Native federal prisoners are contracting COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates.
Correction Canada said Wednesday that as of January 10, there are 207 active cases of COVID-19 among inmates in federal prisons.
Of these, 39 are among the prisoners identified as Aboriginal, accounting for about 19 percent of the total caseload.
Indigenous peoples make up five percent of Canada’s population, but make up just under a third of the country’s federal prison population as of January 2020, which the Canadian Reform investigator said at the time had reached a historic high.
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Corrections Inspector Evan Zenger said at the time that the trend represented “disturbing and ingrained imbalances”, and a deepening “localization” of the Canadian correctional system.
Justin Beshey, associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, said that although the rate of positive cases among Indigenous federal prisoners is lower than that of Indigenous people in the federal prison system, it is still significantly higher than their share of the total population of Canada.
This discrepancy shows that indigenous peoples are disproportionately affected by the institutions that produce these kinds of health outcomes, said Beshey, who is also a researcher with the Prison Pandemic Partnership, an academic research group that tracks the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of Canada. prisoners.
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He said he believed this dynamic could be explained in part by the historical patterns of genocidal violence and state neglect suffered by indigenous peoples by institutions in Canada.
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“This, in my opinion, is evidence of structural racism,” Beshi said.
Earlier this week, the Indigenous Peoples Conference called on Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino to expedite the release of low-risk and remand offenders to limit the spread of the highly transmissible variant of Omicron in federal prisons.
During the first wave of the pandemic in Canada, Bill Blair, then Minister of Public Safety, announced the release of hundreds of federal prisoners amid several outbreaks of COVID-19 in correctional facilities.
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Alex Cohen, a spokesperson for Mendicino, said in a statement that corrections services have put in place initiatives to stop the spread of COVID-19 in federal institutions.
Cohen said they are making great efforts to reduce systemic racism in the justice system and to overcome the overrepresentation of indigenous peoples in prisons. These include culturally appropriate approaches to indigenous reforms, and funding to support the reintegration of previously imprisoned indigenous peoples.
Correctional Services and the Parole Board of Canada continue to treat prisoners eligible for release in accordance with the law and with public safety a “first consideration,” he said.
Kim Bowden, national vice president of the Indigenous Peoples Council, said the high rate of COVID-19 cases among Indigenous prisoners is one reason the organization is calling for its rapid release.
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Bowden said he talks regularly with insiders about their condition and whether they can get health care.
But what I found is that the majority of them suffer from stress. They don’t want to be dragged out of there in a body bag,” he said.
Bioden said that given the protracted nature of the pandemic, the risk of infection with the virus is likely to continue along with the potential for new variants of COVID-19 to emerge.
“It seems like it’s never ending. At least if they can go home, that’s where they should go. Be with their families instead of being there. It’s like a petri dish.”
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