B.C. Corrections considering release of non-violent offenders because of COVID-19 - InfoNews

Current Conditions


B.C. Corrections considering release of non-violent offenders because of COVID-19

March 31, 2020 - 7:00 PM

B.C. Corrections is considering releasing non-violent offenders to help reduce the spread of the virus and protect the incarcerated population and prison staff.

Hope Latham, media relations for the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, said B.C. Corrections is doing risk assessments for non-violent offenders who might be eligible for an early release.

“This assessment and ultimate determination on release considers criminal history, sentence length, offence type, and any other relevant information, including risk to public safety,” Latham said in an email to iNFOnews.ca. “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.”

Latham said B.C. Corrections has the authority to release individuals serving an intermittent sentence when it is safe to do so. By keeping these inmates from coming in on weekends or other periods of time, it reduces the amount of people in custody and prevents the introduction of the disease.

Latham said the chance of release varies depending on each inmate. Inmates remanded in custody on outstanding court matters can only be released at the discretion of the court.

Currently, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at B.C.’s 10 provincial prisons.

In the event of a COVID-19 positive inmate, Latham said there is ample space to quarantine an infected person, although she wouldn’t clarify if that area would be in solitary confinement or if the ill inmate would receive recreational material or other supplies so quarantine doesn’t mimic punishment.

Latham said B.C. Corrections has been working closely with the Provincial Health Service Authority as well as justice and social service providers to implement the government’s recommendations.

“Protocols are in place to help keep COVID-19 out of correctional centres and, in the event of an infection, contain its spread,” Latham said. “This starts at intake for everyone coming into custody, with a questionnaire, a temperature check, isolation for anyone with symptoms, and everyone else staying on intake units, or in isolation in other areas, for 14 days before placement within the general population in a centre.”

Stephanie Smith, president of the B.C. Government and Services Employees Union, said she has not yet heard of any confirmation for plans on what to do if an infection breaks out at a prison.

“We’ve been asking the wardens to work with our occupational health and safety committee about such a plans, but at this point we don't have confirmation that any those of plans have been made available,” Smith said. “What we've been asking from the jails is what is their outbreak plan… on a provincial level, what is the framework from the corrections branch should jails become understaffed due to these reasons?”

Understaffing is a serious concern, according to Smith. She said retention is difficult as staff will often use the position as a stepping stone into a higher-paying law enforcement job.

“We’ve been concerned about staffing numbers in corrections even before the crisis,” Smith said. “We’re concerned that this situation is going to exacerbate that. Prisons or jails may find themselves short staffed in the event that people are self isolating or quarantined."

Currently, there are 1,680 correctional officers working across the province. Smith said if too many begin to self-isolate or quarantine, they may have to inquire about using other law enforcement officials to guard the prisons.

“In the past, I know other law enforcement agencies have been used to augment if there isn't enough correctional officers to staff the jail… but I don't know what the branch’s plan is,” Smith said.

Latham and Smith agree that B.C. Corrections is closely following advice from the province to prevent introducing the disease.

Staff and contractors who have travelled out of the country must not come into a correctional facility for two weeks, and services such as supply delivery have been reduced to only essential levels. Each new intake and every staff or contractor coming into the facility must wash their hands, and Latham says there is enough cleaning supplies within the facilities to meet the need for cleaning frequently touched surfaces.

Despite a seemingly adequate amount of cleaning supplies, Smith said employees have come forward and are worried about a lack of gloves, masks, and other personal protective equipment.

“There has a been a concern that has been expressed from staff around a lack of personal protective equipment like gloves, sanitation, those sorts of things when working in close contact with inmates or other staff,” Smith says.

Inmates are no longer allowed personal visits unless under exceptional circumstances, and any in-person meetings that must take place, such as with lawyers or community clients, will be done behind a glass partition. For inmates needing to appear in court or meet with a lawyer, video, phone or other socially distant measures may be taken. Smith said there are more measures that staff have recommended, such as stopping double-bunking.

Overall, Smith said this is a difficult time to navigate for all involved.

“It’s really important to note that none of us have ever gone through this before, not on the employers side nor on the union's side and what’s really important is we work together collaboratively to ideally absolutely stop any outbreak that could occur in a jail, because once it's in the jail we know we're dealing with a completely different set of issues.”

For more information, click here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won't censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor in the link above. 

News from © iNFOnews, 2020

  • Popular penticton News
View Site in: Desktop | Mobile