OTTAWA -- To date nearly all of the 360 confirmed cases of COVID-19 within federal corrections facilities have recovered, according to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.

As of June 8, two inmates have died, and one case remains “active.” A total of 1,288 tests have been administered, and results are pending for seven inmates. 

The two inmates that died were from the two federal facilities that have experienced the worst COVID-19 outbreaks, the Federal Training Centre in Laval, Que., where there have been 162 confirmed cases, and the Mission Institution in Mission, B.C., where there have been 120 confirmed cases. 

On Tuesday, Blair called the deaths “troubling.” 

“No segment of Canadian society has been untouched by COVID-19 and that includes the inmates and correction workers who work daily in our federal corrections system,” Blair said, detailing the steps that have been taken in an effort to limit the spread of the highly contagious virus through the closed quarters of federal corrections facilities. 

Despite the steps taken, a handful of prisons have experienced outbreaks over the last three months, prompting some advocates to call for the release of nonviolent offenders to reduce the populations within these facilities. 

Blair told reporters that over the last three months the federal custody population has declined by a total of 713 inmates. On average 600 people come in and out of the federal prison system on average each month, but Blair said the slight reduction in inmates is a result of both fewer people coming into prisons, and the Parole Board of Canada’s work to expedite the release of eligible inmates who may be at higher risk due to the pandemic. 

“On average we have about 14,000 people at any given time within the correction system in Canada within our federal institutions. As a result of work done during this pandemic we have seen that number of 14,000 reduced in the net by 713, which means that 713 more people have been released than entered the system,” Blair said. 

On Tuesday the minister announced the federal government will be providing $500,000 to five volunteer-based organizations to develop pilot projects to help reintegrate offenders under supervision at halfway houses.

The organizations receiving the funding are: The Association des services de réhabilitation sociale du Québec; the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies; the John Howard Society of Canada; the National Associations Active in Criminal Justice; and the St. Leonard’s Society of Canada. 

“As a system focused on rehabilitation and effective reintegration, it is important to remember that our correction system often extends well beyond the walls of our federal institutions,” Blair said. 

Blair said these organizations have seen an increased demand for assistance amid the pandemic and they’ve been trying to adapt to the realities of the public health measures that need to be followed. They will now be able to submit COVID-19-related expenses to the government for reimbursement. This will cover the costs of personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, and other changes that need to be made to physically distance their residents.