COVID-19 precautions are being taken at the North East Nova Scotia Correctional Facility to prevent an outbreak of the virus, says its superintendent.
Paul Young, superintendent of the provincial prison located on Sherbrooke Road, Pictou County, said during a presentation to Council Monday that staff was doing direct supervision since the prison opened in 2015, but because of COVID-19 concerns, inmates are monitored more remotely.
The North East Nova Scotia Correctional Facility is one of four institutions in the province and the second largest in Scotia. It is able to hold a maximum of 196 inmates but typically operates 75 percent full. The offender population is comprised of people who are either provincially sentenced, remanded, immigration, parole violations, or newly sentenced to a federal custody term. Young said the average stay in the prison is 46 days. It employs 140 people and it offers several offender programs that assist with a person’s reintegration in the community.
Under direct supervision, correction officers are in the living units with up to 40 inmates which helps relationships develop between the two groups and staff can better determine if someone is having a bad day or needs extra attention so they can intervene more quickly.
However, since COVID-19 came to Nova Scotia, inmates are now being monitored from more of a distance because it is believed that if the virus is going to enter the prison, it would most likely be from a staff member bringing it into the facility.
Young said he believes the direct supervision model works best and has been adopted by a second provincial institution in Dartmouth, but until COVID-19 restrictions are eased, it will not be re-instated.
District 9 Coun. Peter Boyles, who requested a Department of Justice representative attend Council to answer questions about the facility, said he had concerns about a recent incident involving an inmate that escaped from the institution this summer.
Young said the prisoner’s absence was noticed within 28 minutes and immediately reported to the police. Alerts were issued and the surrounding community was asked to secure themselves indoors and the inmate was located the next day.
Since this incident, he said changes have been made inside the prison so such time lapses will not occur again. However, he did point out that if direct supervision was in place, he believes the escape would not have taken place in the first place.
Young said the institution has also taken steps to become involved in the local community by donating food from its on-site gardens to the food bank as well as eggs produced from poultry.
“We are very proud of our community involvement,” he said, adding he would be happy to host Council for a tour of the facility in the future.