Some federal prisons in Canada continue to suspend contact visits interrupted at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Some inmates have not had contact visits with their loved ones in more than two years, reported CBC News on March 30, 2022.
“It’s inhumane; everyone has the right to see their family,” said Daniel Amecia, who is incarcerated at the maximum-security Donnacona federal institution. Amecia stated in a phone interview he has not seen his girlfriend, sister, nieces and nephews in over two years, since the start of the pandemic, said the report.
A spokesperson for Correctional Service Canada said in an email, “The health and safety of staff and inmates remain a top priority. … CSC has begun to gradually resume inmate visits. However, at present, there are active cases of COVID-19 among inmates in federal correctional facilities across the country. Consequently, visits to certain institutions are suspended.”
As of March, there were 319 active cases of COVID-19 in Canadian prisons. At that time 27 out of 61 federal correctional institutions conducted visits behind a glass or some other form of physical barrier between the visitor and the inmate.
As of March 20, 88% of inmates are fully vaccinated at the Drummond Institution. No federal institution allows contact visits or family visits.
Inmates don’t understand why they face such restrictions when most of the prison population is vaccinated, CBC News reported.
“It is as if we have multiplied the obstacles and cut off the points of support for these people,” said Sandra Lehalle, criminology professor at the University of Ottawa. “It seems totally counterproductive with the official goal of a prison sentence.”
Inmates can see their families via videoconference for 20-minute sessions once per week, “if you’re lucky,” said inmate Amecia.
There’s no clear policy of the length of each videoconference call. The length of monitored calls varies from one institution to the other, depending on the number of devices available.
“At the moment, we don’t have access to videoconference,” said Bernard’s girlfriend, who wishes to remain anonymous. “It’s been like this for two and a half years since we’ve seen each other. It’s difficult as much for the person on the inside as for the person who is outside. It’s starting to get a little inhumane. I can understand why he’s in there and everything, but I can’t understand why they keep us from seeing each other like this.”
Some families are going through difficult times and are concerned for their loved ones behind bars during the COVID-19 pandemic. To make matters worse, besides the waiting to see their loved ones, the misinformation they receive adds to the stress, CBC News reported.
“The relatives are often forgotten or sometimes used as reintegration tools, but not really thought of as people who are also living in very difficult situation,” said Professor Lehalle, who has interviewed many relatives of inmates as part of her research.
“They always give us hope, only to end up being disappointed,” said Bernard’s girlfriend. “At some point, it becomes demoralizing.”