Transfers, visitations and new admissions have been suspended at Headingley Correctional Centre after an outbreak of COVID-19 was declared at the provincial jail.
On Tuesday, the province moved the institution to red, or critical, in its pandemic response system for at least two weeks.
Seven inmates and two staff members at the jail have tested positive for COVID-19, as of Tuesday. Roughly 150 people linked to the jail are in self-isolation, the province’s chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Tuesday.
There are currently 611 people incarcerated at Headingley Correctional Centre and the jail has 890 available beds, a provincial spokesperson said Tuesday. The jail has a capacity of 549 inmates according to the province’s website.
Inmates are being isolated in a combination of vacant housing units that are on site, old style cell blocks, vacant dorms and other more modern living units, the spokesperson said.
While transfers to Headlingley have been suspended, other facilities remain available as alternative options, the spokesperson said.
On Tuesday there were 125 people in custody at the Winnipeg Remand Centre, with a total bed count of 379, and 436 at Milner Ridge, with a total bed count of 500. There have also been positive cases identified at those facilities as well, the province confirmed over the weekend.
Right now, the province believes there is sufficient capacity at the Winnipeg Remand Centre to accommodate new arrests and avoid overcrowding, the spokesperson said.
Scary situation for staff, inmates
Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, which represents staff at the three jails, says it’s a very scary situation for correctional staff, even with extra sanitization and other precautionary measures in place.
“It is still a scary place to be, and these people want to go home to their families safe at the end of every day,” she said.
Ross Robinson, executive director of the John Howard Society in Brandon, said they are encouraging inmates and their families to reach out to them if they have any questions or concerns.
“We would work on building their resiliency and making sure that if they’ve got questions that we work with them to get their specific questions answered that are specific to their situation,” he said.
“Because there’s always lots of rumours and there’s always lots of questionable information that goes out there.”
NDP criticizes province’s handling of jail outbreaks
During Tuesday’s question period, the Manitoba NDP questioned whether the provincial government is doing enough.
Justice critic Nahanni Fontaine said jail staff, and inmates, must have better protection. She also criticized the province for allowing a transfer from Headingly on the day an outbreak was declared.
“We know that Manitobans who are currently housed at our correctional facilities are some of the most at risk and vulnerable and have many underlying health issues, which then has the potential for rapid transmission in very confined spaces,” she said.
A provincial spokesperson did confirm that four inmates were transferred to Brandon Correctional Centre from Headingley Correctional Centre Tuesday morning to accommodate the need to isolate inmates involved in the outbreak areas.
The individuals who were transferred had completed 14 days of isolation in a separate unit apart from the outbreak areas, and were deemed a low risk, the spokesperson said.
Justice Minister Cliff Cullen says the province has changed the way it processes inmates and manages them in the centre, and has given staff and inmates at Headingley access to medical-grade personal protective equipment. He also said the province has been “very careful” about how transfers have been conducted since the pandemic began.
“Certainly solid steps have been taken, public health officials are on site, and further recommendations will be forthcoming I’m sure.”
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