Covid-19 and the Correctional Service of Canada

March 24, 2020

The Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Anne Kelly, Commissioner of Correctional Service of Canada

Subject: Covid-19 and the Correctional Service of Canada

Dear Minister Blair and Commissioner Kelly,

We at Evolve Our Prison Farms, a justice advocacy group, would like to add our voices to those calling for more proactive measures to reduce the impact of Covid-19 on incarcerated people in Canada.

We are aware that the Correctional Service of Canada already has a focus on prevention and preparedness, including suspension of all public visits, temporary absences, and work releases. We do not believe these measures are enough to protect the health and lives of our incarcerated neighbours and staff working in correctional institutions.

As anyone who has worked, lived, or visited within prisons can attest, conditions are ripe for outbreak. According to the World Health Organization, prisons can expect “huge mortality rates” from Covid-19 unless they take immediate action, and the global effort to tackle the spread of this pandemic “may fail without proper attention to infection control measures within prisons.”

In recent days and weeks, we have witnessed various countries releasing low-risk prisoners: Iran has issued 85,000 temporary releases and 10,000 pardons; France is delaying or suspending short-term sentences; and local governments across the U.S. are releasing thousands of inmates. In other countries, such as Italy and Brazil, there have been prison riots or mass escapes resulting from inmate panic. In Italy, violent protests at 27 prisons resulted in 13 inmate deaths and 59 injured guards; the country is now allowing early supervised release of prisoners with less than 18 months left on their sentence.

Canada’s correctional service should consider whether it will be pre-emptive – or reactive – to outbreak and panic-induced unrest. We strongly urge the Correctional Service of Canada to adopt immediate proactive measures which could include:

• removing as many people as possible to create room for social distancing and isolation units;
• discharging low-risk offenders on a temporary or permanent basis;
• discharging offenders who are within six months of their warrant expiry date, or who are past their dates and currently in a minimum-security setting;
• using institutional scores to determine who leaves.

An institutional score of 15 or below verifies the person has achieved trust to the degree that they can live without barriers at minimum-security status. They have proven to safely interact with the public through work release or community access through ETAs (escorted temporary absences).

These actions would create much needed space for medical care, social distancing, and reduced-risk living conditions. The Elizabeth Fry Society has already called on CSC to release women who are eligible for parole, women over 50, women with chronic health conditions, Indigenous women, and women in the mother-child program. We believe a similar appeal is needed in men’s institutions.

As the World Health Organization has signalled, such measures aim “to protect the health and well-being of all those who live, work in and visit these settings and the general population at large.”

The message from our government is clear and consistent: this is not a time for half measures. Thank you for your careful consideration of what a full measured response would look like in Canada’s correctional institutions during these challenging times.

Kind regards,

Calvin Neufeld
Evolve Our Prison Farms

Joël Lightbound: Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety:
David Lametti: Minister of Justice:
Kim Pate: Independent Senators Group:
Justin Piché: Criminalization and Punishment Education Project:
Catherine Latimer: Executive Director, John Howard Society:
Emilie Coyle: Executive Director, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies: