By Christopher Lam
Despite COVID-19 infection rates slowly declining, the situation in Canadian prisons continues to exacerbate. During this time of crisis, the government constantly requests that all citizens practice social distancing and keep clean living conditions; however, the conditions maintained in Canadian prisons are quite the opposite.
Prisons are overcrowded while space is extremely limited, making the practice of social distancing an impossibility. The result of such poor conditions is that thousands of inmates and prison guards have been infected with COVID-19, with several of these cases resulting in a death. Additionally, many inmates suffer from pre-existing health issues that make them more vulnerable to harm. The fact that the Canadian government and Correctional Service Canada have failed to provide a safe and healthy environment is in fact a human rights violation. Imagine being confined to a small, crowded space and often double-bunked with other inmates while the infectious COVID-19 rages on throughout the prison. To make matters worse, a lack of testing, personal protection equipment, and funding result in poor quality of treatment. Inmates are no less human than any other individual and should be treated properly as well as with dignity and respect.
The poor Canadian prison conditions have drawn the attention of many human rights organizations, including Canadian Prison Law Association and Canadian Civil Liberties Association, who along with inmates have filed lawsuits against Correctional Service Canada. While the lawsuits are ongoing, there is great evidence that supports the alleged human rights violations.
Correctional Service Canada is currently in the process of improving prison conditions by releasing certain inmates to reduce overcrowding. Among the individuals released are non-violent offenders and inmates who are either up for parole or nearing the end of their sentence. Correctional Service Canada claims that their approach to controlling the spread of COVID-19 will evolve going forward; however, much improvement must occur in order to create a safe and healthy prison environment. If matters do not improve, inmates’ sentences to jail will become tantamount to sentences to death.
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