Concerns over inmate crowding are being raised as COVID-19 cases at the Calgary Remand Centre have spiked significantly since Monday, with nearly 140 staff and inmates confirmed to have the illness.
Alberta Health Services said Thursday that 127 inmates currently at the facility have tested positive, along with five inmates who were previously released and are isolating at home.
Six staff members also contracted COVID-19 linked to the outbreak, as of Thursday, AHS said.
The case total has jumped by nearly 100 since Monday, when 42 cases were were confirmed at the centre — 41 inmates and one staff member.
“The increase in case numbers stems primarily from re-swabbing of previously negative cases conducted on Dec. 1 and 2,” AHS said in an emailed statement.
Teresa Bourque’s son David is one of the nearly 130 inmates who have tested positive at the facility. She said he was quarantined for 14 days when he first arrived at the centre before moving to a unit where he eventually contracted the virus, though he doesn’t have symptoms.
“There’s sixty people on the unit that have the virus and they’ve got them three bunked people per cell,” Teresa told Global News Thursday.
“There’s no social distancing. I don’t understand why they’re not doing more to protect them.
Teresa said she can hear worry in David’s voice when she talked to him on the phone, and she’s concerned that he will be in the centre for a while waiting to hear if he’ll get bail.
“I just want them to take more precautions for the people that are in there,” she said.
Defence lawyer Adriano Iovinelli also said he’s hearing inmates are being triple-bunked as the outbreak continues to spread in the remand centre, and the worsening situation is adding to an already stressful reality for those in custody.
“It’s already tense at the remand center on any occasion but especially around the holidays — before Christmas — now you add COVID on top of that, and segregation… it is very stressful there,” he said.
When asked about whether COVID-19-positive inmates were being triple-bunked, Alberta Justice and Solicitor General spokesperson Blaise Boehmer said “many of the protective health measures, such as medically isolating inmates to prevent infection spread, can result in changes such as separating inmates into different spaces than normal.”
“Inmates who have tested positive are separated into small groups, as per medical officer of health guidelines,” he said. “This aids physical distancing and restricts transmission between groups, as per AHS guidelines.”
The chair of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which represents correctional staff at the remand centre, said inmates are triple-bunked in less than 20 cells at the jail.
The AUPE also said keeping positive inmates together and, conversely, negative inmates together, is the best way to protect the entire inmate population.
In addition to the concerns around inmate safety, Iovinelli also said the outbreak situation is adding more pressure on the court system, which is already coping with significant changes.
In an email on Tuesday, Boehmer said “all non-urgent inmate movement has been suspended within the entire remand centre, and in or out of the affected units.”
The outbreak at the Calgary Remand Centre was first declared on Nov. 27.
All inmates and staff have been tested for the disease, and positive cases have been isolated and are being monitored, according to AHS.