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CCLA has written to government ministers across the country to urge immediate action with respect to Canada’s provincial and territorial jails.

A public health approach requires that the releasable be released and detention be a measure of last resort. Given the projected impacts of the pandemic and the health risks of keeping individuals behind bars there is a significant proportion of Canada’s incarcerated population that should now be released. All provinces and territories must take immediate measures to drastically reduce the currently incarcerated population and divert newly arrested individuals from entering these institutions.

Some jurisdictions have started to take decisive action. On the whole, however, our criminal justice system is still operating at cross-purposes with public health goals.

Canada’s provincial and territorial jails are pandemic epicenters waiting to happen. The incarcerated population is particularly vulnerable due to the crowded conditions and the large number of people with underlying health conditions. Conditions in these institutions is generally poor at the best of times; many are overcrowded and understaffed. Providing adequate health care and controlling infection in provincial institutions is difficult under normal circumstances. Our correctional institutions are simply not equipped to handle the magnitude of this public health crisis without immediate and significant actions.

Most individuals in Ontario’s jails are waiting for release on bail or serving short sentences for non-violent offences. In the normal course of events, the majority would be back in the community in a matter of days or weeks. Failing to act now risks turning a short stay behind bars into a death sentence.

About the Canadian Civil Liberties Association

The CCLA is an independent, non-profit organization with supporters from across the country. Founded in 1964, the CCLA is a national human rights organization committed to defending the rights, dignity, safety, and freedoms of all people in Canada.

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