate counts for Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Yukon and Newfoundland and Labrador.

“The rising incarceration rates in some jurisdictions, particularly in Ontario where a number of provincial jails and prisons have experienced large outbreaks since December 2020, is deeply concerning,” the report says.

“Crowded congregate settings are susceptible to large outbreaks of COVID-19.”

The report notes that in most jurisdictions, vaccination campaigns targeting prison settings have yet to begin.

The partnership says it is calling upon federal, provincial and territorial governments to “act now by ramping up efforts to divert and decarcerate people from custody accompanied by supports in the community, such as housing.”

Andrew Morrison, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Solicitor General in Ontario, said the issuing of more temporary absences to people who serve custody on weekends is “allowing (inmates) to serve their time in the community.”

He noted the ministry is working with police, courts and others in the justice system to reduce the numbers coming into custody but added the department must still “ensure community safety remains paramount.”

In Nova Scotia, Justice Department spokeswoman Heather Fairbairn said there are no active cases of COVID-19 in the province’s jails, and there have been only two cases to date.

“We continue to manage admissions and releases as we have since March 2020, with eligible inmates considered for temporary absence and early release,” she wrote in an email on Monday.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusCrime

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C.’s public health restrictions on non-essential travel are reinforced by orders effective April 23, 2021 to stay within your own regional health authority except for essential travel such as work and medical appointmens. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 non-essential travel ban takes effect, $575 fines approved

Checks on highways, ferries between Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, Interior

Carter Spring
Dynamiter’s Spring ready for next challenge with Ice Wolves

Submitted by EMANUEL SEQUIERA Kimberley Dynamiter Carter Spring is ready to make… Continue reading

Kimberley case counts not at the point for 18 years and older community vaccination, says Interior Health. (File photo)
Many factors considered for smaller community-wide vaccination: Interior Health

East Kootenay resort town’s COVID-19 situation not at the point of community-wide vaccination, say officials

Richard Desautel with supporters outside the courthouse in Nelson, B.C., in 2017. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
UPDATED: Sinixt win historic decision at Supreme Court of Canada

The decision essentially reverses a 1956 declaration the Sinixt were extinct

Mark Skage and his son Mica during the filming of a West Kootenay episode of Start ‘em Young. Photo: Submitted
TV show films West Kootenay hunting trip

Start ‘Em Young aims to encourage kids to get out in the wilderness

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

Nic Hume and his fellow paramedic stopped to rescue the victim of an Oak Bay hit-and-run – a duck – at the end of their shift Thursday morning. (Nic Hume/Facebook)
B.C. paramedics don’t duck a chance to help someone in need

Ambulance duo end a long shift by helping a distressed duck in Victoria suburb

As the snow in Manning Park melts, searchers are able to get a little farther each day. Photo submitted
Family resumes search for son missing in B.C.’s Manning park since October

‘This is our child, and we don’t give up on our children,’ said mother of Jordan, Josie Naterer

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canada buys 65M Pfizer booster shots for protection against COVID-19 variants

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the deal with Pfizer includes options to add 30 million doses in both 2022 and 2023, and an option for 60 million doses in 2024

A plan flew over the Lower Mainland with a sign expressing some Canucks fans’ discontent with the team’s general manager. (Niqhil Velji - Twitter Screenshot)
#FireBenning movement gets off the ground in Metro Vancouver

Canucks fans raise enough money to fly banner over Metro Vancouver asking for team GM to be canned

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The freed osprey keeps a wary eye on its rescuers after being deposited on its nest. (Photo credit: Greg Hiltz)
Hydro crew in Ashcroft gets osprey rescue call-out they won’t soon forget

Bird was tangled in baling wire hanging from a hydro pole, necessitating a tricky rescue

The Sandhill Cranes had been feeding in a slough near the railway tracks and took flight when were disturbed by atrain. Bob Whetham photo
Urban wildlife Part X: The Kootenay birds of 2021

The work of local photographers in the Kootenay Advertiser in 2021. Part X. With links to Parts I-IX

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth speaks to media at the Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday February 5, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to announce travel restrictions today to limit COVID-19 spread

Mike Farnworth is expected to give details of what the government views as essential travel

Most Read