A prisoner at a Port Coquitlam jail has tested positive for COVID-19, the ministry responsible for BC Correction has confirmed.
The prisoner, in custody at North Fraser Pretrial Centre on Kingsway Avenue, tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 on Sept. 23, according to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Public Safety and the Solicitor General.
“As part of our pandemic planning, we have prepared for a confirmed case and are actively working with our [Provincial Health Services Authority] Correctional Health team,” wrote ministry spokesperson Hope Latham in an email to the Tri-City News.
After the prisoner first exhibited symptoms on Sept. 22, the individual was isolated under medical observation and tested. An investigation into who the prisoner came into direct contact with and anyone who may have been exposed is currently under way.
Built in 2001 as one of the largest provincial institutions in British Columbia, North Fraser is a high-security remand centre for men made up of nearly 300 cells.
This is not the first time the North Fraser Pretrial Centre has been hit with a case of COVID-19. In April, Fraser Health identified a case at the detention centre.
Some of the province’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks so far have been linked to prison facilities, including one at the Mission Institute where one federal prisoner died and dozens of cases had sprung up before the outbreak was brought under control.
Following those earlier outbreaks, BC Corrections moved to release non-violent offenders from custody in an effort to stem transmission of the virus among the prison system’s high-risk population. Meanwhile, the "in-custody" population in remand (people in custody awaiting a court date) went from 2,200 in mid-March to 1,400 by June, a reduction BC Corrections says is the combined result of "prioritizing trials and sentencing at the height of the pandemic, people completing existing sentences, and fewer admissions into custody."
Inmates coming into the facilities are given a questionnaire and have their temperatures checked. Anyone with symptoms is isolated for 14 days before being placed with the general population, according to the ministry.
Staff are prohibited from entering a facility if they are showing symptoms or have travelled outside the country.
In-person visits have been banned while contracted services, like deliveries, have been limited. Lawyers have also been encouraged to meet with their clients over the phone or by video, when possible.
CORRECTION: A previous version of the story indicated "hundreds of non-violent offenders" had been released from custody in an effort to stem the transmission of COVID-19. In fact, while the "in-custody" population dropped by 800 in the spring, between mid-March and mid-June, only 25 individuals with less than 60 days on their sentence were granted a temporary absence.