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Her Majesty's Penitentiary, a minimum security penitentiary in St. John's, N.L., in 2011.Paul Daly/The Canadian Press

Calls are growing for governments to release inmates in provincial jails and federal prisons as outbreaks of COVID-19 driven by the Omicron variant spread through the country’s correctional facilities.

Amelia Reimer of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Elizabeth Fry Society says the 31 cases reported Dec. 31 at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth, N.S., are a clear sign of the risk posed to inmates, staff and their communities by the Omicron variant.

She said in a recent interview that her group is calling for the release of non-violent offenders and people held on remand within the province’s prisons.

University of Ottawa associate professor Justin Piche said in a recent interview that inmates in close settings are more vulnerable to outbreaks of COVID-19.

The criminologist says measures used to lessen the risk of outbreaks in these settings, like bouts of prolonged lockdown and isolation, are also extremely harmful, particularly to inmates’ mental health.

Piche says staff are vulnerable too, and they’re at risk of spreading COVID-19 to their wider communities if they contract the disease at work and take it home when their work day ends.

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