The Toronto South Detention Centre is shown in Toronto on October 3, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

The Toronto South Detention Centre is shown in Toronto on October 3, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Advocates critique rising jail figures in some provinces after initial COVID-19 fall

Only the federal prison systems and British Columbia’s system continued a decreasing trend over the summer

A report by advocates for Canadian inmates is criticizing the rising rates of incarceration in at least two provincial jail systems amid the continuing pandemic.

About a year after the first COVID-19 cases emerged in Ontario jails, the update by the Prison Pandemic Partnership says the risk to inmates increases when there is less space.

The partnership — which includes the Centre for Access to Information and Justice, the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association — estimates that more than 7,000 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to Canadian jails and prisons, including over 5,000 infections among prisoners.

It says at the outset of the pandemic, from March through June last year, prison populations across the country fell in an effort to increase the space available and enable physical distancing.

However, the study used Statistics Canada data to show that most provincial and territorial jail systems started to put more people back in jail over the summer.

By September last year, incarceration rates had gone back up — though still remaining below pre-pandemic levels — in Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon.

Only the federal prison systems and British Columbia’s system continued a trend over the summer of decreasing their populations.

The federal prison population, which was at about 13,891 last February, fell five per cent to 13,141 by June, after the first wave of COVID-19, and as of January this year it was down 10 per cent to 12,500 prisoners.

However, in Ontario, where the jail population initially dropped to 5,811 from 8,269 last June, the figures have been going up. As of Monday, the number of people in custody had reached 7,131.

In Nova Scotia, there were about 440 people in custody pre-pandemic, which fell to 268 by June last year, but the figure had rebounded to 353 as of Monday.

In contrast, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan have continued downward trends in jail populations since September, the report notes.

The partnership didn’t have recent data on inmate counts for Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Yukon and Newfoundland and Labrador.

“The rising incarceration rates in some jurisdictions, particularly in Ontario where a number of provincial jails and prisons have experienced large outbreaks since December 2020, is deeply concerning,” the report says.

“Crowded congregate settings are susceptible to large outbreaks of COVID-19.”

The report notes that in most jurisdictions, vaccination campaigns targeting prison settings have yet to begin.

The partnership says it is calling upon federal, provincial and territorial governments to “act now by ramping up efforts to divert and decarcerate people from custody accompanied by supports in the community, such as housing.”

Andrew Morrison, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Solicitor General in Ontario, said the issuing of more temporary absences to people who serve custody on weekends is “allowing (inmates) to serve their time in the community.”

He noted the ministry is working with police, courts and others in the justice system to reduce the numbers coming into custody but added the department must still “ensure community safety remains paramount.”

In Nova Scotia, Justice Department spokeswoman Heather Fairbairn said there are no active cases of COVID-19 in the province’s jails, and there have been only two cases to date.

“We continue to manage admissions and releases as we have since March 2020, with eligible inmates considered for temporary absence and early release,” she wrote in an email on Monday.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusCrime

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

Black Crow Cannabis is just one of Vernon's many pot shops now open in town. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Kelowna has highest cannabis fees in Okanagan

Vernon’s 14 stores pay second highest business licence fees

The Columbia Valley Wetlands are known for their extensive and fragile ecosystem. (File photo)
Wildsight speaks out against logging in Columbia Wetlands

Located 50 kms south of Golden, the proposed operation was justified as bark beetle management

Residents, especially those with yards with long grass and wooded areas, are encouraged to check themselves and their pets for ticks after being outside. Ticks have reportedly been found in Golden near the pump track. File photo
Ticks found in Golden as spring approaches

Between five and 10 people each year go to hospital in Golden for ticks

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

A North Okanagan man in his late 20s was flown to hospital by air ambulance Saturday, April 17, shortly after 6:30 p.m. after allegedly crashing on his longboard on a Spallumcheen roadway. (File photo)
Suspected longboard crash in Okanagan sends individual to hospital via air ambulance

Accident involved a North Okanagan man in his late 20s on Otter Lake Road in Spallumcheen

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

A Kelowna Pride Festival 2019 participant holds up a flag. (Kelowna Pride Society)
Kelowna Pride, RCMP continue to work on ‘Safe Place Program’

A new committee has been formed to refine the ‘Safe Place Program’ created by the Kelowna RCMP

Coldstream Fire Department crews stationed at Kal Lake Provincial Park parking lot on Cosens Bay Road on Sunday, April 18, after a car went over a cliff in the area. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)
Driver escapes after car goes over North Okanagan cliff

The driver has been transported to hospital with unspecified injuries

A strange odour at a West Kelowna apartment building prompted the evacuation of 150 residents on Sunday morning, April 18. (Aaron Hemens - Capital News)
Strange smell at West Kelowna apartment prompts evacuation of 150 residents, pets

150 residents ordered evacuated from a West Kelowna apartment building early Sunday morning

Vernon Vipers goalie Roan Clarke celebrates his team’s 3-2 B.C. Hockey League pod play shootout win over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks Saturday, April 17, at Kal Tire Place. (Lisa Mazurek - Vernon Vipers Photography)
Vernon Vipers use shootout to subdue Salmon Arm

Snakes score 3-2 B.C. Hockey League pod play win at Kal Tire Place

This is what’s left of a truck that caught fire at Pyramid Provincial Park off Highway 97 near Summerland Saturday night. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Photo Gallery: Truck gutted by fire at popular Okanagan park, trees saved

Just a metal shell of what once was a pick up truck is left at the scene

Most Read