Some of us find social isolation challenging. Imagine what it’s like for inmates who so often already feel discarded and isolated—and who now in the wake of COVID-19 have even less contact with the outside world.
“The people we serve are already isolated because of offences and so don’t have strong family and friend connections. Now, in the midst of the pandemic, they are pushed further into self-isolation, which makes it all the more important that volunteers and staff reach out to them,” says Heather Driedger, the director of Parkland Restorative Justice (PRJ), a community- based non-profit in Prince Albert, SK, that supports inmates at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary and offenders reintegrating into society.
The majority of offenders PRJ serves participate in programs run in the penitentiary. Often these people come from difficult circumstances marked by poverty, discrimination, and trauma. Before the virus, many lacked positive support. Now, thanks to the pandemic, the support they do have is even more limited.
“We found out last week that we couldn’t go into the institution anymore. We normally do a weekly visit,” says Driedger. To overcome isolation, Driedger has organized a letter-writing program between volunteers and inmates “to maintain connection.”
Offenders trying to reintegrate into society are also feeling the sting of isolation. Now, PRJ is running circles of support and accountability for offenders who are reintegrating into society online. Sometimes offering support means explaining the basics.
“One thing we’ve noticed is that some of the people we serve don’t listen to news very often or don’t have the cognitive ability to understand the information that is coming out. So they lack understanding that can affect their health and the health of others. For example, they don’t really understand how important hygiene and social isolation is. We show them how to wash their hands and show them how far apart they need to be. Our staff is helping them to understand.”
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