COVID-19 update for correctional stakeholders: April 1, 2021

This content is a message to Correctional Service Canada's (CSC’s) stakeholders from the Commissioner of CSC.

Thank you for your ongoing work with CSC throughout this time. With vaccines available in the community, and warmer weather on the horizon, I think we are all hopeful for the months ahead of us.

Here are some updates that I would like to share with you since my last note to you in February.

COVID-19 update

One year ago, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a world pandemic. At that time, there were 118,000 cases globally and 95 in Canada. A year later, our country has had over 890,000 cases. March 11, was a National Day of Observance in Canada to acknowledge the impact that the pandemic has had in Canada and globally. The Prime Minister issued a statement about the day.

While we still have some cases, the fact that the majority of our institutions continue to be free of the virus is thanks to continued diligence of staff and inmates.

There are now mutations or variants of the COVID-19 virus in Canada. Provinces and territories continue to plan and roll out vaccines, following guidelines from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI).

COVID-19 immunization – An update on phase two of our roll-out

Keeping everyone as safe as possible in a challenging and dynamic environment continues to be our top priority.

The Correctional Service of Canada’s (CSC) will soon begin rolling out its COVID-19 vaccination plans for the second phase of the vaccine rollout, in accordance with National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) guidelines.

Under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, CSC has a legal obligation to provide essential health care to federally incarcerated inmates, including vaccine administration. As per the NACI guidelines, residents and staff of congregate living settings, such as correctional institutions, are included as priorities in phase two, as they are in higher-risk environments.

In January 2021, during phase one of the vaccine rollout, CSC vaccinated approximately 600 older, medically vulnerable inmates. Beginning in mid-April, CSC will offer the COVID-19 vaccine to the remaining federal inmate population in 43 correctional institutions and 14 community correctional centres (CCCs) across Canada. To complement existing provincial and territorial vaccination programs and assist with overall vaccination efforts, CSC will be offering the vaccine to institutional and CCC employees who have not already had the opportunity to be vaccinated by their province.

Our employees are essential to keeping our institutions safe and secure, and work closely with inmates to provide supports, health care and programs. Many CSC employees working in our institutions have already received their first dose of the vaccine from their province or territory. CSC’s approach allows employees, who are not yet vaccinated by then, to receive the vaccine in their workplace at the same time as the offender population. These efforts will help increase the overall level of protection for those living and working in congregate living settings.

CSC continues to raise awareness about vaccine safety and the importance of being vaccinated. Health and safety measures, such as masks, physical distancing, active screening, and other personal protective equipment will continue to apply after vaccines are administered. This will ensure that layers of protection continue to be in place in our correctional institutions.

The health and safety of our inmates, employees, and the public have been our top priority during this pandemic. The vaccine is the best defence to protect both offenders and staff against COVID-19. Paired with existing measures, this will help to bolster our overall public health and safety. CSC will continue to work closely with the provinces and territories on its vaccinations plans and rollout. 

Updated COVID-19 testing strategy

Recently, CSC updated its COVID-19 testing strategy to include different Health Canada approved testing options. In addition to the laboratory test, CSC is now using two rapid tests for staff and offenders:

  1. The Abbott ID Now, a rapid point of care (onsite) molecular test, can deliver results in 13 minutes and can detect the virus during the first seven days of symptom onset.
  2. The Abbott Panbio, a rapid point of care antigen test that can deliver results in 15 minutes and is useful to support timely clinical decision-making, such as for screening numerous staff and inmates or for mass testing of asymptomatic individuals in high-risk settings.

Structured Intervention Units (SIUs)

SIUs are meant as a temporary measure for inmates who cannot be safely managed in a mainstream population. When in an SIU, inmates are provided with opportunities to engage in targeted interventions, programs, and activities that support their safe return to a mainstream inmate population as soon as possible. We have developed a helpful infographic explaining how SIUs work.

I held Town Halls in each region across the country throughout February to discuss best practices, challenges and culture change. Along with senior leadership from national and regional headquarters, we met with all wardens and middle managers of the SIUs. This engagement was an important opportunity for the organization to reflect on the significant work done to date, discuss observations, and share challenges and solutions related to how we continue to implement this new correctional model.

