COVID-19 cases at Calgary Correctional Centre more than double; numbers swell to 55

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Alberta prisoner advocates suggest early release amid COVID-19 outbreak
WATCH: There are two dozen positive COVID-19 cases at the Calgary Correctional Centre. The outbreak is renewing calls for a controversial move. As Jill Croteau reports, advocates suggest granting temporary release to some of the sick inmates – Oct 23, 2020

Fifty inmates and five staff members at the Calgary Correctional Centre have tested positive for COVID-19.

According to Alberta Health Services, the outbreak is linked to transmission of COVID-19 within the facility. The number of cases has more than doubled in a single day.

Read more: Hinshaw warns young Albertans that long-term effects of COVID-19 remain unknown

Lawyer and president of the Alberta Prison Justice System, Amanda Hart-Dowhun, said she supports granting temporary releases to the vulnerable inmates.

“That wouldn’t be appropriate for all inmates serving provincial sentences but there are a good chunk that do not pose a significant risk of re-offending,” Hart-Dowhun said. “The health risks of keeping them in these conditions are far higher and consequences are worse than if we release them on a temporary absence.”

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Without government action, prisoner advocates said outbreaks in provincial prisons will get worse.

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“Inmates, even when they are convicted of crimes, are still part of our community and they are still people.”

“It doesn’t stop with inmates. There are correctional officers, clerical staff and nurses and they are put at risk as well,” Hart-Dowhun said.

Read more: Some Alberta convicts move to house arrest to mitigate COVID-19 risk: official

Tasha Brown runs a prisoner pen pal service, Inmate Ink. She said she’s hearing from those incarcerated every week from all over Canada and the U.S.

“They are feeling helpless, hopeless, depressed and suicidal all because of a pandemic they had no control over,” Brown said.

She said the conditions on the inside are unacceptable.

“They are all on lockdown 23-and-a-half hours a day. In most jails, they’re lucky if they get out for a phone call or outside time since COVID started,” Brown said.

“People in jail are the forgotten society. These are sons daughters and fathers in there and they are suffering.”

AHS officials said all inmates are being tested and all units are in isolation. All transfers and admissions are suspended. Contact tracing for anyone potentially exposed to these individuals is ongoing.

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Read more: Alberta lawyers’ groups call for changes to prison system, early releases amid COVID-19

Infection prevention and control measures are in place including enhanced cleaning and PPE protection.

Staff undergo COVID-19 symptom screening prior to each shift.

AHS also said inmates are monitored and assessed at minimum, twice daily by AHS staff.

All cases report only mild symptoms.

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