Cases of COVID-19 in the Saskatoon jail continued to climb Friday amid calls from family and advocates to release inmates.
As of 4 p.m. Friday, the Saskatoon Correctional Centre had 80 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the inmate population, while 19 staff had the virus, according to a statement from the ministry responsible for corrections.
There were 85 active cases at the jail Thursday.
Every adult correctional centre, along with three youth facilities, had confirmed cases Friday. Saskatoon’s jail is the only one with more than three cases.
Jennifer Lounsbury’s 31-year-old son Alex is awaiting sentencing for auto theft. In an interview, she told Global News she said it feels like she’ll get a phone call stating her son has contracted the novel coronavirus.
“He’s not doing very well. He’s very concerned with the COVID. They all are down there,” Lounsbury said.
She wants him released with an ankle bracelet while waiting to learn his fate. Lounsbury is also concerned that her son’s mental health issues will be exacerbated by the COVID-19 outbreak in the jail.
Remanded and sentenced prisoners are being transferred to jails in Regina and Prince Albert. Temporary structures will be set up at the Saskatoon jail, but there is no timeline for them to become operational, according to Noel Busse, spokesperson for the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety.
Portable trailers are already useable in Regina.
“We are working with public health authorities to ensure that we are doing everything we can to reduce the likelihood of further spread of the virus within the facility,” said Busse said.
On Thursday, the ministry said there were no plans for early release of sentenced inmates. The John Howard Society considers it one way to reduce jail populations and increase physical distancing.
Lisa Watson, co-president of the Saskatoon Criminal Defence Lawyers Association, told Global News early releases make sense, particularly for non-violent offenders.
“They can be on conditions, they can be released into the community and the community can have some comfort in that,” Watson said.
Public prosecutions can also release remanded inmates.
Watson also addressed the newly introduced mandatory masking measures for all inmates in Saskatchewan’s jails.
“While I’m happy that they’re now being provided masks, it seems as though it may be too little too late,” she said.
There were 329 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Saskatchewan Friday, bringing the active case total to 3,263.