Whitehorse Correctional Centre in Whitehorse on Feb. 2. A COVID-19 vaccine clinic was held for inmates on Jan. 21, with the doses available on a voluntary basis. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Whitehorse Correctional Centre in Whitehorse on Feb. 2. A COVID-19 vaccine clinic was held for inmates on Jan. 21, with the doses available on a voluntary basis. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Less than half of inmates opt for COVID-19 vaccine at Whitehorse Correctional Centre

Pandemic protocols will remain in place, according to justice department

The Whitehorse Correctional Centre hosted its first COVID-19 vaccination clinic last month, but that doesn’t mean in-house pandemic protocols will be lifted anytime soon.

According to Andrea Monteiro, the Yukon’s director of corrections, the correctional centre was flagged for early vaccination alongside assisted living facilities. A clinic was held for inmates on Jan. 21, with the first dose available on a voluntary basis.

“I’m really excited that our counterparts in health understood the complex nature of the correctional institution and the fact that we are also a high-risk facility for the spread of COVID,” Monteiro told the News.

Only 14 out of 43 inmates chose to receive the vaccination, according to Fiona Azizaj, justice spokesperson.

The correctional centre was allotted two clinic days for the first and second dose of the vaccine, but Monteiro said there aren’t additional clinic dates scheduled to cover those who become incarcerated after Jan. 21.

“There’s little influence that … corrections has on that, and so, we fall into the queue when the Chief Medical Officer of Health determines that they’re doing a clinic in our facility,” Monteiro said.

Azizaj told the News that the department is still working out logistics in the case that inmates are released before receiving their second dose.

The correctional centre has implemented several COVID-19 safety protocols in the past year. Personal visits were suspended on March 24, 2020, and “secure visits” were introduced on May 12.

Those secure visits allow inmates to receive two visitors at a time, with a physical barrier between them to prevent virus transmission. To balance the visiting limitations, the correctional centre provides 20 minutes of free phone calls to inmates each day.

In November, the News reported that a new mother incarcerated at the correctional centre was unable to hold her infant for nearly eight months due to the restricted visits.

Monteiro said that no adjustments nor exceptions have been made for contact visits, though she was unable to comment on individual cases.

Last March, correctional centre staff were advised to avoid social gatherings, and non-essential staff training was suspended. Additional cleaning procedures were put into place and court appearances were facilitated by video.

The correctional centre’s last COVID-19 update was posted last April, and Monteiro said very little has changed in pandemic protocols since then.

In April, the centre promised a detailed review of individuals on remand and on intermittent sentences, particularly for those vulnerable to COVID-19. An assessment took place to determine whether inmates could be released on an unescorted temporary absence without compromising the safety of the community.

Monteiro said that the correctional centre is “significantly under-capacity” due to alternative measures taken for custodial placements. She explained that pandemic protocols will continue at the correctional centre for the foreseeable future, regardless of the number of inmates who have been vaccinated.

“It’s a bit of a risk mitigation strategy for the institution, so we’re evaluating that on a day-to-day basis, to see whether additional protocols and measures need to be put in place,” Monteiro said.

Masks became mandatory in the correctional centre when the second wave of the virus hit, and an additional cleaner was hired for the facility.

“Other than that, not much has changed (since the start of the pandemic); we’d already taken quite a proactive approach at mitigating risks within the correctional institution that we didn’t have to adjust our operations too drastically,” Monteiro said.

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at gabrielle.plonka@yukon-news.com

CoronavirusWhitehorse Correctional CentreYukon health and social servicesYukon justice department

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