MITIGATING EFFECTS OF COVID-19 PANDEMIC ON INCARCERATED POPULATIONS: A PUBLIC CALL FOR ACTION
This campaign is directed at provincial authorities and focuses on provincially incarcerated people (in provincial jail awaiting trial or serving sentences under 2 years). Similar calls to action have been directed to federal authorities responsible for federally-sentenced prisoners.
We call on Nova Scotia’s Justice, Corrections, Health, Community Services and policing authorities to mitigate the threat of COVID-19 to the lives and health of provincially incarcerated people, and associated threats to public health and to the capacity of the province’s health care system to respond.
Government must act now to mitigate the threat of COVID-19 to the health and human rights of incarcerated people. An outbreak in correctional facilities is foreseeable, given the impossibility of social distancing in these settings and unavoidable flow of people in and out. High numbers of provincial prisoners have chronic conditions making them most vulnerable to the worst effects of the virus. Failure to act not only threatens their health and lives, it is likely to worsen and prolong the epidemic for all.
We call on government to use existing legal tools and political powers to: 1) expedite bail hearings for those awaiting trial, 2) approve temporary absences for those under sentence, 3) direct resources to ensure safe alternative spaces for those who cannot simply move home, and 4) publicly share action plans for monitoring, prevention and treatment of COVID-19 in provincial corrections in a manner least restrictive of fundamental human rights.
The legal tools we invoke have inbuilt balancing tests to weigh up health, safety, and justice considerations. In the evolving urgent circumstances, the balance has shifted for many people currently in provincial jails. Over 60% are awaiting trial – for instance, because they breached conditions like not drinking alcohol or interacting with people with a criminal record. The most common offences of those in provincial jails are non-violent property or drug offences.
If measures are not taken now to drastically reduce the numbers of people held in provincial correctional facilities, the foreseeable consequences include not only spread of the virus inside and outside the jails, but also intensified, indefinite lockdowns and solitary confinement for those most at risk. Such measures have been demonstrated to have egregious effects on physical and psychological health, contrary to fundamental human rights – and are unlikely, in prison conditions, to effectively stem the threat.
CALLS FOR ACTION
We reiterate the action items stated in two public letters recently issued by provincial organizations committed to prisoners’ rights. We call on the responsible authorities to mitigate the extraordinary threat posed by COVID-19 to the health and human rights of prisoners, and to recognize the indivisibility of prisoner health and public health, by doing the following:
I . MOVE PEOPLE INTO SAFE COMMUNITY SPACES
A. SENTENCED PRISONERS: CONDITIONAL RELEASE
Use legal tools such as section 79 of the Correctional Services Act (conditional release on medical or humanitarian grounds) to:
1. Grant conditional release / temporary absences to all persons serving intermittent / weekend sentences (Ontario took this measure on March 13);
2. Grant conditional release / temporary absences to other sentenced prisoners into appropriate community settings (whether private homes or non-profit supported housing), starting with:
i) persons at heightened risk of complications from COVID-19, and
ii) mothers and other primary support parents facing the serious psychological stress of separation from dependent children during the pandemic, and whose children face heightened anxiety of separation and may be in unstable living situations.
B. PRISONERS AWAITING TRIAL: EXPEDITED BAIL / BAIL REVIEW
3. Expedite video-mediated bail hearings (avoiding shipping prisoners to and from court wherever possible) and review of prior judicial orders denying interim release -- in recognition that the balance of considerations has shifted, and incarceration during the epidemic threatens to erode public confidence in the administration of justice;
II. PROVIDE EMERGENCY FUNDING FOR SUPPORTED HOUSING
4. Provide resources to the supported housing sector on an emergency basis to increase capacity to accommodate prisoners unable to return to private homes, without delay;
III. CURTAIL POST-ARREST DETENTION / CREATE ALTERNATIVES TO LOCKUP
5. Ensure that police give serious weight to the individual and public health risks of placing arrested persons in lockup post-arrest, rather than the default option of releasing them on a promise to appear in court. In extraordinary cases where post-arrest detention is necessary, alternatives to existing lockup facilities must be found;
IV. IMPLEMENT & SHARE EVIDENCE-BASED, LEAST RESTRICTIVE PROTECTIONS
6. Identify and implement best practices to ensure the highest public health standards are met inside facilities in a manner least restrictive of residual liberties -- including, at a minimum, increased frequency of sanitation measures by trained and adequately protected staff, and prisoner and staff access to effective hygiene and sanitation products without cost;
7. Publicly share action plans for prevention and treatment of COVID-19 among incarcerated populations in a manner that is transparent and accessible to those inside and outside facilities.
8. Ensure prisoners have liberal, free access to phone communications, and to appropriately modified activities (e.g., GED preparation, reading materials, entertainment).
East Coast Prison Justice Society
Elizabeth Fry Societies - NS Mainland and Cape Breton
NS Prisoners’ Health Coalition,
NS Criminal Lawyers’ Association,
Women’s Wellness Within
I would like to sign on
Name to be listed
Organization or position
If you'd like to be involved with supporting incarcerated individuals on the East Coast, please share your email with us!
Anything else you'd like to share?
Never submit passwords through Google Forms.
This content is neither created nor endorsed by Google.
Terms of Service