The number of Nunavummiut adults being held in custody through the justice system in 2020 peaked at 151 in each September and October, several months into the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Statistics Canada data released in July.
By comparison, there were 122 Nunavummiut in custody in February 2020, the month prior to the pandemic taking hold in Canada.
The increase over those several months was 23.8 per cent.
This made the territory, along with Newfoundland/Labrador and Prince Edward Island, the only jurisdictions in Canada to have higher custody counts by December — when the figure stood at 144 for Nunavut — than they were prior to the emergence of COVID-19.
In the neighbouring Northwest Territories, for example, there were 143 people in custody in February 2020, and that number dropped to 94 by December, a 34.3 per cent reduction.
Nationwide, based on the same period, the number of adults in custody fell from 37,976 to 31,981, a decline of 15.8 per cent.
The counts entail the average number of adults in federal and provincial/territorial custody, which includes sentenced custody, including intermittent sentences, remand and other temporary detention, according to Statistics Canada.
Correctional Service Canada data reveal that 1,580 inmates at Canadian federal correctional institutions had tested positive for COVID-19 as of June 29, 2021. Of those infected inmates, 99 per cent recovered while six prisoners died of COVID-19.
“The Canadian courts and correctional systems have taken steps to reduce the size of the correctional institution population during the COVID-19 pandemic, while balancing public safety concerns. Measures include the temporary or early release of persons in custody who are considered low risk to reoffend; extended periods for parole appeal deadlines and access to medical leave privileges; and alternatives to custody while awaiting trial, sentencing and bail hearings,” Statistics Canada stated. “The pandemic has presented many health and safety challenges for Canadians. Correctional institutions are particularly at risk of COVID-19 outbreaks due to the close proximity of their population, lack of physical distancing, the movement of individuals in and out of facilities and the challenge of meeting heightened cleaning and hygiene requirements.”
In Nunavut, 23 inmates were released in March and April 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns.