Alberta lawyer calls for action after 55 COVID-19 cases reported at Calgary jail

An Alberta lawyer is calling for action after an outbreak of COVID-19 at a Calgary jail leapt to 55 cases, a notable increase after the outbreak was initially reported Thursday.

Edmonton-based criminal defence lawyer Tom Engel says the outbreak has the potential to be “disastrous” in the facility.

“The prison population, on the whole, is much more vulnerable, health-wise, to disastrous consequences if they contract COVID-19,” Engel told The Homestretch. 

“[Especially] if they have underlying conditions that make them very vulnerable, they’re in close quarters, they’re not provided with masks, they have to rely on the prison to provide proper hygiene.”

On Thursday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, announced that 24 cases had been confirmed at the Calgary Correctional Centre. 

As of Friday, 50 inmates and five staff members have tested positive, Alberta Health Services spokeperson James Wood said. 

Wood said the cases are linked to transmission of COVID-19 within the facility in northwest Calgary.

“Isolation and monitoring of the positive cases is underway as per public health direction,” Wood said in an email. “All inmates and staff are being tested for COVID-19.”

Engel says procedures need to be followed

Engel said that given the large numbers, it’s now necessary to reduce the prison population at the facility.

“I’m talking about right now,” he said. “Release prisoners who are high-risk, release prisoners who may have one or two months left on their sentence, release prisoners who are not of risk to commit violent offences if released — [those in jail] for property crimes or other minor sorts of crimes.”

The inmate population at the Calgary Correctional Centre can change on a day-to-day basis but the facility has a capacity of 427.

The Calgary Correctional Centre in northwest Calgary has 55 cases of COVID-19. It’s located in the Spy Hill district on the city’s outskirts. (Google Maps)

Wood said contract tracing for anyone potentially exposed is ongoing, and all inmate units are currently isolated.

“All movement between units has been suspended, as are transfers [and] admissions in or out of the facility,” Wood said. “Infection prevention and control measures are in place including enhanced cleaning and PPE protection.”

Staff within the jail are screened for COVID-19 symptoms prior to their shifts, Wood said.

All inmates are monitored and assessed twice daily, and at this time are reporting mild symptoms.  

There were 1,307 active COVID-19 cases in Calgary as of Friday, up from 1,260 reported on Thursday.

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