Simon Says

Bringing clarity to the inner workings of our legal system

COVID-19 and medical unescorted temporary absences

Unlike in the provincial correctional system, there haven’t been any substantial changes in the federal correctional system to help decarcerate prisons and slow the spread of COVID-19. However, there are still mechanisms in place that could be used to get federal prisoners out of custody during the pandemic.

Parole by exception is one option, but it can be challenging to meet the legal criteria. Moreover, it can take time for Correctional Service Canada to prepare the paperwork and for the Parole Board of Canada to review the case.

Another option is for prisoners to seek medical unescorted temporary absences (“UTAs”). A warden can authorize an extended leave for medical purposes, which could allow prisoners to isolate in private residences during the pandemic. A warden recently released a medium-security prisoner with a number of pre-existing medical conditions that made him susceptible to severe outcomes if he were to contract COVID-19. See story here.

A precedent has been set, but it remains unclear whether wardens will release any other prisoners using this power. Furthermore, it remains to be seen whether medical UTAs will only be made available to those at a particularly high risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes. Congregate living facilities like prisons are at a high risk of having an outbreak, and releasing prisoners (even those at a low risk if they were to contract the virus) is essential to slowing the spread of COVID-19.

We take the position that the Service needs to interpret the criteria for medical UTAs broadly to help decarcerate prisons and flatten the curve. If you need assistance with preparing a medical UTA application, contact us today.

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