COVID-19 Planning for Federal Corrections

Date: August 10, 2020
Classification: Unclassified
Fully releasable (ATIP)? Yes
Branch / Agency: CSC

Issue: The Correctional Service of Canada has successfully implemented a number of measures to protect the inmate population from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Proposed Response:

If pressed:

Background: The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has successfully implemented a number of measures to protect the inmate population from COVID-19. As of August 5, 2020, there are no outbreaks and no active cases across any CSC institutions across Canada.

Current Measures

Cases among Inmates

As of August 5, 2020, 360 inmates have tested positive, and all have recovered with the exception of two inmates that died as a result of complications from the virus. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been outbreaks at five institutions with three of them now fully resolved: Port-Cartier Institution, in the Quebec Region; Grand Valley Institution for Women, in the Ontario Region; and, Mission Institution, in the Pacific Region. There are two institutions with remaining outbreaks: Joliette Institution for Women, in the Quebec Region, which has no remaining active cases, but can’t be declared virus-free until a set period of time has passed without a new case; and, Federal Training Centre, also in the Quebec Region, which has one active case. To date, out of 146 of our employees who have tested positive, 141 or 97% have fully recovered.

Personal Protective Equipment

CSC continues to take exceptional measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in all CSC institutions to limit the risk to inmates and staff, including having everyone at sites wear masks.

Despite the existence of personal protective equipment (PPE), and associated guidelines and training prior to the onset of the pandemic, and given the need for widespread use of PPE during these times, revised information on the use of PPE has been promulgated including posters to guide staff in proper Donning and Doffing procedures (issued April 3) and updated Guidelines for the Use of PPE (issued April 8).

Financial Government Support

On June 9, 2020, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the Honourable Bill Blair, announced the Government of Canada’s intention to provide up to $500,000 to five National Voluntary Organizations (NVOs) for them to develop pilot projects aimed at adapting important  services that assist with the reintegration of offenders under supervision at community-based residential facilities (halfway houses), and to develop knowledge to help similar organizations learn from the innovative responses that have been implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Release of Offenders

CSC and the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) are working collaboratively to facilitate the safe release of federal inmates into the community with public safety being paramount in all discretionary release decisions. As mandated by the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA), all releases to the community happen within existing authorities.

CSC and PBC continue to process eligible inmates for release in accordance with the law. A number of considerations go into release decision-making with public safety being the paramount consideration. COVID-19 and other health related issues are only one of the many considerations taken into account when releasing offenders into the community so it is not possible to provide a number of offenders who have been released solely due to COVID-19. 

In response to the pandemic, CSC has been proactively reviewing eligible non-violent lower risk inmates and referring them to the PBC for consideration, including those with underlying medical conditions that make them at risk for a severe illness from COVID-19.  As noted by the PBC on their website, they will consider the offender’s health or health risk posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, if relevant as part of the risk assessment, along with all other information on file. 

CSC, in consultation with PBC, has worked to streamline the case preparation process for offenders. In addition, PBC is working to ensure cases are dealt with as expeditiously as possible, while continuing to use risk- and evidence-based decision-making.

Since the beginning of March 2020, the federal custody population has declined by 966 inmates (as of July 12, 2020). This reduction is the result of fewer admissions from the provinces and territories coupled with continued releases into the community.

We are engaging with our community partners on an ongoing basis to ensure that offenders on conditional release have a safe, secure and supportive environment to which they can return. This is an important part of any safe and successful release into the community.

Next Steps

To shape the “new normal”, the Commissioner has created a governance structure made up of subject matter experts, union representatives, senior managers from different sectors of CSC and external representatives, to look at different operational activities and make recommendations. As a first step, CSC is preparing to resume some services, activities and programs. These decisions are based on whether there is community transmission of the virus and on public health guidance.

One of CSC’s first priorities is to support offender safe releases; we are therefore looking at resuming group programming in the near future. Group programming will look different than prior to COVID-19. Groups will be significantly smaller, chairs will be spaced 3 meters apart, everyone will be wearing masks, and session lengths may be shorter. CSC will continue to explore and identify with public health authorities how to adapt our environments and infrastructure to increase our ability to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

For correctional programs, in places where there is no local transmission of COVID-19, we expect to begin resuming correctional programs at some sites by the end of the month.

CSC is hoping that within the next few weeks, if it is safe to do so, and with appropriate infection prevention control measures in place, to have Social Programs Officers, Elders and Chaplains on site, increased yard time, access to gym and equipment for inmates.

Re-introduction of visits

Ongoing contact with family and support networks is part of the successful reintegration of offenders, to that end, visits to inmates began gradual resumption on July 9, 2020. The date of opening will vary according to each site depending on the situation in the community and the institution’s capacity. CSC will monitor the situation closely as it evolves and will adjust its approach in consultation with public health partners across the country.

The resumption of activities is being assessed on an ongoing basis. All decisions are taken in collaboration with representatives from institutions across the country, regional management, senior management, unions and public heath partners. As part of its phased approached, CSC is first reinstating visits to inmates in common areas.

As CSC begins to re-introduce visits in institutions, measures will be in place to ensure the health and safety of staff, inmates and visitors. Restrictions may be required based on the configuration of each site and local public health advice.

All normal visiting requirements remain in place. In addition, all visitors will be screened upon booking of visit and upon arrival to the institution. Their temperature will be taken, they will be required to wash their hands and masking will be mandatory for those over the age of two.  These measures are in place to ensure the safety of everyone in the institutions and to prevent the introduction and the spread of COVID-19.

Re-introduction of programs and activities

Resuming program and service delivery is essential to supporting CSC’s legislated mandate.It is still of paramount importance to prevent the introduction and the spread of COVID-19.CSC will re-introduce group programs, services and interventions that had been suspended due to COVID-19 in a phased and gradual approach in all of its institutions, when it is safe to do so. Recently, correctional programming for offenders has resumed in some provinces.

CSC is increasing movement within its institutions, including more access to the yard, increased access to the gym, library, and other activities. CSC is also looking at increasing support for inmates by safely re-introducing or increasing access of social programs officers, Elders and chaplains into the facility where feasible.

To limit health and safety risks, measures are in place to ensure physical distancing and everyone is required to wear non-medical masks and follow personal protective equipment PPE guidelines when required. 

Prepared by: Bailey Milne, Officer Parliamentary Relations

Approved by: Kirstan Gagnon, Assistant Commissioner, Communications and Engagement, 613-995-6867

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