Advocacy groups, lawyers call for jail inmate releases amid Coronavirus concerns
- EFN Staff | April 08, 2020
Criminal defence lawyers, law professors, and advocacy groups wrote an open letter to the Government of Saskatchewan last week asking for “a significant number of prisoners” to be released from provincial jails to reduce the risk of transmission of coronavirus.
“Correctional authorities can only meet their obligation to public safety in this context by releasing a significant number of prisoners, such that those remaining in prisons can protect themselves and their communities from infection,” states the April 2 letter that was signed by lawyers for the John Howard Society, Elizabeth Fry Society and 28 other legal advocacy organizations and individual lawyers.
“The solution is not to further restrict the liberty of prisoners. The answer, as we see it, is to reduce the number of people in the institutions, to demonstrate concern for prisoners’ medical and psychiatric care, and to commit to giving prisoners the tools needed to protect themselves and the facility against COVID-19,” the letter states.
The Ministry of Corrections and Policing has said there will be no changes to release or reintegration programming.
In an April 6 emailed statement, the ministry said there were no confirmed cases of Covid-19 in any Saskatchewan correctional facilities.
It said the ministry has taken steps to help stop the spread of Covid-19 in correctional facilities, including:
- Maximizing the use of existing infrastructure and program space within correctional facilities to create additional space for offenders and staff.
- Suspending, limiting or adjusting programming to accommodate smaller groups of offenders.
- Additional and thorough cleaning and disinfecting at all correctional facilities, including the use of contracted professional cleaning services.
- Increased communication on preventative hygiene measures.
- Controlled access to hand sanitizer and provision of soap, free of charge.
- Free and privileged phone calls with chaplains and Elders, and two additional 10-minute calls daily
Sherri Maier from Beyond Prison Walls Canada, an advocacy group for inmates and their families, said they are worried about the lack of social distancing and other ways the virus could spread in the jails.
Maier has also heard concerns from inmates in the federal prisons about a lack of action to contain the spread of infection.