Using Temporary Absence Permits To Contain COVID-19

April 4, 2020

What Are Temporary Absence Permit (TAP) Requests?

TAPs allow inmates serving a sentence, of less than two years (provincial sentences) to be released into the community before their parole eligibility dates. TAPs can be granted for periods ranging from several hours to attend a funeral, to several days to visit a child in the hospital or receive medical treatments. Until recently in Ontario, temporary absences were limited to 72-hours.

Why Expanding the Use of TAPs?

The Ontario government recently changed regulations allows for the expanded use of temporary absence permits and for them to be granted for longer periods. This would allow Ontario’s adult correctional facilities to reduce the inmate population as a further precaution to reducing the spread of COVID-19 virus.

When Ontario’s pandemic precautions were originally announced TAPs were granted for those serving intermittent sentences. The reasoning was to stop people serving weekend sentences from cycling back and forth from the community to jail and potentially spreading the virus. Now the government is expanding the use of temporary absence permits to allow for the early release of inmates approaching the end of their sentences. Essentially shorting the sentences of those that are a low risk to re-offend.

The outbreak of COVID-19 in a correctional facility could be catastrophic. The medical ranges in most Ontario jails are quickly filling with suspected and presumptive cases of COVID-19. This is an incredible burden on their limited medical resources. If there were institutional wide outbreaks or even large clusters of cases further medical resources would need to be brought into the jails because large groups of inmates could not be transported to local hospitals. This would take front line workers out of hospitals and moved them into jails and would require tremendous amounts of police and correctional worker to assist.

Weighing the Options

The Ontario Government is not opening the jail doors and allowing everyone out. They are carefully and deliberately monitoring the resources in the provincial correctional institutions and trying to stay ahead of the COVID-19 curve. Despite possible sentencing alternative, they clearly understand that simply allowing inmates out would not be the proper response but diverting medical resources from hospitals is not something they are prepared to do either.

It appears that if the crisis deepens within the provincial correctional system, they will respond by allowing more inmates out, or transferring them to other institutions – merely relieving the pressure at the jails before it gets too bad. Until then, they will continue using containment strategies by locking ranges down, limiting the movements within institutions and washing their hands.

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