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COVID-19 and delays in transferring prisoners to federal institutions

Because of COVID-19, prisoners may experience delays being transferred to federal institutions.

Offenders who are sentenced to 2 years or more are supposed to serve their sentences in federal institutions. Generally, prisoners with federal sentences are supposed to be held in provincial jails for at least 15 days following sentencing, which is to help the prisoner file an appeal or attend to personal matters. After that, the prisoners are transferred to federal for the assessment phase of their sentence.

Similarly, prisoners on parole or statutory release suspended for breaching their conditions are typically held in provincial institutions before being sent to federal.

However, some prisoners are reporting weeks of delays in transferring them because of COVID-19. This, of course, can be a problem for many prisoners.

Prisoners may have accepted a plea and/or presented a particular sentencing position based on their expectation of serving time in a federal institution, where the conditions can be very different. Moreover, delays in transferring prisoners could negatively impact prisoners’ parole prospects, especially those with short federal sentences eligible for day parole as early as 6 months in. Those prisoners might not be able to complete the assessment phase before their parole eligibility date, which may create challenges for obtaining parole.

This is also a concern for prisoners who have been taken into custody for a breach. Unless the suspension is cancelled, the prisoner remains in custody until a post-suspension hearing is held to decide whether the prisoner’s parole or statutory release should be revoked. The Board needs to review the case within a particular time frame, but the clock only starts to run once the prisoner is returned to federal custody. So a prisoner in provincial awaiting a transfer might need to wait days, weeks, or even months longer to get a hearing.

It’s unclear at this point how long any particular prisoner will need to wait for a transfer. However, COVID-19 could be a problem for many months to come, and delaying (or even halting) transfers throughout this outbreak is not a viable option.

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