CALGARY (660 NEWS) — Inmates housed at the Calgary Correctional Centre say their living conditions are inhumane while a COVID-19 outbreak continues to grow at the facility.
As of Tuesday, Alberta Health Services (AHS) reported 53 positive cases in inmates and 15 in staff members.
One inmate who spoke with 660 NEWS over the phone was worried he contracted the virus after claiming that quarantine protocols weren’t being followed.
He said inmates who were waiting for their test results were brought into his unit and weren’t isolated from him or other prisoners who weren’t showing any symptoms.
“Everybody was shaking hands, everybody was passing things and some of those guys were the ones who tested positive,” he said.
“Everybody who got moved over [to my unit] when they were waiting for results, they all tested positive.”
Tom Engel, a criminal defence lawyer who practices in prison law, has also heard stories from inmates who tested positive.
He explained inmates are living in overcrowded cells and those who test positive are sent to solitary confinement.
“They are double-bunked and there is only one bed in [solitary confinement]. So, the other prisoner is forced to sleep on the floor,” Engle said.
“This prisoner was in a cell at one point by himself but with a toilet that didn’t flush. It’s a pretty small cell and if you’re in a cell that doesn’t flush you can imagine what that’s like, especially when you have to eat in the cell.
“One prisoner was brought in and put into a bunk with a prisoner who had tested positive for COVID-19, but this prisoner had not yet tested positive and was stressed out by having the disease communicated to him.”
Engle also said inmates weren’t given hygiene supplies to sanitize their cells and provided masks after an outbreak was declared.
“These conditions have been found to be cruel and unusual treatment or punishment and are completely unacceptable.”
Blaise Boehmer, a spokesperson for Alberta Justice Minster Kaycee Madu, said in an email statement that the safety, security, and health of staff and inmates is a priority at Alberta’s correctional facilities.
“At the Calgary Correctional Centre, additional measures are being taken to help control and prevent further spread of COVID-19, including enhanced cleaning and PPE protection.
“By their nature, many of these protective health measures, such as isolating inmates to prevent the spread of infection, can result in changes such as separating inmates into different spaces than normal.
“Other changes can include adjusted routines, such as when an inmate is out of their space and the timing of meals, phone access, and laundry. Inmates still receive their basic needs, including meals, medications, and mattresses, and maintenance such as unclogging pipes is done as quickly as reasonably possible.”
The statement finishes by saying both staff and inmates are encouraged to raise any concerns and submit a complaint, which Engel called ‘a joke.’
“The track record of Alberta Correction and dealing with complaints is abysmal,” he said.
“They won’t do anything to address the complaints, and then they are told they can go to the ombudsman, which is another joke because the ombudsman doesn’t do anything.”
Engel believes the province should be focusing on reducing the number of people being housed and release inmates who are close to the end of their sentences.
“Prisoners can be released by the correctional service at any time on a temporary absent permit,” Engle said.
“They could be released on conditions to go and serve house arrest. And this has been something that we have been asking the government to deal with since around the end of March and they haven’t done anything.”