Vaccination in N.S. jails expected 'within next week,' chief medical officer says

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HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health says inmates in the province's jails are expected to begin receiving their first doses of vaccine "within the next week."

Dr. Robert Strang said Monday that information on the procedures was being sent to corrections staff, as jails are considered priority locations during the province's expanded vaccine rollout.

His comments followed a news release by advocacy groups noting a rise in the number of people in custody and saying prisoners have suffered due to indefinite lockdowns and solitary confinement caused by the pandemic.

The provincial Justice Department said in an email that there are currently 383 people in custody, while earlier releases indicated that before the pandemic there were about 440 people detained.

The number fell to 268 people last June, as the province pursued a policy of releasing as many inmates as possible into the community due to the risks posed by COVID-19.

The East Coast Prison Justice Society said that the province needs to renew efforts to reduce the numbers of people in jails.

"Given the high risk of spread in provincial jails, where social distancing is impossible and staff and prisoners are constantly circulating in and out of community ... rapid mass decarceration is urgently necessary at this time," the group says.

It is also urging the Justice Department to support organizations like the Elizabeth Fry Societies, Coverdale Courtwork Society and the John Howard Society with funding to provide housing and support for inmates returned to the community and for those awaiting trial while on bail.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2021.

The Canadian Press