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Indigenous Federal Inmates Face Disproportionately High Rates of COVID-19

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OTTAWA – Indigenous federal inmates are infected with COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates.


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The Correctional Service of Canada said on Wednesday that as of January 10, there were 207 active cases of COVID-19 among inmates in federal penitentiaries.

Of these cases, 39 involve inmates who identify as indigenous, which represents almost 19% of the overall caseload.

Indigenous peoples make up 5% of the Canadian population, but made up just under a third of the country’s federal prison population as of January 2020, which Canada’s Correctional Investigator said had reached an all-time high at the time.

This trend represents “disturbing and entrenched imbalances” and a growing “indigenization” of Canada’s corrections system, said then-Ivan Zinger, the Correctional Investigator.

Justin Piche, associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, said that while the rate of positive cases among Indigenous federal inmates is lower than the number of Indigenous people in the federal prison system, it remains significantly higher than their share of the total population of Canada.


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This gap shows that Indigenous peoples are disproportionately affected by institutions that produce these kinds of health outcomes, said Piche, who is also a researcher for the Prison Pandemic Partnership, an academic research group that tracks the effect of COVID-19 on the lives of Canadians. inmates.

He said he believes this dynamic can be explained in part by the historical patterns of genocidal violence and state neglect that Indigenous peoples have endured through institutions in Canada.

“This, in my opinion, is evidence of structural racism,” Piche said.

Earlier this week, the Congress of Indigenous Peoples called on Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino to speed up the release of low-risk offenders and remand prisoners to limit the spread of the highly transmissible variant of Omicron in federal prisons.


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During the first wave of the pandemic in Canada, Bill Blair, then Minister of Public Safety, announced the release of hundreds of federal inmates amid multiple outbreaks of COVID-19 in correctional facilities.

Alex Cohen, a spokesperson for Mendicino, said in a statement that corrections have taken initiatives to stop the spread of COVID-19 in federal institutions.

Cohen said they are making significant efforts to reduce systemic racism in the justice system and tackle the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in prisons. These include culturally appropriate approaches to Indigenous corrections and funding to support the reintegration of previously incarcerated Indigenous peoples.


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Corrections and the Parole Board of Canada continue to treat inmates eligible for release in accordance with the law and public safety being the “primary consideration,” he said.

Kim Beaudin, national vice president of the Congress of Indigenous Peoples, said the high rate of COVID-19 cases among Indigenous inmates is one of the reasons the organization is calling for expedited release.

Beaudin said he regularly spoke with people inside about their health and their access to health care.

“What I find, however, is that the majority of them are stressed out. They don’t want to be dragged out of there in a body bag, ”he said.

Beaudin said given the protracted nature of the pandemic, the risk of becoming infected with the virus will likely continue with the potential for new variants of COVID-19 to emerge.

“It doesn’t seem to stop. At least if they can get home, that’s where they should be going. Be with their families instead of being indoors. It’s like a Petri dish.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.



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