More than 2,000 inmates released from Ontario jails as province tries to prevent spread of COVID-19

More than 2,300 inmates have been released from Ontario jails as the province looks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside correctional facilities.

Since March 16, the total inmate population across provincial jails has fallen from 8,344 to 6,025, according to the Ministry of the Attorney General.

Ontario began implementing measures to limit the spread of the virus in mid-March amid calls for both the province and the federal prison system to reduce the number of inmates in custody.

Those measures include suspending personal visits, giving temporary absence passes to intermittent offenders who would normally spend weekends in custody and allowing electronic parole hearings.

Ten “low risk” offenders nearing the end of their sentences have also been released from custody under temporary absence passes since April 2, the ministry says.

Those inmates include five from the Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene, Ont., two from the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., one from the Kenora jail, one from the Niagara Detention Centre and one from the Monteith Correctional Complex in Iroquois Falls, Ont.

“To ensure public safety, inmates would be carefully assessed to ensure they are a low risk to offend,” the ministry previously said. “Those inmates who have been convicted of serious crimes, such as violent crimes or crimes involving guns, would not be considered for early release.”

Correctional staff have previously told CBC News they want to see further measures taken, including temperature checks for anyone entering a correctional facility and an increase in sanitization.

The ministry says the government is continuing to evaluate measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

Anyone admitted to one of Ontario’s correctional facilities is subject to screening measures for respiratory illness in keeping with guidance from public health officials, the ministry says. Inmates also receive care “as required” during incarceration, it added.

“If an outbreak of any communicable disease occurs or is suspected, institution officials take immediate precautionary containment measures in accordance with operating procedures, including notifying the local Medical Officer of Health, and provincial health professionals.”


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