Four inmates at the Okanagan Correctional Centre have been granted early release due to COVID-19. (Phil McLachlan - Western News)

4 inmates at Okanagan Correctional Centre granted early release due to COVID-19

The move, which impacts offenders serving intermittent sentences, is to prevent spread of virus

The B.C. government has allowed the early-release of nearly 100 inmates from its provincial jails in its latest steps to preventing the outbreak of COVID-19 within its facilities.

BC Corrections has released 95 inmates from nine jails since March 1, according to the B.C. Ministry of Public Safety.

A majority of those who were released have been serving intermittent sentences for their offences, such as on weekends only. As of April 2, there were 1,805 people being housed in B.C. jails. Of those locked up, 617 were serving their sentences while 1,138 were awaiting court hearings. A further 50 were being held due to immigration matters, under jurisdiction of the Canadian Border Services Agency.

In order to be released early, BC Corrections considered the offender’s criminal history, offence type, length of sentence and overall risk to public safety, the ministry said.

Broken down across the nine jails, 20 inmates were released from the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam, 13 from the Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre, 12 inmates from the Nanaimo Correctional Centre and 31 from the Surrey Pretrial Service Centre.

READ MORE: Should non-violent offenders be released from prison to avoid COVID-19 spread?

Five inmates were also released from the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women while four were released from the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre, both located in Maple Ridge. Four inmates were each released from the regional correctional centres in Prince George and near Victoria.

Another four offenders were released early from the high-security Okanagan Correctional Centre in Oliver – the first prison in B.C. to have a confirmed outbreak after an inmate tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

No one was released early from the Ford Mountain Correctional Centre in Chilliwack.

The move by BC Corrections comes as advocacy groups across the country, including the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, continue to call for non-violent offenders to be released from federal, territorial and provincial facilities as a preventative measure to combat COVID-19 outbreaks.

READ MORE: Inmates at prison housing Robert Pickton test positive for COVID-19

Last week, federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair asked the federal prison service and the parole board to look at early releases for some offenders – a decision that must be made by the Parole Board.

Justin Piche, an associate professor in criminology at the University of Ottawa, has been tracking nationwide early-release stats, based on data provided by the government and reporting by the media. According to his count, 2,947 prisoners across Canada have been diverted or released from custody for reasons related to COVID-19 prevention measured.

Mission Institute, a federal prison in Abbotsford, has confirmed that24 inmates have tested positive for the virus – marking the highest number of cases in any Canadian penitentiary. The facility is currently under lockdown.

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.


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

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