The inmate population dropped by 6,000 across Canada’s correctional institutions in April as governments took measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 in jails, says the latest report from Statistics Canada.
The bulk decline in inmate populations came from provincial and territorial jails, according to the report. Inmate populations decreased by 25 percent from February to April, compared to federal jails which had only a one percent decrease during the same period.
Provincial and territorial prisons hold inmates serving sentences of two years or less, including intermittent sentences and as well as those who have been remanded in custody. As for federal institutions, they are responsible for inmates serving sentences of two years or more, including dangerous offenders and those without a known release date.
The declines come as Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair asked prison system and parole board officials back in March to consider the early release of some offenders to slow the spread of COVID 19 in correctional institutions.
In response, the correctional system implemented temporary or early release of low-risk offenders, extended the periods for parole appeals, and provided alternatives to those awaiting trial, sentencing, and bail hearings, says the report.
Criminology professor at the University of Toronto Scot Wortley told the National Post that while releasing some inmates may have helped slow the spread, the correctional institutions have to be careful so as not to endanger the public.
“We want to make sure public safety is ensured,” Wortley said.
The correctional institutions also stepped up protective measures for those remaining in custody, such as increasing the inmates’ access to hygiene and cleaning supplies, using video visitation with family members, increasing physical health screening for COVID-19 symptoms at intake, and suspending inter-regional and international transfers, says the report.
Justice and Solicitor General Katherine Thompson said the measures are working.
“These prudent actions are one of the reasons why there have only been 11 positive inmate infection cases of COVID-19 in Alberta’s provincial correctional facilities, all having been contracted in the community and with no spread within the facilities,” Thompson said in a statement to Global News.