B.C. jails release nearly 100 inmates early to prevent outbreak of COVID-19
The Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre on May 3, 2019. (CTV Vancouver Island)
VICTORIA -- British Columbia jails have released nearly 100 inmates ahead of schedule as the provincial corrections system tries to prevent an outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
The B.C. Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General says BC Corrections temporarily released 95 inmates from nine jails across the province between March 1 and April 2.
Most of those released are serving intermittent sentences, meaning sentences served over chunks of time – on weekends, for example – rather than all at once.
The corrections service says it conducted risk assessments on non-violent inmates last week to find suitable candidates for early release in an effort to reduce the likelihood of spreading COVID-19 inside B.C. jails.
The inmate assessments considered each candidate's criminal history, length of sentence, offence type and overall risk to public safety, according to the ministry.
Following the assessments, the Surrey Pretrial Services Centre granted early releases to 31 inmates, the largest number released from any of B.C.'s 10 provincial jails.
The North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam released 20 inmates early; the Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre released 13 inmates; and the Nanaimo Correctional Centre on Vancouver Island released 12 inmates who are serving intermittent sentences.
Elsewhere in the province, five inmates of the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women in Maple Ridge were released early; and four inmates each were released early from the Okanagan Correctional Centre in Oliver, the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre near Victoria, and the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre.
Two inmates were released early from the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge. No one was granted early release from the Ford Mountain Correctional Centre, which currently houses only 64 people, in Chilliwack.
As of April 2, there were 1,805 people locked up in B.C. jails; 617 of them serving actual sentences, 1,138 awaiting court hearings, and 50 being held on immigration matters.
People who are held in custody pending court appearances can only be released by a decision of the courts, not BC Corrections. Likewise, people who are held on immigration matters are the responsibility of the Canadian Border Services Agency.
Health officials last week responded to a confirmed case of COVID-19 at the high-security Okanagan Correctional Centre.
"At the onset of symptoms, this individual was isolated under medical observation and tested," said ministry spokesperson Hope Latham on Tuesday.
"This person’s symptoms were mild. No one else on this individual’s unit is symptomatic at this time. Following provincial health guidelines, an investigation into direct contacts is now underway to identify anyone who may have had exposure to this individual, and appropriate measures will be taken as directed by public health officials."
On Monday, B.C.'s provincial health officer announced two more confirmed infections at a federal prison in Mission.
The public safety ministry says the decision to release inmates early is just one of several proactive steps the correctional service is taking to avert the potential spread of the virus in provincial facilities.
The ministry says B.C. jails conduct daily pandemic planning meetings and have imposed strict cleaning, handwashing and distancing protocols for staff, contractors and new inmates.