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

Dr. Christine Perkins is the new superintendent of schools for the Vernon School District, effective Aug. 1. Perkins moves to the North Okanagan from the Kootenay Lake School District in Nelson. (Vernon School District photo)
Vernon School District names new superintendent

Dr. Christine Perkins moves from Kootenay Lake district to take over from the retiring Joe Rogers

Vernon Public Art Gallery executive director Dauna Kennedy and board member Kyle Britton accept a $43,400 grant from the BC Arts Council one-time StrongerBC fund amid the COVID-19 pandemic April 9, 2021. (VPAG)
$43K boost for Vernon gallery

Province backs local art gallery with one-time pandemic grant

A 46-year-old man from Armstrong died in Revelstoke hospital after being injured in the Lumby area. (File photo)
Armstrong snowmobiler dies in Revelstoke hospital

46-year-old man injured in Tsuius Mountain area of Monashees around Lumby area

Part of the massive mess left behind in a Spallumcheen rental home owned by Wes Burden, whose tenants bolted from the property in the middle of the night. Burden is now facing a hefty cleaning and repair bill as a result. (Photo submitted)
Spallumcheen landlord’s home trashed by tenants

Rooms filled with junk, garbage, human and animal feces; landlord scared to rent again

B.C. wineries are open for indoor tasting despite new provincial health regulations. Photo- 
50th Parallel Winery, Instagram.
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

The Red Pill Rapper performs to the crowd gathered for the Rally For Food Security at Blackburn Park on Saturday, April 10, 2021. (Kristal Burgess Photography)
The Red Pill Rapper performs to the crowd gathered for the Rally For Food Security at Blackburn Park on Saturday, April 10, 2021. (Kristal Burgess Photography)
Suspicion of ‘fake news media’ makes rally uncomfortable for Salmon Arm event photographer

More than 300 people counted at city park for ‘Rally For Food Security’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

The former Summerland Asset Development Initiative building on Prairie Valley Road in Summerland was suggested as the site for a temporary transitional housing facility for the community. However, Summerland council has rejected this proposal. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Summerland council rejects transitional housing facility

Concerns raised about short timeline and condition of municipally-owned building

Shayla, an 8-pound black and grey Havanese, was stolen from outside a store on Banks Road on Saturday. (Contributed)
Stolen pup located, Kelowna RCMP confirms

Mounties said on April 12 that Shayla, the 8-pound, black and grey Havanese dog, has been located safe and sound

Penticton Vees continue their winning streak carrying a 5-0 win title as of Sunday night's hockey action. (Cherie Morgan/Cherie Morgan Photography)
Penticton Vees continue winning streak

Sunday night’s 6-1 win has them with five in a row since the start of the season

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Most Read