COVID-19: Inmate, employee at Kamloops prison concerned about conditions

BC Corrections is working with public health officials and there are no confirmed novel COVID-19 cases

  • Mar. 24, 2020 2:50 p.m.

-Kamloops this Week

An inmate at Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre is raising the alarm about conditions in the prison as the COVID-19 pandemic escalates, but the minister responsible for BC Corrections says jail staff are “working closely” with public health officials.

KTW has also heard from a KRCC staffer who, under the condition of anonymity, said the provincial jail “will be a hot bed” if the novel coronavirus enters the prison population. KTW has also heard similar concerns from another KRCC prisoner who did not want his quotes or name used for publication.

KRCC prisoner Barry Smith told KTW the jail is running out of Virox, a disinfectant cleaner used by prisoners to keep their units — and the rest of the jail — clean.

“They said, ‘Use the Virox sparingly because we’re not sure when we’re going to get more,’” Smith said.

In a statement sent to KTW, BC Corrections said the cleaning supply shortage is impacting multiple ministries.

“Deputy ministers are meeting across all ministries to co-ordinate the supply of essential cleaning and personal protective equipment to ensure that those who need it have access to it,” the statement reads.

Smith also claimed visibly unhealthy prisoners are being admitted to KRCC units “off the street” without proper screening, despite assurance from officials that any inmate showing any symptom would be isolated.

BC Corrections said new prisoners undergo two screenings — one by jail staff and another by health-care staff — to determine whether a person is sick. The statement said the screenings depend on symptoms being “observed or [found] through self-disclosure.”

Smith told KTW he did not believe that screening was taking place in a fulsome manner.

The KRCC staffer who contacted KTW under the condition of anonymity said it is impossible to maintain “social distancing” behind bars.

“The majority of the units have been designed for 20 inmates, tops,” the staffer said. “As you are aware, this certainly is not the case and some units have 40 inmates in an area roughly the size of two indoor gymnasium courts. Up to this point, the population has not been confined to their cells for recreational periods. This means there is intense crowding with inmates and staff from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. at night — no real extra precautions.”

The staffer questioned the double-standard — social distancing on the outside, but not behind the walls of KRCC.

“I am sure the general public would be wondering why they are put on social distancing restrictions while the inmate population is left to run free for no reason other than to keep them happy,” the staffer said. “Once COVID-19 hits the jail, it’s all over. No space to spread out. No fresh air. Everything sealed up. It will be a hot bed.”

READ MORE: Massive job cuts at Westjet, Parliament session suspended

The employee said many employees at the prison are concerned, but added they have been told they could be prosecuted or fired for speaking to reporters.

“This is something that staff members in the prison have concern over and I believe the public should be extremely concerned, as well,” the staffer said. “We are members of the general public.”

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth told KTW precautions are in place in B.C.’s prisons.

“To be clear, we have no suspected cases of COVID-19 at Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre and no confirmed COVID-19 cases at any B.C. provincial correctional centres,” he said.

“From the onset, BC Corrections has been working closely with the Provincial Health Services Authority correctional health services team and justice and social service providers to protect staff and individuals in custody. There is no doubt that B.C. correctional officers have a very challenging job under normal circumstances and we are thankful for their dedication and for upholding the oath they took as peace officers to serve, honour and protect under any circumstances.”

In speaking with KTW, Smith said prisoners at KRCC were beginning to talk about staging a sit-in or refusing to lock up as a means of conveying their frustrations.

In its statement to KTW, BC Corrections said staff at provincial jails is trained to deal with such incidents.

“We understand that some staff and individuals in custody may be feeling anxious,” the statement reads.

“These are challenging times for all Canadians. With respect to planned demonstrations, our staff are trained to respond to these scenarios — moreover, we are working hard with healthcare staff to ensure individuals in custody have as much information as possible to help mitigate these concerns.”

READ MORE: Wineries and liquor stores should be essential services: B.C. Wine Institute

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