FILE – The Mountain Institution in Agassiz, B.C. Sunday, March 30, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

FILE – The Mountain Institution in Agassiz, B.C. Sunday, March 30, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

‘Do something now:’ Inmate’s wife calls for release of non-violent offenders

Officials say there have been no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the federal system

Luciana Infusino-Tomei has been left alone to care for her young daughter during the COVID-19 pandemic after her husband was sent to prison last year on a drug-related charge.

The 38-year-old woman from Vaughan, Ont., is one of many worrying about the health and safety of their incarcerated loved ones, whose living arrangements make them particularly vulnerable to the novel coronavirus that has so far infected thousands of people and killed dozens across the country.

“Sometimes I find myself having to hold back my tears,” Infusino-Tomei says. ”My anxiety is through the roof, and so is my husband’s, because he is away from us.”

She says she hasn’t been able to get support in caring for their 19-month-old because her parents are older and in poor health.

Her husband, Adrian Tomei, is serving a three-year sentence at Beaver Creek Institution north of Toronto, after he pleaded guilty last year to possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking.

Infusino-Tomei says people like her 33-year-old husband — who have no other criminal history, were convicted of a non-violent crime and have a safe place to stay — should be released from prison, where she fears COVID-19 would spread uncontrollably.

“There is no excuse for making bad decisions,” she says. “He is paying his dues. He plead guilty from the onset and he was a man from the beginning by standing up and facing the music.”

But she says prisoners are unable to self-isolate and have limited access to hygiene and sanitary products, so sending those who are not a risk to public safety may be the best thing during a pandemic.

“We know mass quarantines don’t work because of those people left on cruise ships for weeks at a time,” Infusino-Tomei says. “If something like that happens in prison, it’s going to be far more dangerous, far more catastrophic on a far larger scale.”

She says her husband has applied for parole by exception and is working with a lawyer in Kingtson, Ont.

Fergus J. (Chip) O’Connor, Tomei’s parole lawyer, cites a section of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that allows early release for an offender for whom continued confinement would constitute an excessive hardship.

“My argument is that the pandemic is a public health risk for prisoners and the risk of getting the virus is a hardship that was not previously foreseen,” O’Connor says.

He says he has suggested to the commissioner of corrections and the Parole Board of Canada that efforts should be made to release non-violent prisoners soon, as the pandemic is expected to peak in Canada in the coming weeks.

He, as well as other legal advocates in Canada, are also calling for the government to recognize parole officers as essential workers, since they play a key role in getting applications processed.

“I’m not asking that they let everybody out of jail,” O’Connor says.

“But if they would just take that step, and if they had the political will to do so, then we could reduce the prison population significantly, put people in their homes and it would … flatten the curve.”

He notes he has many clients who are older or have compromised immune systems that would cause major complications if they were to get the novel coronavirus.

READ MORE: Should non-violent offenders be released from prison to avoid COVID-19 spread?

Speaking Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government was working “very closely” with the corrections system. He said Public Safety Minister Bill Blair would have more to say on the issue at a later time.

“This is something we are digging into very carefully because we need to make sure that we’re keeping everyone safe in this country,” he said.

In a statement, the Correctional Service of Canada says measures such as a contingency planning for food, supplies and necessary medical equipment has been adopted.

“CSC has taken full inventory of existing personal protective equipment supplies and has worked with the Public Health Agency of Canada to purchase additional supplies as necessary,” it says.

“We have also distributed additional soap, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer to staff and inmates and we are educating staff and inmates on the prevention and spread of illness, including the importance of good hygiene practices.”

The CSC, as well as the Blair’s office, says there have been no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the federal system.

But, the province of Ontario confirmed Thursday that an inmate and corrections officer at the South Toronto Detention Centre tested positive. Saskatchewan announced Friday that two workers at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre also contracted the virus.

It’s something that worries Infusino-Tomei, who says it’s just a matter of time before COVID-19 enters the federal system.

“If we want to get out of this with the fewest deaths … the only way to do that is to give these inmates an opportunity to isolate,” she says.

“Let’s not look back and say we should have done something, let’s do something now while there is still time to save lives.”

Daniela Germano, The Canadian Press

– With files from Katya Slepian, Black Press Media


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

There were 114 homeless people counted in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows as part of the Metro Vancouver Homeless Count in March. (The News/files)
More than 100 homeless counted in March snapshot across Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows

Metro Vancouver Homeless Count has been taking place since 2002

Lobbying efforts continue to have a fish ladder added to the Alouette dam. (News files)
ALONG THE FRASER: Habitat behind dam could help reverse salmon declines

VIDEO: Environmentalist keeps lobbying for Hydro to fund a fish ladder to move salmon over the dam

SD42 superintendent Sylvia Russell.
Need for post secondary education in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows growing

New curriculum, influx of young teachers changing school district, says the retiring superintendent

Desiree Betz captured a picture of an osprey at Pitt Lake, anxious to share some of the photos of “our beautiful town.” (Special to The News)
SHARE: Feeding time on Pitt Lake

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon

New Pitt Meadows Mayor Bill Dingwall supports hiring more full-time firefighters. (The News files)
Pitt Meadows approves four new career firefighters

New council will have added six over three years

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

(File photo)
Vancouver police warn of toxic drug supply after 7 people overdose at one party

Seven people between the ages of 25 to 42 were taken to hospital for further treatment.

A man walks by a COVID-19 test pod at the Vancouver airport in this undated handout photo. A study has launched to investigate the safest and most efficient way to rapidly test for COVID-19 in people taking off from the Vancouver airport. The airport authority says the study that got underway Friday at WestJet’s domestic check-in area is the first of its kind in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Vancouver Airport Authority *MANDATORY CREDIT*
COVID-19 rapid test study launches at Vancouver airport for departing passengers

Airport authority says that a positive rapid test result does not constitute a medical diagnosis for COVID-19

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Peter Wilson, left, and Micah Rankin, right, formed the Special Prosecutor team that was tasked with reviewing and litigating charges stemming from the Bountiful investigation. Trevor Crawley photo.
End of Bountiful prosecution wraps up decades of legal battles

Constitutional questions had to be settled before a polygamy prosecution could move forward

Most Read