Inmates in B.C. prisons are no longer being considered for pandemic-related early release.
BC Corrections stopped granting the releases this week, though no prisoners had been given pandemic-related early release since mid-May.
In March, BC Corrections announced its intention to release non-violent prisoners serving short jail sentences only after extensive reviews. The move was made with the intention of preventing any potential spread of COVID-19 behind bars.
Thirty-five prisoners qualified for pandemic-related early release before the program was halted.
The number of inmates in custody in provincial prisons in B.C. has dropped by about 25 per cent since the pandemic began, due to early releases, sentences ending and bail orders granted. In mid-March, there were about 2,200 inmates in B.C.’s provincial prisons, compared to 1,504 on May 25.
In a statement in response to a query from KTW, BC Corrections said the decrease in the number of prisoners has made single-bunking and social distancing possible behind bars. The statement said the pandemic-related early release program was “paused.”
“If an increase in count should change these circumstances, BC Corrections will reinstitute proactive assessments for temporary absences [early release] for sentenced individuals as needed,” the statement read.
Hundreds of offenders serving intermittent sentences — weekend jail — have also been told to stay home. That practice is continuing, the BC Corrections statement said.
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.
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.