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Some Alberta convicts move to house arrest to mitigate COVID-19 risk: official

Coronavirus: Canadian Senator calls for immediate release of inmates
WATCH ABOVE: (March 27, 2020): Sen. Kim Pate is calling on correctional officials to release inmates who are nearing the end of their sentence to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Some offenders serving the custody portion of their intermittent sentences on weekends are being moved to house arrest over concerns about the potential spread of COVID-19 in the province’s correctional facilities, according to a spokesperson for Alberta Justice.

In an email to Global News on Tuesday, communications adviser Katherine Thompson said such steps have been taken since March 20.

She said offenders who are now serving under house arrest as a result are having their “conditions closely monitored by community corrections,” noting that the action was taken to “mitigate the amount of individuals entering and exiting provincial correctional and remand centres as part of helping to avoid the spread of virus.”

“In consultation with AHS, Alberta’s provincial correctional services continue to take precautions and plan ahead to manage COVID-19 if it enters the provincial corrections system and review potential options, if required,” Thompson said.

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“This preparation includes identifying spaces that can be used for isolation purposes to help contain the virus, as well as other potential measures to prevent further spread.”

Thompson noted that as of Tuesday, there have been “no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at any provincial remand, correctional or youth facility in Alberta.”

“This is confirmed by AHS, who do the testing at provincial corrections facilities,” she said.

Watch below: (From March 18, 2020) CSC introduces measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 outbreak in prisons.

Correctional Service of Canada takes steps to prevent COVID-19 entering prisons
Correctional Service of Canada takes steps to prevent COVID-19 entering prisons

Since the novel coronavirus first appeared in Canada, there have been few confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country’s prisons.

READ MORE: In Canada’s courts, accused criminals are asking for release due to COVID-19

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Advocates for those behind bars have been calling for the release of non-violent offenders and more measures to protect the health and safety of inmates because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“What we have is people in very close contact who have little or no say in the level of hygiene and no ability to self-isolate,” Amanda Hart-Dowhun, president of the Alberta Prison Justice Society, said earlier this week.

“Once COVID[-19] hits an institution, it will be very difficult — if not impossible — to stop it from spreading within the entire institution.”

READ MORE: Inmate advocates warn of COVID-19 spread in Canada’s correctional facilities

In a letter recently addressed to Alberta’s justice minister, the federal justice minister and other officials, the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association and the Criminal Defence Lawyers Assocation of Calgary called for new measures to be implemented in the prison system to address public health concerns posed by the coronavirus.

The letter said that while Canadians are being directed to practise social distancing, prisoners do not have the ability to do so as effectively.

“We call upon those who are responsible for prisoners in Alberta to immediately implement creative solutions to reduce the number of individuals who are serving jail sentences or are remanded while presumed innocent,” the letter said.

READ MORE: Alberta lawyers’ groups call for changes to prison system, early releases amid COVID-19

On Tuesday, Thompson said that the correctional services division of Alberta Justice “has had a longtime policy that authorizes the temporary release of low-risk, non-violent offenders that meet certain criteria, including medical need, such as the spread of virus, while still ensuring those with serious charges are in custody.”

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“Eligible sentenced offenders are reviewed to determine their suitability for temporary release while ensuring public safety is a No. 1 priority,” she said.

On Tuesday afternoon, Alberta health officials told reporters that the province has now recorded 754 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and that nine people have died as a result.

–With files from Global News’ Allison Bench and The Canadian Press’ Daniela Germano