Sask. corrections minister says province unable to release inmates from Saskatoon jail

·2 min read

The minister in charge of Saskatchewan jails says the province is unable to release prisoners from the Saskatoon Correctional Centre.

Corrections and Policing Minister Christine Tell says the government is doing all it can to protect the inmates and staff at the jail.

In the past 10 days, the number of staff and inmates testing positive for COVID-19 at the centre has gone from zero to 142.

A variety of people, advocacy groups and support groups are calling for the targeted release of inmates from the centre. According to the government, such decisions would be made by Public Prosecutions.

In the spring, Public Prosecutions moved to reduce the numbers in the province's jails. It instructed prosecutors to review all new arrests with an eye to keeping non-violent accused out of jail. Both orders were a response to fears about the COVID-19 coronavirus getting into the jail system.

"As new arrests come in, they will be assessed with the COVID-19 situation and the situation in the correctional centres in mind," assistant deputy attorney general Anthony Gerein said in March.

"But we will also be assessing people who are currently on remand to determine whether or not there should be any change to their status."

On Tuesday, Christine Tell defended the government's role and said it doesn't know how the virus got into the jail.

"We do quarantine everyone that comes into the facility. Why it came into the facility with all the precautions, I can't answer that," she said.

She said the jail has been taking precautions to slow the spread, including mandatory masking, no longer charging inmates for soap and banning visitors.

NDP MLA Nicole Sarauer said the province's handling and response should cost Tell her cabinet position.

Tell said the government will not review how COVID-19 was able to get into the facility. Sarauer said that is not good enough.

"This is a minister who shouldn't be a minister anymore," Sarauer said.