Families, Opposition want Sask. inmates prioritized for vaccines as outbreaks continue

·4 min read
A COVID-19 outbreak has been declared at the Regina Provincial Correctional Centre. Family members of inmates say they're concerned for their loved ones inside. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
A COVID-19 outbreak has been declared at the Regina Provincial Correctional Centre. Family members of inmates say they're concerned for their loved ones inside. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

Christine Mosquito says her son, an inmate at the Regina Provincial Correctional Centre, said his COVID-19 symptoms came on in stages.

First, his chest became sore and his bones started to ache, he told her. Eventually, he lost both his sense of taste and smell.

That was three weeks ago and now, as an outbreak continues at the provincial centre, Mosquito is worried for the health of her son, and everyone else inside.

It's obvious COVID-19 restrictions are weighing heavily on her son, who has been at the facility for roughly three months, she said.

"You can hear it in his voice," she said. "Like he wanted to cry — he had that shaky voice."

The Regina Correctional Centre is currently under strict COVID-19 restrictions after more than 100 cases of the illness were recorded in both inmates and staff.

That's resulted in some inmates being kept in their cells for up to 23-and-a-half hours a day, being let out briefly for things like phone calls and showers.

'Dogs are treated better than this'

Mosquito says this has resulted in instances where her son has had to use a garbage pail as a bathroom, as inmates in isolation have to ask to use the washroom and in some cases can't wait.

"It's bad," she said. "Even dogs are treated better than this."

An official with the Ministry of Corrections says while there have been instances where inmates in isolation have used a waste pail as a toilet, by no means is it endorsed or official policy.

Correctional staff work to get inmates access to a washroom as quickly as possible as soon as it's safe to do so, and only a limited number of cells at the facility don't have built-in facilities, the spokesperson said.

But with outbreaks again breaching the walls of the provincial jails, Mosquito says both inmates and staff at the facility should get priority access to COVID-19 vaccination, to help slow the spread of the illness in a facility where close quarters and shared spaces are common.

"For them to be locked up in there is so unreal in those conditions," she said.

Christine Mosquito says inmates are going through a challenging time in the Regina Provincial Correctional Centre. She has a son who is serving time on the inside. She's worried for his safety, and the safety of other inmates.
Christine Mosquito says inmates are going through a challenging time in the Regina Provincial Correctional Centre. She has a son who is serving time on the inside. She's worried for his safety, and the safety of other inmates. (Submitted by Christine Mosquito )

She says she's afraid to tell her grandchildren and her mom about the fact her son has caught COVID-19, as she doesn't want to create worry for those already concerned.

"For me, it's really heartbreaking," she said.

Vaccinate inmates, NDP says

Inmates are getting vaccinated as they become eligible by age, and the province will soon start to share statistics on how many are being vaccinated weekly.

But critics say the process is flawed.

The Opposition New Democratic Party called on the Saskatchewan Party government to prioritize corrections workers and inmates for vaccination. The party's human rights critic, Meara Conway, says the decision to leave them out creates further risk of outbreaks and strain on the health-care system.

During question period Friday, Conway said that point was made at a physician town hall on Thursday. She accused the government of ignoring advice from the province's own doctors.

"The SHA [Saskatchewan Health Authority] expert panel, the oversight committee, the Ministry of Health cautioned this government not once, [but] numerous times to vaccinate inmates," the MLA for Regina Elphinstone-Centre said.

"The only congregate living setting not targeted for vaccination was our correctional centres, despite increased health vulnerabilities [and] overcrowding," she said, pointing to outbreaks at provincial centres in both Regina and Saskatoon.

Health officials said earlier this week those outbreaks were "variant-driven."

Justice Minister and Attorney General Gordon Wyant refuted Conway's claim his government has ignored the advice of doctors, saying it takes the health and safety of those living and working inside the correctional facilities seriously.

"We've put in place a number of protocols to make sure that we can protect our inmates," said Wyant, pointing to screening and health measures in place and claiming Saskatchewan has the "best vaccine rollout program in Canada."

He argued the province would prioritize more groups if vaccines were available.

"I'd ask her [Conway], if she wants us to start prioritizing inmates, who are we going to take those vaccines from?" Wyant said.

"Are we going to take them from seniors? Are we going to take them from police officers?"

Wyant said the government is in constant communication with correctional and health officials to protect everyone in the sector "as best we can."