Photo: A sign posted on the door of the Regina Provincial Correctional Centre states the institution’s COVID-19 protocols | Doris Wesaquate photo

COVID-19 affects judicial interim release process

While the province maintains no prisoners have been released early, there has been at least one such release amid calls for more

By Doris Wesaquate

At least one Saskatchewan prison inmate has been successful gaining judicial interim release due to COVID-19, according to court documents.

John Lawther Shingoose, a 69-year-old diabetic, was released by Yorkton Provincial Court on April 17 to a family member’s care. 

The “effect COVID-19 may have on his situation,” factored into the decision by Justice J.A. Jackson, who said his decision was based on “evidence placed before me that he is particularly vulnerable to the risks posed by COVID-19 in the prison facility.” 

However, when asked about early releases Noel Busse, corrections and policing ministry spokesperson, responded in an email, “No sentenced offenders have been released early as a result of COVID-19. In addition, there have been no changes made to early release or reintegration programming for sentenced offenders as a result of COVID-19.”

Prison advocates have been pushing for early releases during the pandemic. On May 2, a group of 30 lawyers and legal advocates sent an open letter sent to Christine Tell, minister of corrections and policing.

The letter called for prison populations “to be significantly reduced… through controlled and planned release of prisoners… who are over the age of 50, have serious health issues, or are immunocompromised.”

Advocates are concerned about the virus spreading in overcrowded conditions.

“During this pandemic we’ve seen nearly every institution have to change to help keep society safe,” said Shawn Fraser, CEO of the John Howard Society in Regina.

“Prisons should be no exception… Our governments have made some important strides towards lowering prisoner populations but there is more work to do.”

“(Inmates) are not taking the threat seriously.”

Claud Langlois, recent inmate

According to a recently-released inmate, it appears efforts are being made to reduce crowding. 

Claud Langlois said he was moved from the Regina Provincial Correctional Centre (RPCC) to White Spruce in Yorkton, and then to Oxford House in Regina on May 8, with three weeks left on his sentence. 

“I lucked out,” he said, but added that the methods being used “don’t make sense.” He said team leaders and addiction workers were “trying to push everybody (out) as fast as they could.” 

Temporary absence or reintegration are two ways prisoners can carry out part of their sentences in the community. 

Incoming prisoners, meanwhile, are isolated for 14 days. Langlois said two isolation units at Regina’s correctional centre were being created prior to his being transferred to White Spruce.  

However, Langlois said social distancing wasn’t being observed, intermingling happens daily, and he did not see masks and gloves being worn by guards, cart pushers or kitchen crew members. 

Langlois said he saw cleaning crews clean the common areas and main hallways at the Regina Correctional Centre but prisoners are responsible for cleaning their own areas. 

“(Inmates) are not taking the threat seriously,” he said. 

A sign posted on the correctional centre’s main entrance states, “All visiting (social, professional, legal) is suspended until further notice.” It adds that prisoners can still receive funds and items dropped at the main kiosk.

Venngage graphic by Doris Wesaquate

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