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Officials released this picture from the Regina Jail, showing how inmates broke through a section of wall and fashioned a rope. Six men escaped in August 2008. Public notification policies were criticized in the review of the incident. ((Sask. Ministry of Corrections))

Government officials have changed their policies on notifying the public about prisoners who have escaped or been inadvertently released, following an embarrassing mistake at the end of January.

Saskatchewan officials erroneously reported that a woman had been accidentally set free Jan. 31, when in fact her release was in accordance with the terms of her sentence.

The ministry that oversees correctional services now says it will only issue public notices in cases where an at-large inmate poses a danger to the public.

As well, the government will suppress information on escapes if officials think going public might jeopardize efforts to recapture an inmate.

"I'm going to be very diligent in getting the facts and the circumstances of the incident to me, in my office, at the earliest opportunity," Al Hilton, deputy minister of corrections, public safety and policing, said Friday.

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Al Hilton, Saskatchewan deputy minister of Corrections, Public Safety and Policing, says he will gather information on escapes and decide if the public should be notified. ((CBC))

"The next thing I'm going to do is seek advice from police services and senior corrections officials on whether or not an individual poses a risk to public safety."

Criteria listed

The new policy lists three reasons why officials would keep quiet about an escaped inmate:

  • Notification may impede capture.
  • Notification may impede a police investigation.
  • Notification may put victims at risk.

When it comes to young offenders who have escaped or been inadvertently released, and the ministry deems a notification is needed, officials will wait until they have formal permission from a judge to notify the public.

The ministry policy says in those situations officials will work with other officials in the Ministry of Justice to get the matter before the courts.

The policy does not impose any deadlines, but simply says officials should get information for their decisions "at the earliest opportunity."

The policy to notify the public about escapes and other releases was implemented after six inmates broke out of the Regina jail in August 2008. In that case, 15 hours passed before a press release was issued.