Coronavirus: Outbreak in federal women's prison validates worst fears of advocates

Calls for the release of low-risk and vulnerable federal prisoners are growing after an outbreak or coronavirus at Joliette Institution for Women near Montreal, where 51 of 80 inmates have tested positive for the virus.

The statistics validate the worst fears of prisoner advocates.

“We have been speaking out about the danger of COVID-19 and demanding immediate and swift action in the federal prison system for weeks,” says Emilie Coyle, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS). “Joliette was what we were worried about and said was going to happen.”

An outbreak at the Joliette Institution began late last month among correctional officers there, with the first positive case confirmed on March 29. Ten days later, the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO), which represents some 7,300 employees in federal prisons, announced that 31 officers at Joliette have tested positive.

There are now at least 51 cases of prisoners who have tested positive at Joliette, second-most of any prison in the country and up from just 10 confirmed cases in the institution on April 7, according to CAEFS. Coyle says that the true number of cases is likely even higher because some results are still pending.

Coyle says there are other federal women’s prisons where inmates have tested positive, including nine at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener

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