A recent public health order directed at the Pine Grove Correctional Centre in Prince Albert has the SGEU Public Service/Government Employment (PS/GE) bargaining unit expressing concern for the safety of staff at the facility.
Due to an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak at Pine Grove, staff have been directed to limit contact with their families, and to avoid interacting with the public – for example, by not stopping at grocery stores or gas stations – and have been advised to rely on others for childcare, grocery delivery, and other services.
“The current situation at Pine Grove could have easily been avoided if Premier Moe and the health minister had listened to the advice of their own experts, and prioritized vaccinations at correctional facilities,” said Barry Nowoselsky, chair of the SGEU PS/GE bargaining unit, which represents provincial correctional staff. “After more than a year of COVID-19, it’s simply unacceptable that staff and inmates at Pine Grove continue to be put at risk because appropriate protocols and precautions are not in place.”
Contrary to a January 2021 report by the Saskatchewan Health Authority, which recommended that “shared living settings” (including correctional facilities) be given priority early in Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout, the government chose to include staff at correctional and young offender facilities in the same age-based vaccination plan as the general public. Although some small changes were made to prioritize essential frontline workers later in the vaccine delivery, the delay means that some inmates and correctional staff are still awaiting vaccinations.
“Not only is their health and safety at risk, but staff are also facing increased costs for basics like grocery delivery and additional childcare,” Nowoselsky said. “These are essential workers who can’t work from home – they have no choice but to report to work every day where they are exposed to COVID-19, which they may bring home to their families and communities.”
“When will this government admit its mistakes, apologize to those it has endangered, and take action to ensure these workers are kept safe?”
Pine Grove Correctional Centre is the only facility in Saskatchewan that houses women offenders and those on remand. Currently there are approximately 185 staff at the centre, including correctional officers, nurses and maintenance workers in addition to contractors providing food services. The facility has the capacity for 166 inmates, and according to official tallies, had 185 inmates as of the end of April. The province declared a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility on May 23.
For more information, contact:
Communications Officer, SGEU