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Canada  

Inmate's wife calls for release of non-violent offenders

Release the prisoners?

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."



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