COVID-19 and access to counsel in prison
- Kate Mitchell
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In response to COVID-19, Correctional Service Canada has suspended in-person visits across the country, which includes visits with legal counsel.
It’s unclear how long this measure will be in place. In the meanwhile, CSC has put in place interim measures to allow prisoners to access counsel. These include:
- Allowing prisoners to add toll free numbers for lawyers’ offices on their phone card;
- Allowing prisoners to exceed the cap of 40 numbers on their phone card, if necessary to facilitate increased communication with counsel;
- Helping prisoners with limited funds make collect calls or use a government phone to contact legal counsel;
- Waiving the fee for prisoners to fax correspondence and correctional documents to lawyers;
- Distributing privileged mail from lawyers withing 24 hours of receipt (other mail is quarantined for 72 hours); and
- Facilitating callback requests from lawyers who need to urgently speak with a client
These measures are outlined on CSC’s website. These measures apply across the country, but it’s up to individual institutions to roll them out. Different policies and procedures will therefore apply from one institution to an another.
CSC has discretion when it comes to how prisoners can contact counsel, but CSC is required to provide reasonable access to legal services. Access to counsel is as important as ever, probably even more so given the heightened risk prisoners have of contracting COVID-19. Prisoners concerned about COVID-19 need to know what their options are and speak with counsel. The failure to provide reasonable access to counsel during this time could have severe, potential fatal, consequences for some prisoners.