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More than 100 federal inmates, corrections officers test positive for COVID-19

COVID-19: Preventing prison outbreaks in Canada
WATCH: Concerns are growing about the health and safety of inmates and workers in Canada's jails and prisons, with COVID-19 cases confirmed in multiple correctional centres. Ross Lord explains.

According to government and union numbers released this weekend, more than 100 inmates and corrections officers working at Canadian federal institutions have now tested positive for COVID-19.

The Correctional Service of Canada’s latest data on Saturday shows 61 inmates in six facilities across the country have tested positive for the deadly illness. The Union of Canadian Corrections Officers confirmed Saturday that 56 officers were infected at four of those facilities, plus an additional institution in Quebec.

The cases are split between British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. Yet the medium-security Mission Institution in B.C. has seen the largest outbreak within a prisoner population, with 25 inmates and four correctional officers testing positive as of Saturday.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: 25 inmates, 3 staff infected as COVID-19 outbreak in B.C. prison worsens

The prison has been locked down, and the CSC says it is still waiting on the results from tests of 15 other inmates.

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A single inmate has tested positive at a second B.C. facility, the Pacific Regional Treatment Centre. The CSC later clarified that patient is another inmate at Mission Institution, and was transferred to the Abbotsford facility for treatment.

In Quebec, 33 correctional officers and 16 inmates have tested positive at the Joliette Institution for Women, marking the highest number of cases among officers at a single federal facility. At the Port-Cartier Institution, 10 inmates and 16 officers are confirmed to be positive with COVID-19, while a sole inmate at the medium-security Federal Training Centre in Laval has been infected.

Two officers have tested positive at the Donaconna Institution outside Quebec City.

Coronavirus outbreak: inmates at Chicago prison hang ‘we’re dying’ signs after 276 test positive for COVID-19
Coronavirus outbreak: inmates at Chicago prison hang ‘we’re dying’ signs after 276 test positive for COVID-19

Ontario has seen an outbreak at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, where eight inmates and one correctional officer are now confirmed to be infected. A single staff member has also tested positive at Beaver Creek Medium Institution north of Toronto.

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Lockdowns have also been mandated at those facilities, the officers’ union has confirmed, with no staff allowed in or out.

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Across Canada’s federal inmate population, 278 tests for COVID-19 have been performed, 159 of which have come back negative, the CSC says. Officials are still waiting for the results from 58 tests, including the 15 at Mission Institution.

The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers was not available to comment.

READ MORE: Judges release growing number accused of violent crimes due to COVID-19 fears

The CSC says it has stepped up its cleaning measures at all facilities, particularly for common areas, and is working to educate both staff and inmates on proper hygiene.

It has also worked to enforce physical distancing among inmates, including limiting groupings and splitting symptomatic patients from the general population. Employees are screened when entering and exiting facilities, and those who aren’t deemed essential are allowed to work from home.

Visits to institutions have been suspended, as have work release programs and group education activities.

The agency opened the door on Friday to the possible early release of some inmates.

Correctional Service of Canada takes steps to prevent COVID-19 entering prisons
Correctional Service of Canada takes steps to prevent COVID-19 entering prisons

“We are working closely with the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) to examine all options with respect to the safe release of offenders into the community,” said the CSC in a statement.

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“We are currently conducting an analysis of the offender population to be in a position to make evidence-based recommendations.”

Lawyers and advocates have called for the release of non-violent offenders, with some saying they should be housed in vacant hotels until the pandemic clears.

On Wednesday, the CSC said critical staff and contractors will now have to wear masks “when they are required to be within two metres of another person, including inmates, other staff and contractors.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Grand Valley inmates in Kitchener on lockdown over infections, guards union says

The officers’ union said those masks will be provided to members as they enter their facilities, and each mask can be used for two shifts. The union said it was working to ensure enough masks and other requested personal protective equipment can be secured for all institutions.

The number of inmates and correctional officers at provincial jails and other correctional facilities have yet to be fully gathered, yet some — like the Toronto South Detention Centre and the Okanagan Correctional Centre in B.C. — have reported cases.

Global News has reached out to all provincial ministries for updates on how many cases have been confirmed and how many tests have been conducted.

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Those ministries have echoed CSC in committing to enhanced cleaning of common areas and enforcing physical distancing as much as possible to limit the spread of COVID-19.

—With files from Simon Little and Srushti Gangdev