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COVID-19 safety measures are insufficient at the Calgary Remand Centre, a former inmate says, despite Alberta’s top doctor backing the centre’s health and safety protocols.
The man, whom Postmedia agreed not to identify, spent time in the northwest facility in early May, which was confirmed through his lawyer. He said there was varied use of masks, lax physical distancing and limited cleaning procedures.
“I think since the beginning of the pandemic, everything was up for scrutiny as far as crowds and population distancing (in places) such as schools, malls, whatever,” said the man. “But there is no political appetite to discuss prisons. There’s not a lot of social interest in the well-being of prisoners.”
He said he read news articles quoting Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, and union representatives who expressed satisfaction with the safety measures in place at provincial correctional facilities and thought, “that’s not true.”
“A lot of the other prisoners aren’t going to speak up,” he said.
“There is certainly anxiety but you’re at the mercy of it all. When I did arrive at the arrest processing unit and also Calgary remand, it caused a lot of anxiety noticing a lot of guards selectively wearing masks and distancing sporadically, if at all. … And the cell I was put in clearly wasn’t cleaned.”
As of Wednesday, two inmates had tested positive for the novel coronavirus at the Calgary Remand Centre — the only confirmed cases in the province at correctional facilities. Health officials say the cases are unrelated and the product of community transmission prior to arriving at the facility.
When the former inmate interviewed for this article arrived at the Calgary Remand Centre, he was asked about his travel history, whether he was experiencing COVID-19 related symptoms and had his temperature checked.
He was then placed in an isolation unit for the duration of his stay, which he said was “visibly dirty.” He said there was limited access to soap, sparse cleaning of the unit and, again, sporadic use of masks and appropriate physical distancing. He later shared the cell with someone who was “clearly sick.”
Both men were tested for COVID-19 and released from the remand centre before knowing the results of their test, said the man who spoke with Postmedia. Days after his release he received his results — they were negative.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) said in a statement that in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice and the Solicitor General, they have a plan in place to minimize the risk presented by COVID-19 to inmates and corrections staff.
“We take the health and safety of patients, inmates and staff very seriously,” AHS said, adding all but five of the centre’s 362 inmates were swabbed for COVID-19. On Monday, AHS had received about 200 test results back and all were negative.
At the Calgary Remand Centre, inmates are confined to their cells when eating and are masked when waiting for video court appearances.
AUPE Local 003 chairman Scott Conrad, who is also a Calgary Remand Centre correctional officer, said the claims made by the inmate who spoke with Postmedia are “completely false.”
“The staff cannot physically distance when they are in the cubicles, in the units, but they are required to wear surgical masks and PPE (personal protective equipment) at all times,” said Conrad.
“Other than issuing PPE and having staff wear it all the time, having inmates wear it when they are symptomatic and having three quarantine units to deal with symptomatic, non-symptomatic and fresh arrests — so they don’t intermingle with general population inmates for 14 days — there is not much else we can do.”
Daniel Brown, vice-president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association , said the fear is that once the virus gets inside a facility, it will “spread like wildfire.”
He said the biggest concerns regarding incarceration facilities across Canada is overcrowding, minimal hygiene and challenges to physical distancing. That’s not to mention the pressure inmates feel to hide or obscure symptoms for fear of losing privileges for themselves and their peers.
“Right now, they’re mostly sitting ducks just waiting for the virus to show up,” said Brown.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020