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Four released early from Prince George Regional Correctional Centre due to COVID-19

Close to 100 inmates across the province have been released early to date
Prince George Jail
The Prince George Regional Correctional Centre. (via Government of British Columbia)

Four prisoners from the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre have been released early to help slow down the spread of COVID-19 after three prisoners tested positive at different jails. 

No specific details on offences, sentences and names have been released. 

Glacier Media sister publication, The Tri-City News, was provided with the numbers by the office of the B.C. Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General. 

The ministry says a total of 95 inmates from nine jails — including 20 alone from Port Coquitlam’s North Fraser Pretrial Centre — were released between March 1 and April 2.

In addition to the early releases from Port Coquitlam, 31 more inmates were released from Surrey Pretrial Services Centre, 13 from the Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre, and 12 from the Nanaimo Correctional Centre.

Five were released early from the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women and two from the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre — both in Maple Ridge.

The Okanagan Correctional Centre in Oliver, the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre near Victoria also released four inmates early. 

But the government also adds early releases are provided by granting a temporary absence.

This does not mean a sentence has ended and/or is suspended, instead, the sentence runs concurrently to the temporary absence.

BC Corrections can rescind a temporary absence if/when warranted.

“This assessment and ultimate determination on release considers criminal history, sentence length, offence type and any other relevant information, including risk to public safety,” a statement said last week.

“As well, part of this assessment and determination for potential release includes whether the individual released would have the necessary supports in place.”

Individuals who are in custody pending a court appearance can only be released at the discretion of the courts. 

But BC Corrections has some authority when it comes to reducing the number of people it keeps at its correctional centres.

The ministry said when it is safe and appropriate, individuals serving intermittent sentences — sentences that are served in chunks of time instead of all at once — can be released on a temporary basis. 

“This process has resulted in granting temporary absences, which are reducing the intermittent population,” said the ministry. 

Outbreaks of the virus have been recorded in two prisons across the province, including one inmate at the high-security Okanagan Correctional Centre in Oliver and two prisoners at the Mission Institution, a 216-bed medium-security prison run by the federal government.

Even before the announcement of test-positive cases in the prison population, protocols were changed due to the pandemic.

Inmates coming into the facilities are given a questionnaire and have their temperatures checked. Anyone with symptoms is isolated for 14 days before being placed with the general population, according to the ministry.

Staff are prohibited from entering a facility if they are showing symptoms or have travelled outside the country.

In-person visits have been stopped while contracted services, like deliveries, have been limited. Lawyers have also been encouraged to meet with their clients over the phone or by video, when possible.

As part of its ongoing reduction of the overall inmate count, the province’s 10 prisons currently hold 1,860 inmates, down from 2,184 on March 15, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

- with files from Gary McKenna and Stefan Labbé, Tri-City News