Lawyers calling to help the vulnerable during COVID-19 pandemic

Published On March 26, 2020 | By Sydnee Walcott | News
A cell to house two inmates at the Toronto South Detention Centre (Bernard Weil/Getty Images)
Sydnee Walcott

To help contain the COVID-19 virus, lawyers want to see more action being taken to release non-violent offenders from jails and prisons to help curb a potential outbreak from happening in the cells.

Everyone but those who are currently incarcerated are being urged by all levels of government to prioritize their health during this time and lawyers are asking for a change.

Not every one who is imprisoned has been convicted of a criminal offence. Some are there for non-violent offences, while others are jail because they have yet to obtain bail.

Jordana Goldlist, a Criminal Defense Lawyer and a pubic speaker and youth mentor for Keep6ix said the government is dealing with a health crisis across the country and she thinks that some people who are charged with non-violent offences should be granted bail.

“Every day, all day long, for 12 to 14 hours a day I’m speaking with my clients and their families who are currently incarcerated and doing everything that I can,” said Goldlist.

She’s working the best that she can to try and create reasonable plans for bail for all of her clients.

Goldlist doesn’t think the government should open up the doors or the jails and let everyone out but she thinks they need to do a better job of balancing the rights of accused persons to bail, which is her role in what she does in representing her clients.

Alison Craig, who is also a defence lawyer, has communicated with at least 15 people who are currently in custody awaiting trial and they are very concerned about the possibility of the pandemic affecting them.

“You think that people who are in custody are these big bad guys who and scared of anything and they are all terrified”, said Craig.

She said she has clients who are sitting in the open with no protection, such as sanitizer, and no ability to self-isolate as they have to share a unit with 25 other people.

Craig said what the government can do to help during this time is set up video technology for clients so they can make video bail hearings and enter pleas and not just get ignored.

She also says the government should let inmates make collect calls to cell phones due to offices being closed. Inmates are unable to call lawyers and loved ones and she thinks the government should fix that immediately so that they can make regular phones like everyone else and get the support that they need.

Goldlist and Craig are just two of many people who are advocating to help offenders secure release, especially since an inmate and a prison guard, at the Toronto South Detention Centre, have both tested positive for the virus.

So far, the province did take a step by releasing some non-violent offenders and turning to video and written methods for parole hearings but critics say there is more work that needs to be done.

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