Some incarcerated persons at the Springhill Institution, the largest federal prison in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, still live under a COVID-19 lockdown, and some have developed the impression that contracting the virus will lead to earlier release from lockdown, says Mainstreet, a radio show broadcast from Toronto, Ontario, in Canada.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) program reported that even though Nova Scotia has lifted such restrictions, they still exist at the prison. Incarcerated persons “have spent up to five consecutive weeks in their cells or pods after a positive COVID-19 test in their unit,” said the report.
“The fastest way to get released from this lockdown is to just have COVID,” said Michael Maillet, an incarcerated person at Springhill, “so a lot of people, including myself, are purposefully trying to get COVID.”
The CBC reported that Corrections Canada, the agency that oversees prisons, contradicted Maillet’s assertion: Duration of isolation depends on vaccination status; anyone who has not received a booster dose and tests negative on the seventh day of isolation must stay in isolation for another ten days from the date of the most recent exposure. Those who have received a booster dose and test negative on the fifth day may leave on day six.
Corrections Canada told Mainstreet that incarcerated persons could enter medical isolation for various lesser reasons than testing positive, such as showing symptoms or through contact tracing. A correctional service spokesperson said medical isolation “adheres to public health principles and we continuously review its use and implementation at our institutions as the pandemic evolves and changes to minimize the risk.” The service also said that they make “all reasonable efforts” to provide anyone in isolation with time outside their cell or room.
This policy differs only marginally from the policy outside of the institution. Nova Scotians who suffer the virus may leave isolation seven days after onset of symptoms or a positive test if their symptoms have improved for at least a day, CBC Radio said.
Maillet told Mainstreet that for him, the agency’s assurances fell short. He said that the pandemic suspended all work and educational programs at the prison. This mattered to him because he applied for parole without having had the opportunity to complete his programming, and so found no support from his parole worker.
Maillet also said that he wanted to contract COVID-19 because the lockdown prevented him from seeing his family. “The fact that I’m purposefully trying to catch a potentially deadly disease speaks volumes… and not being able to see my family causes certain depression-type feelings.”
Incarcerated person Jerry Crews considers lockdowns at Springhill overly restrictive. “These variants that are here today are not such… deadly viruses that we need to have five weeks of being locked up in a cell. It’s not necessary,” he said. He also said that Springhill has followed health protocols diligently, CBC Radio reported.
Crews also voiced complaints about mental health: “Anything that an inmate would ordinarily have access to for any kind of mental relief or coping strategy has been removed. They’re locked in their cells and they’re left to deal with their own issues,” he said.
Mainstreet reported that the East Coast Prison Justice Society, an incarcerated persons’ advocate group, said that some incarcerated persons spend 22 to 24 hours a day in their cells for weeks on end. Sheila Wildeman, the group’s co-chair, said, “Callers have repeatedly raised concerns about mounting tensions in the facility due to lockdowns.” The group has scheduled a meeting with Nova Scotia’s correctional officials to discuss the issue.