Half marathon raises money to help current, former prisoners stay safe during pandemic

By | August 16, 2020

A half marathon kicked off outside a prison just north of Winnipeg on Sunday morning to raise money to help incarcerated people — and those who have been released early because of COVID-19 — stay safe during the pandemic.

Organizer Jacquie Nicholson said the roughly 22-km route, which continues from Stony Mountain Institution down Route 90 and ends at the Burton Cummings Community Centre on Arlington Street, represents the separation between people inside prisons and jails and those on the outside.

“[It shows] the sort of physical and social and emotional distance between our neighbours who are in prison at Stony Mountain and their families, friends and community support, many of whom are in Winnipeg,” Nicholson told CBC’s Weekend Morning Show host Nadia Kidwai on Sunday morning, just before leaving for the run.

The runners are hoping to get people to donate to the Prairie Province Prisoner Support Fundraiser, which has to date raised more than $41,000 and given money to at least 126 people to help with a variety of expenses, she said. 

For those recently released, the money is to help them get on their feet and navigate a precarious new world brought on by the pandemic, Nicholson said. For those still inside, the funds will help with costs that have arisen because of — or been exacerbated by — COVID-19.

“One of the main ones [is] keeping in touch with family and friends, and most of that will have to be done by the phone, as a lot of institutions have sort of scaled back their visiting,” she said. 

“A lot of folks who are in jail have to purchase their own hygiene supplies, like soap and sanitizer and shampoo, from the prison canteen. And so those costs will no doubt be going up as well.”

Stony Mountain Institution is a federal facility located about 25 kilometres north of Winnipeg. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

As advocates urge the safe release of prisoners as a public health measure amid skyrocketing COVID-19 infection rates within institutions across Canada, Nicholson said she wants to see more done to explore alternative methods of justice, even after the pandemic.

She said the idea that locking people up keeps society safer isn’t necessarily true — some studies show no evidence long sentences reduce the risk someone will commit another crime, while others suggest imprisonment may actually increase this risk — but it’s a common misconception that needs to be addressed.

“Prisons deal very poorly with the crime that they do detect, because they don’t actually address any of the underlying issues that would cause someone to commit a crime,” she said.

“And if you think about it, locking somebody up and upending their life and then letting them out a few months or years later to pick up the pieces … doesn’t make a lot of intuitive sense why that would help that person not to break the law.”

The fundraising run kicked off at 9 a.m. Sunday and, along with efforts from other groups across the country, aims to help the fund collect at least $50,000 by the end of the month for people in Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

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