Multiple inmates at several correctional facilities in the province stated they are on a hunger strike until Corrections and Policing Minister Christine Tell resigns.
Inmates have written letters detailing their concerns with how the COVID-19 pandemic has been handled in prisons.
“Inmates incarcerated here throughout this pandemic have had their civil liberties eradicated,” wrote Dana Blackie, an Aboriginal inmate at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre. “There have been no visits since spring and there has been a cut to programming and a loss of spiritual and mental healing since there is no elders coming on to the premises to talk with inmates in a one-on-one atmosphere.”
Blackie is asking both the provincial and federal governments to be more transparent on informing inmates regarding outbreaks and the new strain of COVID-19 which has reached Canada.
Carmen Napope Cardinal, an inmate at the Pine Grove Correctional Centre in Prince Albert claims that prison staff withhold cleaning supplies, if inmates are caught not wearing their masks.
“If they notice we are not wearing a mask because we get tired of wearing the same mask all day because guards keep forgetting to bring them in,” wrote Cardinal. “The guards hold stuff from us such as request lists, cleaners etc. This is unfair.”
In response to the allegations, Tell said that inmate health and safety is top of mind during the pandemic and that the Ministry has taken additional steps to provide additional opportunities to ensure inmates stay connected spiritually and with family.
“Corrections staff have also worked to ensure offenders are provided with regular communication regarding COVID-19 measures and precautions, and have taken additional steps to ensure inmates are able to remain in contact with their communities and family, such as allowing additional calls to friends and family, and free calls to Elders and chaplains,” Tell said.
“We are aware that there was a tray refusal at Saskatoon Correctional Centre and Pine Grove Correctional Centre and our focus continues to be the health and safety of the inmates and staff, which includes nutrition. Staff will continue to work with advocates and inmates to resolve this situation.”
A Ministry spokesperson said that provincial correctional system is operating at 77 percent capacity and that custody counts at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre have decreased since late November.
New inmates are tested and screened upon arrival at in prison and again 10-days later.
Quarantining new admissions for 14 days and providing a specific COVID-19 medical screening.
Visitations have stopped and there is increased access to hand sanitizer. 78 inmates and 15 staff at provincial correctional facilities are currently active with COVID-19.