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Saskatchewan rolling out video calls for inmates after in-person visits cancelled

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WATCH: It's been a rough few months for people in correctional facilities, but there is a bright spot in Saskatchewan as video visits have begun for inmates – Feb 9, 2021

Jason Morin’s fifth child will be born any day now, but he won’t get to hold the newborn.

Morin, 35, has been incarcerated at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre since October, serving a two-year sentence.

It’s been months since he’s seen his loved ones, but he’ll likely see them soon — not in person, but on video.

Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Corrections is rolling out virtual visitation this month, starting with the Saskatoon Correctional Centre last Monday.

Read more: COVID-19 outbreak at Saskatoon jail flagged as potentially fatal systemic failure

Morin is eager to meet his son.

“It’s going to be exciting,” Morin said in a phone interview.

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“It’s been pretty stressful, especially being in here and not being able to be out there with my kids.”

It’s a bright spot after a rough few months for Saskatchewan inmates, with COVID-19 outbreaks in correctional facilities across the province.

The corrections ministry cancelled in-person visits early in the pandemic as a safety precaution, so inmates have relied on phone calls.

Virtual visits have been in use at youth facilities since October, said ministry spokesperson Margherita Vittorelli. They’ll be rolled out to Regina Correctional Centre, Prince Albert Correctional Centre, Pine Grove Correctional Centre, Besnard Lake Correctional Camp and Saskatoon Correctional Centre Urban Camp by the end of the month.

Inmates won’t be charged for virtual visits, Vittorelli said, which will take place on tablets with secure connections.

“It’s better than not being able to see who you’re talking to,” Morin said. “A lot of people here have been waiting to see their family for a long time.”

Read more: Provinces should set targets for giving prison inmates coronavirus vaccine: advocates

A Saskatoon outreach worker said prisoners’ rights advocates have been pushing for this since summer.

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“Being able to see someone just changes… the conversations that people have,” said Stan Tu’Inukuafe, co-founder of STR8 UP, a gang rehabilitation organization.

“It’s hard for a lot of these individuals because they want to see their children; they want to see their partners. They know that they’re struggling out in the community.”

STR8 UP will help families without computers take part in virtual visits, potentially by loaning them tablets, he said.

The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has allowed video visits in federal prisons since 2016.

“Positive contact with family and friends is part of the process to ensure the successful reintegration of offenders,” CSC spokesperson Kyle Lawlor said in an emailed statement.

“To support the needs of inmates to maintain contact with friends and family members during the COVID-19 pandemic, CSC has installed additional video visitation kiosks across the country.”

Visitation kiosks (spaces with a computer, webcam and microphone) are available in all CSC institutions, with 102 kiosks across the country.

From April to December 2020, federal inmates took part in 41,635 video visits, Lawlor said.

Tu’Inukuafe said he’s glad a similar service has been made available to provincial inmates, but he hopes it doesn’t replace in-person visits.

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“I believe that this is one tool, but our end goal should still be able to have (in-person) visits,” he said.

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