In March, we also met with members of the National Associations Active in Criminal Justice, our National Ethnocultural Advisory Committee, and our National Indigenous Advisory Committee to provide key updates and discuss how our stakeholders can be engaged in support of SIU operations. We continue to build opportunities to leverage community partners, stakeholders and volunteers in the SIUs to provide offenders with additional options for meaningful human contact and time out of cell.

We recognize that there is still more work to do and we could not be more committed to SIUs. This year, we began several exercises to inform our next steps and we are completing a number of reviews in preparation for our departmental audit planned to begin in 2022-2023.

Office of the Correctional Investigator’s Update on COVID-19

On February 23, the Office of the Correctional Investigator (OCI), released his third public update on the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on federal corrections. The report points out the evolving measures we continue to take, such as testing protocols, protective personal equipment (PPE), contact tracing and proactive communications to protect the health and safety of our staff, offenders, and the public. The OCI’s report has made five recommendations. I encourage you to read the report and CSC’s response, as well as CSC’s statement on the report.

Innovative Virtual Volunteer Activities

During the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteering in our institutions and parole offices has not been the same. That being said, our staff, volunteers and community partners have organized some innovative virtual volunteering opportunities by phone, email, mail, etc.

A telephone-based Volunteer Mentor Program was started early in the pandemic by the Montreal Metropolitan District, to provide additional support for offenders on release. It spread to the Greater Ontario and Nunavut District and has now expanded to the Structured Intervention Unit (SIU) at Millhaven Institution in Ontario. Thanks to this activity, CSC volunteers are contributing to meaningful human contact for inmates in the SIU and this best practice has been shared with all SIUs.

In the Pacific Region, CSC staff, volunteers and community partners are coordinating a new pen pal activity to support inmates who are currently members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). This virtual initiative is connecting inmates who are AA members with AA members in the community.

Canadian Families and Corrections Network News

CSC is proud of its partnership with the Canadian Families and Corrections Network (CFCN). During the pandemic, CFCN has focused on supporting inmates and their families virtually. CFCN is providing telephone-based Family Resiliency Sessions for inmates, in addition to sharing their resources and letter-writing kits to encourage positive well-being, family connections, and supportive relationships. Inmates have indicated that they are using these resources.

CSC’s Stakeholder Collaboration Hub

CSC recently launched the on-line Stakeholder Collaboration Hub (Collab Hub). I know that many of you have already received information about the benefits of this tool and have been invited to join. I encourage you to take advantage of this new platform and set up spaces to share information and collaborate with CSC staff and other stakeholders, including advisory committees, volunteers, or community partners. To learn more about the tool, consider attending a virtual demo by contacting GEN-NHQ.SCH-HCI@CSC-SCC.GC.CA.

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

March 21 was the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. At CSC, we are committed to ensuring that all of our workplaces and correctional environments are safe, respectful and inclusive. We are consulting on the development of an anti-racism action plan. 

CSC continues to take concrete steps to improve the correctional and reintegration outcomes for racialized offenders in our care. Commissioner’s Directive 767 – Ethnocultural Offenders Services and Interventions was recently revised and promulgated. Changes are outlined in the Policy Bulletin.

Update to the Penitentiary Farm Program

On March 5, CSC provided an update on the Penitentiary Farm Program operating at Joyceville and Collins Bay Institutions, in particular about a decision to temporarily pause the dairy goat operations due to the unplanned financial challenges to address the global COVID-19 pandemic across the organization. CSC has decided to focus its dairy operations on the dairy cow program and temporarily pause the implementation of the dairy goat operation. The dairy goat program will resume once the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic can be fully assessed.

In the meantime, CSC will continue to engage with community members and stakeholders, and implement the dairy cow operations, including construction of a new barn at Joyceville Institution. Inmates will also be involved in various other farm related activities including crop production, horticulture, beekeeping, maple syrup production, fence repair, green zone/environmental activities, forestry management and livestock care/operations.

CORCAN Partnerships Shine

I wanted to highlight an interesting and creative collaboration between CSC and community organizations, featuring Stony Mountain Institution and CORCAN teams. Together, they launched a partnership with BUILD INC. This initiative is an Indigenous-led social enterprise in Winnipeg that aims to offer meaningful training and support services for individuals facing barriers to employment. This collaboration led to BUILD INC. winning a Spirit of Winnipeg Award in 2020!

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a wonderful long weekend. Thank you for our continued support. Stay safe and healthy!

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