Jack Harris, NDP Critic for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness made the following statement:
For weeks, the NDP has been calling on the Government to take steps toward releasing low-risk, non-violent inmates from federal prisons to protect not just the inmate population, but prison staff and the surrounding communities from the dangers of COVID-19. New cases among prison guards and inmates are being reported regularly in federal and provincial prisons, and last week, we learned of the first death of an inmate. Still, neither the government, nor Correctional Service Canada, nor the Parole Board are demonstrating a sense of urgency. The situation is critical and requires immediate action. The window to release low-risk inmates is shrinking daily and more needs to be done.
The Canadian Bar Association, Canadian Human Rights Commission and many other legal, health and human rights organizations are calling on the government to reduce the number of inmates in federal institutions. The UK, US, and Germany, as well as many provincial and territorial prisons have already made considerable progress.
Canada’s courts and prosecutors have recognized the increased danger of COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons during bail hearings and when sentencing individuals who are vulnerable to complications from the virus.
We are concerned that the lack of concerted action will lead to significantly more infections and deaths in the coming days and weeks. Action can be taken in many cases so that lives can be saved.
I am calling for the appointment of a Task Force, headed by a Federal Court Judge, to ensure that Correctional Service Canada and the Parole Board are taking all necessary steps to quickly identify and prioritize potential candidates for an early and safe release.
While the majority of those in prison must stay in prison to serve their sentences and protect society, the Task Force would ensure that the necessary assessments are carried out expeditiously and all legal mechanisms are being taken into consideration to reduce the prison population, without endangering the public. Releasing low-risk offenders who are near the end of their sentence, already on day-parole or very sick may be one way to start quickly.
By reducing the number of people in our prisons, social distancing becomes easier, the risk to inmates and staff is reduced and the whole community is better protected from an outbreak.