17 people released early from jails in Newfoundland and Labrador
Inmates making transition to community as correctional facilities attempt to limit number of prisoners
Seventeen inmates have been released from correctional facilities across Newfoundland and Labrador as the province looks for ways to limit the spread of COVID-19 into jails.
Justice Minister Andrew Parsons said as of Monday morning 17 people have been released on temporary absences. Four more cases are currently being reviewed.
The individuals were within 15 to 30 days of their regularly scheduled release day.
"It's nothing that extraordinarily out of the ordinary but obviously with everything going on and trying to make things safer, this is where we are today," said Parsons on Monday.
Corrections officials are reassessing individual cases every day, Parsons said.
"This isn't done on a blanket format. It's on a case-by-case basis based on their circumstance, taking in mind safety," Parsons said.
"There are some that don't want to go."
Parsons said there has been an increase in bail hearings as well but he did not have the exact number of individuals released on custody pending court procedures.
Parsons said the public doesn't need to be concerned about the releases.
"I always keep in mind safety and humanity. There are rules we have to follow. We are living in extraordinary times, and we are doing — all of us within the system are doing the best they can to ensure everyone's safety," he said.
"People do not need to worry about this at all. People right now need to worry about staying home."
Lawyer Bob Buckingham has been vocal in calls for justice officials to release as many inmates as possible to get ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic.
John Howard Society helping
The John Howard Society of Newfoundland and Labrador is helping with people as they transition to the community earlier than expected.
Individuals are primarily going to halfway houses operated by the society.
"It's not just a matter of opening the doors and telling people to move on," said executive director Cindy Murphy.
Murphy said housing is a consideration when determining who can be released early, as officials don't want to offload people onto the shelter system.
The John Howard Society is no longer going inside correctional facilities, like Her Majesty's Penitentiary, due to the spread of COVID-19. Instead, programs are being held over the phone.
"People are nervous, people are wondering about access," she said.
"Even folks we supervise in the community, we've had to limit their access to the community. They can't be gone for an extended period of time."
Murphy stresses this is a high-risk population, where individuals often suffer from compromised physical and mental health.