Advocates call for immediate release of some N.S. inmates as COVID cases rise
HALIFAX -- With more than 1,300 active cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, advocates are calling for action within the provincial justice system.
Wellness Within – an organization for Health and Justice – is calling for the immediate release of prisoners to safe housing, and appropriate funding for organizations providing transitional housing and other supports, such as Coverdale Courtwork Society and the Elizabeth Fry Society.
"When we release people we are not seeing an escalation in crime,” said Martha Paynter, chair of Wellness Within. "People are incarcerated in this province largely while they're waiting for trials, so they're innocent people who have yet to be tried, yet to be convicted, yet to be sentenced."
Paynter says prisoners are being held in unsafe conditions. Despite a provincewide lockdown, Paynter says more than 350 people remain in custody at the Central Nova Correctional Facility in Dartmouth.
Last April, 42 percent of people held in provincial facilities were released.
"In the present circumstances of a variant which is more virulent than we were dealing with a year ago, certainly we should do just as well,” said N.S. NDP Leader Gary Burrill.
The COVID case count continues to rise in Nova Scotia with 182 new cases reported Thursday in the province.
"We have the proper controls in place but we have to really count on Nova Scotians to ensure that they're staying home,” said Premier Iain Rankin.
Fourty people are currently in hospital, nine of them in the ICU. With the case count continuing to rise, the health minister says they’re preparing for all scenarios.
"The IWK and the Department and Public Health are all working together to prepare for worst-case scenarios,” said Zach Churchill, Nova Scotia's health minister. "We're seeing higher level of hospitalization with this 3rd wave. Younger, healthier people are being hospitalized, we have a higher hospitalization rate than the first two waves."
Two of the new cases reported today in the Central Zone involve a staff member and a resident of the Clarmar Residential Care Facility in Dartmouth. This is the third staff member and third resident at the facility to test positive.
Meanwhile, the Progressive Conservatives say it’s baffling that there is still no testing at the Halifax airport.
"I don't understand with the resources that are coming down federally to assist us in this pandemic that the premier has not engaged in a plan to have testing at the airports,” said MLA Karla MacFarlane.
The premier says the restrictions in place now are more restrictive than the first wave but he will tighten things up even more if need be.
"This is different than the first wave and second wave with the variants and if Dr. Strang and Public Health have other restrictions they think will help, I won't hesitate to put them in,” said Rankin.