COVID-19: How soon can suspended federal prisoners get a post-suspension hearing?
- Kate Mitchell
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If a federal prisoner on parole or statutory release is suspended, the prisoner will be taken into custody. If the suspension isn’t cancelled by Correctional Service Canada, then the prisoner will have a post-suspension hearing before the Parole Board of Canada. The Board will either cancel the suspension (and release the prisoner back on parole or statutory release) or revoke the prisoner’s release.
A hearing must be held within 9o days of the referral of the prisoner’s case to the Board or the prisoner’s return to a penitentiary, whichever is later. In practice, this means the Board is only required to hold a hearing within 90 days from the time the prisoner is transferred back to federal (since that’s usually the later date).
The problem is that when a federal prisoner is suspended, they are normally taken into a provincial facility. A provincial facility is not a penitentiary, so the 90 days does not run while a prisoner is held in a provincial facility. The clock only starts to run from the time the prisoner is transferred to a federal penitentiary. So a prisoner could be held in a provincial facility for weeks or even months, with no obligation for the Board to hold a post-suspension hearing.
This can be frustrating at the best of times, but it is particularly frustrating during a global pandemic where prisoners are at a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19. Prisoners who are transferred from provincial facilities to federal penitentiaries are normally required to be isolated (to help contain the spread of COVID-19). This may result in prisoners being transferred more slowly because of limited beds in medical isolation units. Recent outbreaks in federal penitentiaries may also slow the rate prisoners are transferred, as prisons try to contain their outbreaks.
Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done to speed up the process. The Board is usually only required by law to hold a hearing within 90 days from the prisoner’s return to a federal penitentiary. Moreover, decisions about transferring prisoners are within the discretion of correctional authorities.
That said, prisoners do have an expectation of being released on their statutory release date. Prisoners who have been suspended and are being held (or expect to be held) past their new statutory release dates should contact a lawyer to discuss their options.