Bonnie Welsh is concerned for the well-being of her brother and dozens of others in remand at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Burnside, N.S.
She says for the past few months, she’s regularly received distressed calls from her brother about being locked in his cell for the majority of the day.
“Some days, some guys don’t get out long enough to even have a shower,” Welsh said.
Welsh says her brother has had his sentencing repeatedly delayed due to the pandemic but that’s not the main concern causing him to experience a significant decline in his mental health.
“He hasn’t had fresh air, been outdoors and had fresh air in like six weeks,” she said.
Welsh says when her brother and other inmates advocate for more out-of-cell time, they’re told it’s not possible due to a shortage of correctional officers.
Jason MacLean is the president of the union representing correctional officers in Nova Scotia.
He says issues with staffing shortage in correctional facilities, particularly Central Nova, aren’t new.
“I know the superintendents in all these facilities have been putting into the public service commission asking for help, meaning they want to do some hires, there was a hiring freeze put on, an unofficial hiring freeze,” he said.
MacLean says there is a need for the correctional service division to undergo a reform.
He feels the insufficient hiring of adequate correctional officer hiring come down to a lack of political will.
“Corrections don’t buy votes,” he said.
Criminal defence lawyer Hanna Garson says liberty deprivation was an issue at the correctional facility long before the pandemic existed.
“Not being able to get out of your cell, depriving you of the time to make the phone calls that you need. Not only the rights you have to connect with your family and friends through phone calls, which is incredibly important but also, perhaps, speaking with your lawyer, preparation for trial,” Garson said.
Garson feels the ability to assist people with their rehabilitation process is hindered when their access to time outside of their cell is significantly restricted without just cause.
“Is the destruction of people’s mental health through lockdown going to achieve that in any way?” she said.
An interview request with the Nova Scotia justice department was declined.
A statement reads 14 correctional officers are being hired for Burnside, but some activities are being restricted due to COVID-19 protocols.
That response doesn’t cut it for Welsh, who feels staff shortages should have been addressed long before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“These people are still human beings, they’re not throwaways,” she said.