The Northern Health Authority has shared the following update with MKO on the issue of incarcerated populations during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Ongoing Response to COVID-19: Incarcerated Populations
Admissions and Releases
- All new admissions will now be processed through the Winnipeg Remand Centre (WRC) and isolated for 14 days. Direct lock up privileges have been suspended until further notice to reduce the amount of admissions to custody. Other non-criminal detentions are also suspended pending further notice.
- Intermittent sentences are suspended until further notice.
- In an effort to reduce custody counts and improve capacity to practice social distancing within correctional facilities, male inmates in the last 14 days of their earliest release dates and female inmates in their last 20 days of their earliest release dates are being reviewed, and where appropriate, they are being released from custody. Like all inmates being released into the public, inmates who are eligible for an earlier release date as a result of COVID-19 will have release plans in place.
- The release of other segments of the inmate population is under review. Manitoba Justice continues to take direction from public health officials and monitor responses from other jurisdictions.
Changes to Court Operations
- Although Manitoba Justice and Manitoba’s Courts have limited court activity to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, access to justice remains a high priority. In-custody matters are among the urgent matters that continue to be heard in Manitoba courts at this time. Further information on court activities can be found at manitobacourts.mb.ca.
- All Manitoba Court of Appeal cases will be heard remotely via teleconferencing until at least April 20, 2020, at which point the need to continue with remote hearings will be re-assessed.
- The availability of Crown Attorneys and Legal Aid lawyers has been expanded to weekends to allow for discussions on appropriate sentencing recommendations, and early review of cases so bail plans are considered while an individual is detained in police custody.
- As of April 2, 2020, private lawyers are delivering Overnight Bail Duty Counsel services every overnight period seven days a week from 11 p.m. – 7 a.m. for the next eight weeks. Discussions to enhance the efficiency of this new initiative are ongoing.
- Persons in custody, both adult and youth, will only be transported to appear in person for a trial or preliminary inquiry, when a video appearance is not available or as ordered by a judge.
- All other non-essential transportation has been cancelled.
- Where transportation is essential, staff conduct a rigorous cleaning inside all areas of the vehicle after each use.
- Rural custody centres (Brandon, Dauphin, The Pas) are reassigning officers to assist with transporting inmates to the WRC as required.
Changes to Correctional Centre Operations
- All contact visits are suspended in order to reduce the risk of contamination in correctional centres from an outside source. To account for this, free calling has been expanded for all inmates in Manitoba correctional centres. Access to legal services is available through Lawyer Video Interview (LVI) services and phone services, both of which have expanded capacity in the wake of COVID-19.
- Inmate programs are suspended until further notice. Services are still being provided in an individualized manner where possible. Fresh air recreation continues to run, but group size has been limited to comply with social distancing guidelines.
Isolation Zones and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Use
- All correctional centres have identified isolation zones within their facilities to safely house inmates who are presenting symptoms of and/or fit testing parameters of COVID-19. The size, population and criteria for established isolation may change over time as the pandemic progresses.
- If a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 is present among the inmate population, corrections staff will conduct a risk assessment prior to interacting with the inmate or young person. The risk assessment will determine what PPE must be used.
- Masks and gloves will be issued to any inmate who enters the isolation zone. Corrections staff will enforce mask and glove use based on Public Health guidelines, and will issue new masks and gloves per public health guidelines. The PPE provided to inmate populations may change as the pandemic develops.
- Inmates in the isolation zone will not be required to wear PPE when contained in their cells.
- Staff supervising inmates in the isolation zone will wear masks and gloves at all times.
- Instructions and PPE specifications have been provided to all corrections staff in the event that they must respond to a code incident within the isolation zone. PPE used in these circumstances must provide head to toe coverage. Managers will conduct a risk assessment prior to initiating physical contact between an isolated inmate and corrections staff.
- Should an inmate housed in the isolation zone need to be escorted off site, they will be required to wear PPE that provides head to toe coverage. If they are admitted to hospital, hospital personnel will determine PPE use.
- Correctional centres are making purchases of leisure activities (games, books etc.) for use in isolation zones.
- All Manitoba Justice personnel are required to abide by public health directives and practice routine hygiene while in the workplace, including hand hygiene, social distancing and routine cleaning.
- Manitoba Justice is also directing staff to adhere to all public health directives related to self-isolation and self-quarantining if they are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms and/or have travelled recently. If an employee comes to work ill, they will be directed to go home, per public health directives.
- All corrections staff have received directions on the proper usage and safe removal of PPE equipment to limit the risk of exposure to themselves and others when interacting with an isolated inmate. Specifications on what PPE should be used in a given circumstance has been shared with all corrections employees.
- Within all provincial correctional centres, updates and changes to procedure are ongoing based on best practices and directives issued by public health officials. Correctional centre staff are being advised of all updates and changes as soon as they are issued.