SGEU wants correctional centre staff and inmates given priority for vaccinations

·3 min read
About 670 inmates are housed at the Regina Correctional Centre. Only seven inmates of 2,000 in Saskatchewan's provincial correctional centres received vaccinations at community sites, according to the government.  (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
About 670 inmates are housed at the Regina Correctional Centre. Only seven inmates of 2,000 in Saskatchewan's provincial correctional centres received vaccinations at community sites, according to the government. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

Despite active COVID-19 cases tripling in one week at Regina's Correctional Centre, staff and inmates were left off the government's list of health-care workers and first responders getting prioritized for vaccines.

And that decision puts correctional staff, their families and the community at increased risk of contracting COVID-19, said Barry Nowoselsky, public service government employment chair with the Saskatchewan Government Employees Union (SGEU), which represents correctional staff across the province.

"Government's dropped the ball on this. They dropped the ball and they're putting people's lives in jeopardy," Nowoselsky said.

On Monday the Saskatchewan government announced changes to its mostly age-based vaccine rollout. First-responders, front-line health workers, pharmacy staff and some grocery store workers are now eligible for the vaccine, even if their age category isn't up.

Staff and inmates at correctional facilities were not included in the update.

Of the approximately 2,000 inmates living in adult and youth provincial correctional facilities, only seven have received vaccinations at community vaccination sites, according to an email from the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety.

Nowoselsky said that by refusing to prioritize both inmates and correctional centre staff for vaccines, the province is allowing COVID-19 to spread in those centres.

As of late Monday, 57 inmates at the Regina Correctional Centre were listed as positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the government's latest numbers.

An additional 13 staff had also tested positive for the coronavirus.

That's up substantially from last week when the centre had 17 inmates and five staff members testing positive.

Spreadsheet on COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan Provincial Correctional Centres on April 12, 2021
Spreadsheet on COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan Provincial Correctional Centres on April 12, 2021(submitted by Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety)

"Somebody should not have to die before they take it upon themselves to do the right thing and have these people vaccinated. All the staff in those facilities and the inmates should be vaccinated as a priority," Nowoselsky said.

More than 400 staff work at the Regina Correctional Centre, which houses about 670 inmates, according to the SGEU. Provincewide there are about 2,200 provincial correctional staff working at both adult and youth facilities, according to the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety.

Nowoselsky said high rates of COVID-19 in correctional centres impacts people living and working beyond those walls.

"Staff go home on a daily basis, and that's a pathway right back into the community for the virus to spread. And government not reacting to that is simply irresponsible," Nowoselsky said.

The SGEU has sent letters to the province asking for voluntary on-site rapid COVID testing at correctional centres as well as priority vaccinations for staff and inmates at adult and youth provincial correctional facilities.

No response from government

Nowoselsky said the province hasn't responded to either request.

He said the government is also ignoring the Saskatchewan Health Authority's (SHA) own vaccine rollout plan by failing to vaccinate correctional centre staff and inmates.

Nowoselsky said the SHA originally planned to vaccinate inmates and staff at provincial correctional facilities as a priority group in Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout. That phase included vaccinations for residents and staff of shared living facilities, according to an SHA letter to the SGEU.

By that measure, inmates and staff should already have been vaccinated, said Nowoselsky.

"Corrections is working with the Ministry of Health and the Saskatchewan Health Authority to facilitate vaccinations within provincial correctional facilities," stated an emailed response from the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety.

According to the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), which operates federal correctional centres, about 600 of its medically vulnerable inmates have already been vaccinated with the remaining inmates to start receiving vaccinations in mid-April, according to the CSC website.

"Residents and staff of congregate living settings, such as correctional institutions, are included as priorities in phase two, as they are in higher-risk environments," the CSC's website stated.