Jeff Shantz: Incarceration during a pandemic should not be a death sentence

By Jeff Shantz

On January twenty, provincial well being officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health and fitness Minister Adrian Dix declared that there was a further COVID-19 outbreak at the Surrey Pretrial Products and services Centre. In a joint assertion, they claimed: “Outbreak protocols are in spot [at Surrey Pretrial], and community well being teams from Fraser Health and fitness are make contact with tracing and supporting B.C. Corrections.”

As of January 27, the selection of circumstances experienced greater by much more than fifty % about the preliminary report, with 40 circumstances of COVID-19 claimed. All but one of the verified circumstances had been prisoners.

On January 23, the well being authority also claimed that there had been a further 22 verified circumstances at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam. Once again, all but one of these circumstances concerned prisoners. In addition, 9 prisoners and two staff have tested beneficial at Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge.

Fraser Regional Correctional Centre, Maple Ridge

This is the next COVID-19 outbreak at Surrey Pretrial, subsequent one in October 2020, when three guards tested beneficial. At that time, make contact with tracing discovered that the guards did not contract the virus at the jail. Guards bringing the virus inside of is a grave problem that prisoners, who are, of course, restrained subjects, have expressed all over the pandemic. And these fears are effectively launched, offered the outbreaks that have happened in prisons and jails throughout Canada, ensuing in hundreds of infections and a number of prisoner fatalities.

Pretrial, or remand, is an usually misunderstood facet of mass incarceration—detaining these who have not been convicted of crime. But it can make up most of the custodial penal procedure in Canada.

Health and fitness and human rights issues at Surrey Pretrial

A lot of men and women may be astonished to find out that Surrey Pretrial is the biggest provincial jail in B.C. Any place from 400 to five hundred men and women are incarcerated in Surrey Pretrial at any offered time. It was expanded in 2014 at a money value of $ninety million, in addition charges for a hundred thirty supplemental staff, at a time when the crime price in the province was the lowest it has been in 4 decades. It was a large outlay of community assets that could have been put to required services and infrastructure in housing, well being, harm reduction, youngster care, elder supports, etcetera.

The growth much more than doubled the pretrial’s capacity. In 2018, fifteen prisoners at Surrey Pretrial went on a hunger strike from overcrowding. Growth is not about easing crowding, as the government claimed in justifying the growth, but often indicates detaining even much more people—a lesson of mass incarceration.

Overcrowded living quarters in California’s San Quentin Condition Prison in 2006.
Wikimedia Commons

Surrey Pretrial has been the matter of many human rights complaints in the past two years by itself. This past December, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal decided that the complaint of a prisoner, Kevin Miller, would be permitted to progress to a listening to. Miller’s complaint asserts that Surrey Pretrial refused to give him with a next mattress to enable him regulate his arthritis agony, this in spite of the fact that his health care provider advisable the next mattress for that goal.

Surrey Pretrial argued that an more mattress is a security threat and could be used to clog plumbing or conceal contraband. Tribunal member Emily Ohler concluded, “I am not persuaded that there is no fair prospect that Mr. Miller could do well in developing that Corrections’ denial of a next mattress breached the Code.”

In October of 2020, a prisoner at Surrey Pretrial, with numerous underlying well being issues, went community with his fears about contracting COVID-19 and the threat to his existence it poses. Thirty-9-year-previous Adam DeVries, who was in custody from April even though awaiting a November demo, claimed that he suffers from bronchial asthma and epilepsy. He is also missing his ideal lung. He expressed extremely true issues that contracting COVID-19 would kill him.


DeVries’s attorney, Alyson Dorin, claimed, “Not only are masks prohibited [in Surrey Pretrial], but inmates caught with a mask have it seized and thrown out. The masks are taken care of as contraband. Surrey Pretrial hasn’t justified why these inmates are not permitted to use masks.”

DeVries also claimed that numerous guards on their own are not wearing masks or are not wearing them properly (on their chin or underneath their nose) Prisoners inside of the North Fraser Pretrial Centre have claimed that they have been permitted to use masks. There has been no mask requirement for prisoners, nonetheless.

Guards are viewed by prisoners as their best threats for contracting COVID-19, given that they enter and leave the institution each working day and are absolutely free to transfer all over the community nonetheless they see match. There is no way of assuring that their pursuits are truly conscientious or protected.

Prisoners like DeVries also fear about community security as effectively, as men and women released from pretrial transfer back again into the community, wherever they can convey COVID-19 from the unsafe situations inside of. As he places it: “The safer we are, the safer the community is.”

Realities of remand

In Canada, much more than 50 percent of men and women in provincial/territorial incarceration are in pretrial. These are men and women who have not been convicted—so much for the authorized system’s “harmless until tested responsible”. About seventy nine % are in on nonviolent costs. A significant proportion are so-termed administrative offenses. In B.C., administration of justice offences (mostly breaches of bail and probation) stand for much more than 40 % of B.C.’s criminal-court case issues.

The whole selection of older people in remand (awaiting demo or sentencing) has exceeded the provincial/territorial grownup sentenced custody population given that 2004-05. This has remained the case each year given that then.

On a regular working day in 2016-seventeen, older people in remand outnumbered these in sentenced custody by a ratio of 1.5 to 1 in the provinces and territories. The ratio of older people in remand compared to these in sentenced custody has been rising given that 2013-fourteen, when it was 1.2 to 1. In 2017-18, on an ordinary for each working day, there had been about fifty % much more older people (fourteen,812) in remand than had been in provincial/territorial sentenced custody (9,543)

in 2017-18, eight of 13 jurisdictions experienced a larger proportion of remanded older people in comparison with these in sentenced custody: Alberta (70 %), Ontario (69 %), Manitoba (69 %), Nova Scotia (65 %), British Columbia (65 %), Yukon (sixty two %), the Northwest Territories (58 %), and Nunavut (fifty five %).


Incarceration really should not be a death sentence. With COVID-19 outbreaks ravaging carceral establishments, jail-justice activists have elevated the call to “Free them all for community health” (#freethemall4publichealth). In the course of the pandemic’s first wave, prisoner-rights activists turned to vehicle caravans and sound steps outside the house neighborhood jails and prisons. Honking auto horns and sounding noisemakers, they let men and women inside of know that men and women outside the house had been thinking about them and had been involved about their effectively-being. They also elevated broader consciousness about the greater well being threats prisoners have faced with COVID-19.

Noise-caravan steps happened at Mission Establishment, Fraser Regional Correctional Centre, Alouette Correctional Centre for Gals, and Surrey Pretrial. At the very last Mission action, men and women inside of hung banners stating “Thank You” and “Help Us” outside the house their windows even though shouting and drumming together with the sound outside the house. Men and women in Surrey Pretrial banged for most of an hour.

Perhaps the banner of #freethemall will have to be elevated once again, offered the current outbreaks in the Decreased Mainland.