Saturday , 24 July 2021

Courts backlogged and inmates facing tighter restrictions during COVID

Alberta courts continue to experience changes and disruptions.

Carla Jones, Communications Advisor for the Justice and Solicitor General, said Alberta’s government undertook many changes to ensure Albertans have access to justice during the pandemic.

“To address the backlogs and shorten wait times, several vacant court positions have been filled in the Calgary and Edmonton offices and staff are also working overtime. Matters are proceeding, and Alberta’s government and the courts are also working on long-term solutions by refining the administrative processes and by introducing new digital solutions,” said Jones.

To give an idea of how many times things have been pushed back, on November 27, an announcement was given for continued restricted access to court. As of December 17, they said they would begin filing all Civil and Family items via email.

In late December, the Court of Queen’s Bench also announced schedule changes for the weeks of January 4 and January 11. Most criminal matters were to go ahead in Calgary and Edmonton as well as some Family and Civil trials, but other non-urgent matters were either adjourned or rescheduled.

On January 5, an update was given including certain matters being heard remotely in addition to low-complexity out-of-custody trials (other than domestic violence) in Calgary and Edmonton that were scheduled between December 14, 2020 – January 29, 2021 to be adjourned and given new dates.

“Alberta’s government continues to work closely with the courts to ensure the direction of public health officials is being followed. The health and safety of all individuals working in and using Alberta’s courts is our top priority,” said Jones.

She said when it comes to remand centres in the province, enhanced measures are in place for prisoner transport.

For example, all transport sheriffs use PPE when inmates are on board, they have reduced the number of inmates being transported and use larger transport vehicles to ensure six foot distances. In addition, if an inmate is suspected of or confirmed of having Covid, the vehicle is not used for 48 hours and is fully sanitized before going back into operation.

With reports of between 40 – 60 inmates at Edmonton Remand Centre contracting COVID in November and December, conditions were said to have much harder for those inmates with the extra measures put in place. The most extreme reports show additional isolation as the cause of suicide attempts, but Jones ensures that mental health supports are available for inmates and staff.

She said the current process at correctional facilities involves adult inmates and young persons being quarantined for 14 days upon arrival. Any showing symptoms of the virus or testing positive then get placed in medical isolation to reduce the risk of transmission.

“This aids physical distancing and restricts transmission between groups, as per AHS guidelines. Provincial correctional and Alberta Health Services staff continue working hard to maintain safe and secure centres while taking many precautions to protect everyone’s health,” said Jones.

If a correctional facility experiences an outbreak, AHS institutes additional infection prevention and control measures at that facility.

Extra measures include isolating and separating inmates into different spaces than normal, temporary suspension of all non-urgent inmate movement within the entire centre, and in or out of the affected units, and possible adjustment of routines such as the timing of meals and when an inmate is out of their space for phone and laundry access.

About Angela Mouly

Angela comes to Lakeland Connect after leaving traditional newspaper where she spent the past four years reporting on community events. Her repertoire includes writing about history, politics, agriculture, sports, entertainment and art. She was the third place recipient of an AWNA General Excellence Award for “Best Front Page” during their 2016 Better Newspaper Competition. Angela has lived in rural Alberta all her life and in Vermilion for the past 15 years. She looks forward to continuing to serve and inform the Lakeland community by joining in people's many adventures and sharing their stories.