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COVID-19: Legal Aid Ontario updates coverage for prisoner release remedies

Legal Aid Ontario recently announced changes to its funding for temporary absence applications for prisoners in federal and provincial institutions.

The funding now applies to temporary absences or “other release remedies” that can address the increasingly dangerous conditions COVID-19 has created within prisons and jails.

Lawyers can fill out an application on behalf of their clients, which will be processed without merit or financial testing. The lawyer has to identify the remedy being pursued and confirm there is a medium or high likelihood of release based on applicable legislation, policies, and regulations. A certificate will be issued, and signed consent and declaration forms can be submitted later.

This policy is an improvement over the last. Temporary absences have largely been suspended for federal inmates, which means alternative remedies will likely be necessary for those who don’t qualify for necessary medical temporary absences. The new policy gives lawyers more options they can pursue, and it removes the ambiguous requirement that lawyers attest that releasing their clients would not pose an undue risk to society.

Given the novel circumstances of COVID-19, it remains unclear which inmates have a “medium or high likelihood of release”. However, LAO’s announcement offers lawyers more options to try to get prisoners released, both at the provincial and federal levels.

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