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Union representing Legal Aid calls for immediate measures to reduce COVID-19 risks in correctional centres

As the Government of Saskatchewan declares a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CUPE Local 1949 is calling for immediate measures to be put in place to protect incarcerated populations and reduce strain on our healthcare system.

The union, which represents more than 130 Legal Aid employees, including lawyers and administrative staff, is calling for the provincial and federal governments to release as many individuals as appropriate from the provincial correctional centres, the Prince Albert penitentiary, the Regional Psychiatric Centre as well as all provincial youth custodial centres.

“Overcrowded facilities housing vulnerable populations are a potential public health risk,” said Meara Conway, President of CUPE 1949. “An outbreak in any of Saskatchewan’s jails could strain nearby health care systems, and threaten the wellbeing of inmates, staff, and nearby communities.”

CUPE 1949 is calling on both governments to consider releasing non-violent offenders, those who are not a threat to the community, and those considered low risk to re-offend, particularly where those individuals are elderly and/or have medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus.

“Individuals meeting these criteria should be released in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in Saskatchewan’s custodial facilities,” said Conway. “We are entering unchartered territory and must respond with proactive measures. In order to protect our communities, reduce the strain on our healthcare system, and ensure the humane treatment of all incarcerated people, we are asking for governments to take action now.”

The union is also calling for recommendations to address those individuals who have not been convicted of any criminal offence and are in custody on remand awaiting trial.

“Except where detained on the basis of a risk to re-offend involving a substantive offence, which poses a threat to public safety, governments should consider directing the release of these individuals. Under no circumstance should individuals be detained for administration of justice offences, such as failures to appear in court or breaches of conditions,” added Conway.

CUPE 1949 is also encouraging governments to release directives encouraging Crown Attorneys and Judges to consider community release options for convicted persons where appropriate going forward.

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