UPDATE – CSC Exploring Release of Non-Violent Prisoners During COVID Crisis – LEGAL COMMENT, Outbreak In Okanagan

Ottawa/Fraser Valley (With files from RCI) – The John Howard Society is praising CSC Correctional Service Canad for “examining what options are available in collaboration with the Parole Board of Canada and what flexibilities there are to safely release offenders into the community”.

In an RCI story, 2019 stats show 39,000 in local, provincial or federal custody and the close proximity is prime for the spread of COVID-19.

In the Fraser Valley, that includes Ford Mountain Corrections Centre, Kent, Mountain, Mission and Pacific Institutions.

On April 2, Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry stated that there is a community outbreak at the Okanagan Correctional Centre. This is a high security Provincial facility in Oliver. The province was notified Wednesday night.

Earlier this month, Correctional Service Canada suspended all visits to inmates, saying they could stay in touch with friends and family by telephone or video conference. Recently a Toronto Jail Guard tested positive.

Both John Howard and Elizabeth Fry Societies are calling for the release (for safety and health reasons) to release non-violent offenders.

FVN asked for a comment from Kyla Lee of Acuman Law. Lee, ironically, is in self-isolation after coming back to Vancouver from a Chicago conference. She describes her cough “like bringing up broken glass”.

The release of non-violent prisoners is so important at a time like this. Jails are overcrowded and prisoners live in conditions that cannot accommodate social distancing.

There are many methods that can be used by prison officials at a time like this to temporarily release people in order to decrease the population and allow for social distancing. People who are awaiting trial and therefore presumed innocent should be released. Anyone who has been detained on fear they would flee the jurisdiction can easily be released now as current social conditions make it impossible to flee.

Non-violent offenders or those close to the end of their sentences should be released either temporarily or on early parole.

If COVID-19 gets into our prison system the results will be devastating. The Charter protects against cruel and unusual punishment. Holding people in conditions that expose them to a significantly elevated risk of catching a deadly virus may constitute a violation of Section 12 – it may amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

Further, those who are displaying symptoms and who are presumptive cases would essentially be forced into prison isolation, solitary confinement, which itself has been found to violate the Charter.

FVN and chillTV have reached out to both John Howard and Elizabeth Fry for further comment.

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