Provincial institutions seem to have taken note of the growing calls to release some inmates to reduce the spread of COVID-19 inside Canadian jails. However, federal inmate populations have remained relatively flat. Between February and April, there were around 6,000 fewer inmates in Canadian institutions, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada. At the same time, the bulk of the decline came from provincial jails, where the population declined by 25% in comparison to federal prisons’ decline of just 1%.
Statistics Canada wrote in the report that these month-to-month changes are unprecedented. It also added that with slight variations occurring over more extended periods, the correctional population average daily counts seem to be steady over time. The federal institutions incarcerate inmates serving a sentence of longer than two years and the ones whose sentences do not have a specific end date. On the other hand, provincial and territorial jails are for those sentenced for two years or less and the ones awaiting a trial.
It is good to note that between February and April Nova Scotia’s provincial inmate population dropped the most, at 41%. At the same time, Nunavut’s inmate population declined the least, at 14%. Nunavut is the only territorial jurisdiction that has not reported a single case of COVID-19. The drops were reported when Public Safety Minister Bill Blair requested the parole board and the federal prison service back in March to look at releasing some inmates early to slow the spread of COVID-19 in federal prisons.
Canadian justice and correctional systems responded by saying that they have taken some measures to reduce the number of people in custody. This included implementing alternatives to those awaiting a trial or sentencing, early release of low-risk offenders, and extended parole. Correctional institutions have begun screening inmates for COVID-19 before taking them in, have suspended inter-regional transfers, and have allowed for video visitation sessions with loved ones, and have provided inmates with increased access to hygiene and cleaning supplies.