More than 200 inmates have been granted early releases from B.C. jail cells in recent months in an unprecedented effort by the province to prevent the outbreak of COVID-19 within its 10 facilities.
Since March 1, 207 inmates serving intermittent sentences have been granted early release, according to BC Corrections data obtained by Black Press Media. Intermittent sentences are often served only on weekends.
Thirty-five offenders serving continuous sentences have also been released early.
So far, BC Corrections officials have only been considering offenders serving less than 30 days behind bars – but are looking to expand that list those serving longer sentences, up to two months.
“Having completed its exploration of the feasibility of approving temporary absences for people serving sentences of 30 days or less, BC Corrections is now assessing those serving sentences of 60 days or less,” the public safety ministry said in a statement.
Only non-violent offenders are being considered for early release, a process that involves a risk assessment by corrections officials.
“This assessment and ultimate determination on release considers criminal history, sentence length, offence type, and any other relevant information, including risk to public safety,” the ministry said.
“In turn, these factors also shape the level of community supervision that BC Corrections provides to those individuals on temporary absences.”
As of May 24 there were 1,504 inmates in B.C. prisons, with 30 per cent of those sentenced to two years or less behind bars. The other 70 per cent are either awaiting trial, sentencing, or are being held due to immigration matters under jurisdiction of the Canadian Border Services Agency.
There have been two cases of COVID-19 found in B.C. prisons, the first at the Okanagan Correctional Centre in Oliver and the second at North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam.
Meanwhile, two outbreaks have been declared at federal prisons in B.C., the first at Mission Institution and the second at Mountain Institution. There are 43 federally-run prisons in Canada, eight of those in B.C.
Concerns by staff and the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers have been raised over the lack of personal protective equipment, also referred to as PPE, available to staff while on the job.
– with a file from Tim Petruk, Kamloops This Week
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