The National Police Federation (NPF) is expressing concerns about prisoners being released early from correctional institutions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bobby Baker, NPF director for the Prairie region, told 680 CJOB his organization’s members are reporting encounters with criminals on the streets well before their expected release dates.
“Our members are really concerned with recent discussion and decisions about the early release of prisoners from correctional institutes, as well as the diversion of prisoners into the community,” said Baker.
“These are criminals who would otherwise be going to jail.”
Baker said RCMP in the region are running into people they recently put in jail, or that they knew had much longer sentences, and they’re being told the early release is due to the public health crisis.
Earlier this month, the province said it was making a number of changes to its correctional system in order to prevent COVID-19 spreading among Manitoba inmates.
Those measures included granting temporary absences to a small number of intermittent inmates, giving them the OK to spend weekends at home — as long as they remain at home for the duration of the weekend — to help allow for better physical distancing.
Bail hearings and custody issues are also being fast-tracked to reduce remand counts, while transfers to federal corrections and the release of inmates who have served their sentences continue as normal.
Baker cautioned against taking an incarcerated person lightly.
“What we do know is that to put a person in jail, that takes quite a bit,” said Baker.
“Usually when people are considered for incarceration, there’s been other options that have been exercised first — there’s different community-based measures and whatnot that are put in place to keep the public safe and not have the person incarcerated.
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“These are people that are reckless or violent and need rehabilitation and they’re given a specific sentence for that reason.”
Baker admitted he couldn’t give specific examples of violent prisoners who have been released early, but said his officers on the streets have expressed concern.
Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen told 680 CJOB his department hasn’t heard those same concerns from provincial police.
“We’re working with police agencies across the province. … We have contacts with them several times a week, and we have not heard of any of these situations,” he said.
When it comes to early releases, said Cullen, the goal is to address individuals who are already in the system — many of whom are in custody waiting for sentencing.
He said the number of inmates in question isn’t a large one — close to 50 people, none of whom are dangerous to the public.
“We have a responsible reintegration program in Manitoba,” he said.
“Anybody who looks at an early release, we want to make sure these are not dangerous individuals. Public safety is paramount for us and we will look at making sure that those individuals will have a plan in place, they’ll have supports in the community … they’ll have work or educational opportunities.”