B.C.’s provincial prison officials have now gone two consecutive weeks without granting any inmates early release due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, following a steady trickle of releases totalling 35 over several weeks beginning in April.
According to BC Corrections figures provided in response to a query from KTW, no straight-time prisoners were granted pandemic-related early release between May 18 and May 24, the most recent week for which statistics are available.
The previous week also saw no straight-time prisoners released for pandemic-related reasons.
The provincial corrections branch has said it is still reviewing prisoners for potential early release, having recently expanded eligibility to include inmates serving sentences of up to 60 days.
Officials at B.C.s 10 provincial prisons have also made local and long-distance phone calls free in an effort to help those behind bars stay connected to loved ones during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Late in March, BC Corrections announced some non-violent offenders would be released following a screening procedure in an effort to slow the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus behind bars.
So far, 35 straight-time prisoners have been granted the unprecedented release, not including hundreds of intermittent inmates — those serving jail time on weekends — who have been told to stay home.
The time in custody will not be made up by straight-time or intermittent prisoners.
Between May 18 and May 24, 146 inmates were admitted to B.C.’s provincial prisons, including five at Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre.
Since March, two people involved in B.C.’s provincial correctional system have tested positive for COVID-19 — an inmate at Okanagan Correctional Centre in Oliver and an employee at North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam. The Okanagan prisoner has since recovered and there has been no update on the condition of the North Fraser staff member.
An outbreak at Mission Institution, a federal penitentiary in the Fraser Valley, has claimed the life of one prisoner and infected more than 130 inmates and staff. There has also been a case at Mountain Institution in Agassiz, a federal prison.
Provincial prisoners are inmates either awaiting trial or serving a sentence of less than two years in custody. Federal penitentiary populations are made up of prisoners serving sentences of two years or longer.
BC Corrections has the authority to grant early release to provincial prisoners serving sentences, not those awaiting trial or sentencing. According to the agency, about 70 per cent of its inmates are awaiting trial or sentencing.
As of May 25, there were 1,504 inmates serving time in provincial prisons in B.C. — down more than 100 from April and a drop of more than 25 per cent from mid-March, when there were nearly 2,200 provincial prisoners behind bars in B.C.
At Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre, approximately 200 inmates were behind bars in late March. As of May 25, the prison’s inmate count was 142 — a decrease of nearly 30 per cent.