On March 23, 2020 Northwestern Territories legal council sent a letter addressed to the Wardens of the three correctional facilities in the Northwest Territories asking about a plan to ensure the safety and wellbeing of inmates and staff.

On March 26th, NWT Department of Justice Assistant Deputy Minister, Kim Schofield responded to the letter with the following plan;

The present inmate count in each Correctional facility allows the housing of one inmate per cell. Social distancing is being promoted throughout each facility. Health Services staff are continually reaching out to inmates and staff to reinforce messaging around universal precautions including hand washing, limiting contact with surfaces, practicing social distancing, etc. In addition, COVID-19 specific signage has been placed in all facilities for both inmates and staff.

The Corrections Service has implemented a health screening questionnaire to check inmates upon entry into a Correctional facility. This questionnaire includes screening for symptoms related to COVID-19. In the event an inmate is symptomatic they will be isolated from other inmates and health staff will contact Public Health to arrange testing.

No inmate will be permitted to enter the general population until they are medically cleared to do so.

If an inmate already in general population shows COVID-19 symptoms the Corrections Service will follow the same process as outlined for the intake of new inmates.

If a situation occurs where an inmate is showing new symptoms, the Corrections Service will hold the inmate exhibiting symptoms in separate areas away from the general population.

Additional procedures include

  • giving the identified inmate a procedural mask to wear;
  • requiring staff to wear gloves, gown, protective glasses and a procedural mask;
  • putting the inmate on contact and droplet precautions and placing them in their own cell away from other inmates;
  • ensuring that health services staff consult with Public Health on testing and inmate wellness procedures.

Any symptomatic inmate will remain on contact and droplet precautions until such time as they are medically cleared to move back into general population.

Any inmate in medical distress would be moved to a hospital for their care. In such a case, the Corrections Service will work with the Department of Health and Social Services to provide timely care.

The Corrections Service has granted temporary absences for all intermittent sentenced inmates.

The Corrections Service has been reviewing all sentenced inmates with one month remaining on their sentence, and will be granting temporary absences to those individuals who do not pose a public safety risk and would have appropriate support networks following their release.

  • In the coming days a similar review will be expanded to include inmates with less than three months remaining on their sentences.
  • In addition, the Department of Justice has been working with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, the Courts, defence lawyers and other partners in the justice system to reduce the number of people who may be coming into Corrections facilities through the remand process. 

The Department of Justice is actively working with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to support the review of all remanded offenders currently in NWT correctional facilities to identify remanded accused who may be candidates for a judicial interim release.

  • The individuals identified through this process would need to consent to taking such an approach and provide a reasonable bail plan in consultation with their legal counsel, but the ultimate approval for a judicial interim release would of course remain with the Court.

With respect to the health and safety of Corrections staff;

  • Frequent communications are being sent out to staff on Corrections procedures including enhancing inmate assessment upon intake and monitoring inmates for COVID-19 related symptoms.
  • Regular meetings are held with staff on the importance of using universal precautions, enhancing cleaning of high contact surfaces, and reinforcing safe work practices.
  • Corrections Officers are required to wear personal protective equipment contingent on the level of need.

As an example,

  • if an inmate is not symptomatic upon intake an Officer is only required to wear gloves.
  • if an inmate is symptomatic, the Officer would be required to wear gloves, a gown and a procedural mask.

Currently each facility has sufficient supplies available to meet both inmate and staff personal protective equipment requirements.

In addition to Schofield, the letter was signed by

  • Minister of Justice Caroline Wawzonek,
  • Deputy Minister of Justice Charlene Doolittle,
  • Chief Federal Prosecutor for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada Alex Godfrey,
  • Chief Superintendent RCMP G Division Jamie Zettler,
  • Director of Corrections Service Blair VanMetre ,
  • Warden of North Slave Correctional Complex(pictured above) John Nahanni,
  • Warden of Fort Smith Correctional Complex Warren Gillis,
  • Warden of South Mackenzie Correctional Centre Lorraine McDonald.