Most COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted in Nova Scotia, but some inmates at the province’s largest federal prison say they are still living under lockdown for weeks.

Inmates at the Springhill Institution near Amherst told CBC radio Main road that some people at the facility have spent up to five consecutive weeks in their cells or pods after testing positive for COVID-19 in their unit.

They say that in this case they cannot participate in work or educational programs. They worry about the impact this will have on their ability to get parole.

“It’s almost like hell in here right now with these rules and restrictions,” inmate Michael Maillet said in a recent interview.

Corrections Canada said an inmate may be placed in medical isolation for a number of reasons, including if they have tested positive for COVID, are symptomatic, “or if they have been identified as a high-risk contact of a COVID-19 case.”

The amount of time an inmate who tests negative must isolate — or be on a “modified routine” — depends on their vaccination status, it said.

main street NS15:29Springhill inmates say COVID-19 restrictions are doing more harm than good

Michael Maillet and Jerry Crews say the way suspensions are being handled at the Springhill Institution makes no sense and is overly restrictive. Two petitions are now circulating against the COVID-19 measures at the facility.

Inmates who did not receive a booster dose and tested negative on the seventh day of isolation must continue isolation for at least 10 days from the date of last exposure. Inmates who have received a booster shot and still test negative on day five can leave medical isolation the next day.

Outside the Springhill Institution, Nova Scotians who contract COVID-19 can leave isolation seven days after they develop symptoms or test positive if their symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours.

“The quickest way to get out of this lockdown is just to have COVID, so a lot of people, including me, are trying to get COVID on purpose,” said Maillet, who was negative at the time of the interview.

The mental health impact of the restrictions far outweighs the health risks, Maillet said, and he is among a group of inmates who have signed petitions urging the correctional service to lift the restrictions.

That’s what a lockdown is like

When the omicron wave first hit Nova Scotia late last fall, Maillet said the correctional service suspended most work and education programs.

He said he applied for parole, but his parole officer would not support his application because he had not completed programming.

“The fact that I’m intentionally trying to get a potentially fatal disease speaks volumes … and not being able to see my family causes certain depressive-like feelings,” Maillet said.

When in medical isolation, inmates cannot have visitors and time outside is limited, inmate Jerry Crews said.

A spokesman for Corrections Canada said the outbreak at the Springhill Institution is improving and there are now three active COVID-19 cases. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

“Anything that an inmate would normally have access to with any type of psychological relief or coping strategy has been removed. They’re locked in their cells and they have their own problems to deal with,” Crews said.

Crews, like most Nova Scotians, said inmates at Springhill had gotten very good at following public health protocols, such as: B. washing hands frequently and wearing masks.

Pay phones located in one of Springhill Institution’s public areas. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

He agreed with the COVID-19 measures early in the pandemic but said they had not received any information as to why the restrictions have not changed and whether they will be lifted.

“This current variant and these variants that are here today are not so … deadly variants that we have to be locked in a cell for five weeks. It’s not necessary,” Crews said.

Corrections Canada responds

A spokesman for the Corrections Service said in an emailed statement that its use of medical isolation “is in line with public health principles and we are continually reviewing its use and implementation in our facilities as the pandemic evolves and changes to address the risk.” to minimize”.

Masks, vaccinations and improved cleaning are also in place, it said.

The Correctional Service said that when an inmate is in isolation, “every reasonable effort” is made to give them time outside of their cell or room.

“Specifically in relation to Springhill, we have offered programs to inmates in cohort situations,” it said. “We continue to explore options to ensure offenders receive programs in a timely manner.”

According to the Correctional Service, the outbreak in Springhill is improving and there are now three active cases.

Concerns about detention in provincial institutions

The East Coast Prison Justice Society advocates for inmates in provincial institutions, and co-chair Sheila Wildeman said the group has heard from people who are at breaking point.

“COVID has added to these pre-existing lockdown issues,” she said Main road.

main street NS17:52How prison lockdowns affect inmates’ mental health

Sheila Wildeman is an Associate Professor at the Schulich School of Law and Co-Chair of the East Coast Prison Justice Society. Society hears from people incarcerated in provincial institutions and speaks up on their behalf. She tells Jeff about the profound impact lockdowns are having on inmates.

Some inmates say they spend 22 to 24 hours a day in their cells for weeks at a time, Wildeman said.

“Callers have repeatedly raised concerns about increasing tensions at the facility due to lockdowns, but also the increasing numbers inside,” she said.

Members of the East Coast Prison Justice Society are scheduled to meet with Nova Scotia correctional officers Monday to discuss a report released last summer on incarceration in provincial prisons.

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