A B.C. long-term offender’s requirement to report to jail seven times a week puts him in fear for his life due to incarceration conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the infection rate at nearby Mission Institution rising by the day, he said his confidence in the Correctional Service of Canada’s assurances that it is doing everything it can to prevent infection at Chilliwack Community Correctional Centre (CCC) is “zero.”
“Until they supply gloves and masks and single-serving food not handled by other residents... there’s no way I can have faith in their ability to keep the place uninfected.”
Nationally, 189 federally held inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, and 336 have tested negative. One has died. That person was at Mission Medium Institution, which has 64 cases. Only Quebec, at 117, has a higher number of infections but no deaths.
AB does not wish to have his name published.
He said Chilliwack staff were sympathetic to their plight.
“They have their marching orders at CCC and they can only do what they are told,” he said.
“I don’t hold them at fault in the least.”
The man was designated a long-term offender in 2011 following a serious crime (the court records are under publication ban) and subsequent breaches of court orders.
“I carry a lot of shame from my past still,” AB said. “I did some horrible things in my younger years.”
At the time, he was dealing with serious addiction issues but has remained clean for almost two years.
The Parole Board of Canada 2019 conditions meant AB was to report to custody three nights a week.
He said that was changed without notification or any hearing as the COVID-19 crisis began.
His full-time sentence ended in 2011 after which he was designated a long-term offender. It was part of his 2008 sentence – three years in custody and 10 years long-term supervision.
“No contact from the parole board,” he said. “My parole officer told me when I got back from work one day and that was it. I couldn’t go home again.”
Now, he said the change of his reporting conditions means he must drive from Burnaby – where he is in the construction industry – to Chilliwack Community Correctional Centre (CCC) each night.
He said he is in with 30 people, a number confirmed by Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), which said nine inmates are under long-term orders.
“Not all offenders are permitted leave privileges from the CCC,” CSC spokeswoman Lucinda Fraser said.
“What that means is there are nine people not serving a custodial sentence locked down 23 hours a day,” AB said.
Further scaring AB is the food service done from common containers with common serving utensils.
“Thirty-plus guys sharing the same scoop and dishing out of the same dish,” he said.
AB said until recently, cooking at CCC has been done by inmates coming in from the Mission minimum security facility. The infection rate is high at Mission medium security.
And, when one Chilliwack inmate presented with flu-like symptoms, AB said, he was quarantined and given a dedicated bathroom.
But, “he’s got to walk through a common area to get to it.”
And, “there are no additional cleaning staff coming in. All the cleaning is up to the residents so, as you can imagine, it doesn’t get done very well.
“There are no masks being offered to residents.”
Fraser said continued health, safety and well-being of our employees and offenders as well as maintaining safe and secure environments as well as public safety are all critical parts of CSC work.
“Our parole officers and staff in the community continue their critical work to ensure the management and supervision of offenders,” Fraser said. “Community staff have been instructed to take measures to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission, such as limiting visits, increasing cleaning routines and reducing capacity to ensure that residents can safely self-isolate, as necessary, for the protection of other residents and staff members.”
She said greater flexibility is provided for how employees work and extra precautions such as physical distancing and conducting active health checks are being done.
“We are also raising awareness in our community correctional centres about disease prevention and spread, including the importance of good hygiene practices,” she said.
Fraser said the Chilliwack facility is a community residential facility otherwise known as half-way houses.
“We are unable to confirm the number of offenders in the community who have been tested or who have tested positive for COVID-19 as their health care is provided by local public health facilities and testing is conducted in those communities,” Fraser said. “These are reported as part of local health numbers for the public. For offenders in the community, provincial governments are accountable for the provision of health care services.”
University of Ottawa criminology Prof. Justin Piché said community facilities need more resources as well as appropriately equipped empty buildings to expand their capacity to house people in a way that physically distancing can be practiced.
“To the extent that it is safely possible to do, criminalized people currently in supervised housing and federal penitentiaries ought to be able to return home to their loved ones during this pandemic,” he said.
Piché said imposing community correctional centre and halfway house residency conditions should be avoided wherever possible, “which is something the parole board says they are recommending on paper, which time will tell if this is happening in practice.”
For parole officers, Piché said there needs to be “a greater use of discretion and limiting recommendations for parole revocation as an absolute last resort.”
In response to this article, Fraser said facilities such as Chilliwack play an essential public safety function, and are even more critical during this period.
“The level of social restrictiveness is increasing, and has some variance by provincial jurisdiction. Supervision of offenders at our CCCs is based on a balance of public safety and public health, while keeping in mind that the Correctional Service of Canada is providing critical services in line with our legal obligations,” Fraser said.
Fraser said all Chilliwack residents have been provided with masks and have access to gloves upon request. Some residents have their own masks. Weekend passes have been limited and in line with public health guidance to support infection prevention and control precautions and may be provided for essential purposes such as going to grocery stores and pharmacies.
While the initial article did not mention the fact Mission Institution mimimum security inmates had been involved with Chilliwack meal preparation, Fraser said that practice ended March 12.
“We are continually working to improve the procedures for meal delivery and serve meals individually when possible,” Fraser said.
Further, CSC said Chilliwack CCC adheres to key public health measures such as physical distancing where feasible, hand washing, cough and sneeze etiquette and enhanced cleaning. “They also have a professional cleaning company to clean all high-contact surfaces, bathrooms and common areas with disinfectant cleaner four times per week,” Fraser said.
This is an evolving situation and new measures and restrictions may be required contingent upon provincial and public health direction and advisories. CSC is following guidelines and working closely with public health authorities,” Fraser said.
Chilliwack falls into the Fraser Health Authority region.
Authority officials were not available for comment.