British Columbia

B.C. Corrections considers early release for some offenders in wake of COVID crisis

Corrections officials will look at criminal history, sentence length, type of offence and risk to public safety

Officials will look at criminal history, sentence length, type of offence and risk to public safety

Inside Alouette Correctional Centre for Women in Maple Ridge B.C. (B.C. Corrections)

Some non-violent offenders in British Columbia prisons may soon get an early release, as the province grapples with the COVID-19 crisis. 

In a fact sheet, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General announced it is currently conducting risk assessments to determine who might be eligible.

Factors include criminal history, sentence length, type of offence and risk to public safety.

"As well, part of this assessment and determination for potential release includes whether the individual released would have the necessary supports in place — whether family, community, or on-reserve, given 30 per cent of B.C.'s inmate population is Indigenous," says the B.C. Corrections' response to COVID-19.

B.C. Corrections says it can also give temporary absences to people serving intermittent sentences. However it will not release inmates who are in custody awaiting court appearances. "This discretion rests with the courts," says the release.

The ministry says there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at any of the province's 10 provincial correctional centres.

According to the fact sheet, B.C. Corrections is instituting measures to keep COVID-19 out of prisons. These include health checks for new inmates, isolation in designated areas for the first 14 days and isolation for anyone with symptoms.

The Prince George Regional Correctional Centre, which opened in 1996, is a remand facility for adults in northern B.C. (B.C. Corrections Branch)

"Mandatory handwashing and cleaning protocols are in place for staff, essential contractors and at intake for people coming into custody," says the release.

"As well, there is increased, frequent cleaning of inmate and staff areas and all surfaces that people regularly touch, like doors and counters."

The ministry has also instituted a ban on in-person visits unless there are exceptional circumstances and is encouraging inmates to communicate with lawyers by video or phone. Most court appearances are now also by video or phone.

Staff and contractors who experience symptoms or who have recently travelled outside of Canada are not allowed into the centres.

The authority says correctional centres have the space they need to maintain physical distancing, and now they're "working to reimagine programming, to find ways to continue delivering it to small groups in ways that align with the public health guidelines B.C. Corrections has been given."

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