Inclusion Media release

Press release: Nova Scotia must protect human rights and reduce risks of COVID-19 in provincial jails

PRESS RELEASE – JANUARY 12, 2021, HALIFAX, NS 

EAST COAST PRISON JUSTICE SOCIETY 

“There is no privacy to have video conferences or talk to your lawyer in private. There is  no programming. They don’t give you any airing time on the West Unit – you have  to beg and plead. They’re perpetually short staffed so we are locked down more often  than not. It’s horrible conditions. We don’t even have masks but then they won’t let us  even have classes or programming. There is no rehabilitation happening here at all. All  that’s happening is they lock and open doors.” 

– Person detained at Central NS Correctional Facility 

“For many months, conditions in Nova Scotia’s provincial jails have met, or come  perilously close to, the definition of torture recognized in international and domestic law.  That is, isolation for 22 hours or more per day, without meaningful human interaction,  for 15 days or more. If this were your brother, mother or son, you would not stand for  one more day of the conditions people are enduring. We can respect prisoners’ basic  human rights while continuing the fight against COVID-19 – not simply through priority  access to vaccinations but by supporting people in the community.” 

– Sheila Wildeman, Co-Chair, East Coast Prison Justice Society  

In mid-March, in response to the pandemic, Nova Scotia was successful in reducing provincial jail populations by nearly 50%. However, these lessons appear to have been  lost as the health and human rights of persons in Nova Scotia’s provincial jails are again  in jeopardy. In particular: 

1. Government has been silent on the need to prioritize incarcerated  populations and correctional staff for COVID-19 vaccination; 

2. In-custody numbers have been allowed to rise to pre-pandemic levels (approximately 70-75% of whom are remanded to custody pre-trial at this  time); and  

3. Through no fault of their own, prisoners have been subjected to ongoing,  indefinite lockdowns and solitary confinement. 

Further information, including a list of government responses urged by East Coast Prison  Justice in consultation with other NS prison justice organizations, are below.

ANALYSIS & CALLS TO ACTION 

In mid-March, in response to the pandemic, Nova Scotia was successful in reducing provincial jail populations by nearly 50%. However, these lessons appear to have been  lost as the health and human rights of persons in Nova Scotia’s provincial jails are again  in jeopardy. In particular: 

1. COVID-19 Vaccinations 

The NS government has been silent on the need to apply the same science-based public  health analysis to people in custody as to other vulnerable populations, with above  average rates of illness and disease, cramped living quarters where infection can spread  easily and quickly and frequent movement by staff and inmates in and out of the  institutions. Public health priorities demand rapid access to vaccines in this context. 

2. In-custody numbers 

In-custody numbers show an upward trend, from a low of 251 following efforts to protect  against COVID-19 outbreaks in the spring, to a high of 365 on Nov 15 – an increase of  nearly 50%. The in-custody count on Jan 10 was 334. Approximately 75% of those in  provincial custody have not been convicted and are awaiting trial on remand. Numbers  routinely spike over the weekends as police drop prisoners at the jails to await weekday  bail proceedings. 

The unnecessary increase in the jail population since the province’s early adoption of  responsible protective measures is inconsistent with COVID-19 risk mitigation and with  protecting basic liberties.  

3. Prolonged, indeterminate lockdowns and other extraordinary restrictions Corrections has imposed a 14 day quarantine on new arrivals in provincial prisons in  conditions that approach or exceed the definition of solitary confinement (isolation for  22 hours or more per day without meaningful human interaction). The conditions  prisoners are forced to endure during this prolonged segregation are excessive,  unnecessary and a violation of Canada’s commitment to human rights while mitigating  the risks of transmission and facility-wide outbreaks.  

Post-quarantine, prisoners continue to experience prolonged, indefinite lockdowns,  for no fault of their own, which result in conditions that approach or exceed the  definition of solitary confinement, and even torture (solitary confinement for 15  days or more). 

Moreover, provincial prisoners  

– have been prohibited from receiving visits since March; 

– are highly constrained in their ability to communicate with family, friends or  lawyers by telephone or video link, given limited periods out of cell; – report associated problems, including persistent hunger resulting in part from  long delays between meals.

CALLS TO ACTION 

The current conditions in provincial jails are unconscionable and contrary to Canada’s  human rights obligations. We call on the NS government, including Justice, Community  Services and the NSHA to implement the following measures: 

1 – Ensure staff and prisoners have priority access to COVID-19 vaccinations. This  will not only mitigate risk of transmission, it may help resolve staff shortages which contribute to lockdowns; 

2 Re-institute expedited bail hearings and bail reviews, including pre-trial release  proceedings on weekends; 

3 Reduce reliance on custodial options including police lock-ups, through policies to  structure police discretion and investing in community release options; 

4 –Resume the use of statutory powers to effect conditional release of sentenced  persons, starting with persons serving short sentences who do not pose an immediate threat of violence; 

5 – Reinstitute the interdepartmental, community-partnered Collaborative Release  Planning Committee to ensure timely access to necessary health care and other  community supports and services upon release; 

6 – Collaborate with the non profit sector (including Elizabeth Fry Societies, Coverdale  Courtwork Society and John Howard Society) to increase capacity for short- and long term supports for persons released from detention and alternatives to pre-trial  detention (“bail beds”)

7 – Ensure that all East Coast Forensic Hospital patients with conditional discharges are provided with meaningful access community based supports and services  immediately and on an urgent basis. 

Post Comment