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72 new coronavirus cases reported at Saskatoon Correctional Centre

Click to play video 'Coronavirus cases spike at Saskatoon Correctional Centre' Coronavirus cases spike at Saskatoon Correctional Centre
WATCH: COVID-19 cases at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre are soaring, with 72 new cases reported Thursday. Anna McMillan has the details – Nov 26, 2020

The Saskatchewan government said 72 of the 299 new coronavirus cases reported in the province on Thursday were at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre.

Officials said 68 of the infected are inmates and four are staff.

Read more: 16 COVID-19 cases reported among staff, inmates at Saskatchewan correctional centres

There are 85 active cases among prisoners and staff at the facility.

No new admissions are being allowed at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre at this time, with remanded and sentenced offenders redirected to facilities in Prince Albert or Regina.

Click to play video 'Alberta prisoner advocates suggest early release amid COVID-19 outbreak' Alberta prisoner advocates suggest early release amid COVID-19 outbreak
Alberta prisoner advocates suggest early release amid COVID-19 outbreak – Oct 23, 2020

Spokesperson Noel Busse said the ministry is confident it will be able to manage the increased prison population at those facilities.

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The ministry has set up portable trailers at the Regina and Saskatoon jails for added flexibility. Only the Regina units are operational, Busse said.

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He said the ministry is working with public health officials on measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 both within the centre and throughout the correctional system.

Among the measures is continuous mandatory masking for all offenders. Staff have been continuously masking since the summer, he said.

Inmates were previously only required to wear masks when showing symptoms of COVID-19, in isolation or moving throughout the facility. He said under the previous health order, it wasn’t mandatory for inmates to wear masks.

“In a lot of ways the common areas and the individuals cells … those are the offenders homes,” he said. “But given the current situation we will be making masks mandatory in common areas and other areas.”

Read more: New Saskatchewan public health measures for restaurants, sports teams

All new admissions to provincial correctional centres will be tested for COVID-19 starting next week and be quarantined for 14 days.

Officials said they are also working on ongoing testing of offenders and staff at all facilities.

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As of Wednesday evening, there was one positive case in a staff member at the Prince Albert jail. Busse said there were no active cases at Pine Grove Correctional Centre, while two inmates were infected along with one staff member at the Regina Correctional Centre.

‘More could have been done’ to prevent outbreaks

A lawyer with one prisoners’ rights group said the most likely way the virus enters a prison is through staff. He said a major outbreak was inevitable.

“When you have that many people living that close together, it’s impossible to social distance. It’s impossible to do enough cleaning, enough masking to prevent the disease from spreading like wildfire,” the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan’s Pierre Hawkins said.

Read more: Inmate populations decline across Canada amid coronavirus pandemic

But there is more the province could have done to prevent an outbreak, he said, like reducing prisoner populations.

Hawkins said it is going to be very difficult to contain the outbreak, and the ministry needs to ensure further outbreaks do not occur at other correctional centres in Saskatchewan.

“We have the ability and the responsibility both to social distance and to wear masks. Those are two things that, until this point for most inmates, have been impossible,” he said.

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Busse said Thursday there are no plans to release sentenced inmates in response to the outbreak. However, he believes public prosecutions is once again considering releasing some remanded inmates, as occurred in the spring.

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