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COVID-19: NWT jails cut most visits, boost health safety measures

Eighty-three per cent of inmates in the NWT correctional system are Indigenous, according to the Department of Justice. NNSL file photo

The territory’s jails are suspending inmate visitations in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Visitors will be barred from entering the territory’s three jails, Yellowknife’s North Slave Correctional Complex (NSCC), the South Mackenzie Correctional Centre in Hay River and the Fort Smith Correctional Complex, as officials brace for a potential outbreak.

Exceptions will be made in the event of a family death or illness, and confidential in-person meetings with lawyers, spiritual advisers and Elders will be accommodated as “much as possible,” Justice department spokesperson Sue Glowach stated in an email Tuesday.

There were no confirmed COVID-19 in the territory as of Thursday morning.

The move, mirrored in jails and prisons across Canada in the wake of the novel coronavirus’ spread, is part of enhanced health safety measures being introduced at Corrections Service-run facilities in the NWT, said Glowach.

Inmates will face additional screening upon intake with COVID-19 “assessment tools,” and hygiene practices are being ramped up, stated Glowach.

Given close-quartered living conditions, health experts have long noted inmate populations’ susceptibility to viral outbreaks.

In the event of a COVID-19 outbreak at NWT jails, Glowach stated a “contingency plan” is in place, but she wouldn't elaborate.

“We will not be releasing specific details of the plan … it provides for the health and safety of the inmates, the staff and the community, as well as addressing the potential of staffing shortages," she stated.

Facilities have the means of “isolating inmates who are symptomatic,” and staffing levels are currently stable, stated Glowach, adding the justice department is working with the NWT Chief Public Health Office to “determine the best courses of action for implementing isolation and maintaining inmate well being.”

As per current recommendations from the territory’s top doctor Dr. Kami Kandola, jail staff that have recently travelled internationally or that are exhibiting CODIV-19 symptoms will be asked to self-isolate for two weeks before returning to work.