TORONTO -- As calls grew to release some inmates at federal and provincial institutions to slow the spread of COVID-19 inside Canadian jails, provincial institutions appear to have heeded the call, while federal inmate populations remained fairly flat.

According to the latest data from Statistics Canada, there were about 6,000 fewer inmates in Canadian institutions between February and April, but the bulk of the decline came from provincial jails, where the population declined by 25 per cent, comparedto federal prisons’ decline of just one per cent during the same time period.

“These month-to-month changes are unprecedented,” Statistics Canada wrote in the report. “Typically, correctional population average daily counts tend to be stable over time, with slight variations occurring over longer periods.”

Provincial and territorial jails are used for those serving a sentence of two years or less and for those awaiting a trial, while federal institutions are responsible for the incarceration of inmates serving a sentence of longer than two years, including dangerous offenders and those whose sentences do not have a specific end date.

Of note, Nova Scotia’s provincial inmate population declined the most, at 41 per cent between February and April, while Nunavut’s inmate population declined the least at 14 per cent.

Nunavut is the only provincial or territorial jurisdiction to have not reported a single case of COVID-19.

These declines came as Public Safety Minister Bill Blair asked the federal prison service and the parole board back in March to look at releasing some inmates early to slow the spread of COVID-19 in federal prisons.

In response, Canadian justice and correctional systems have taken several steps to reduce the number of people in custody, including early release of low-risk offenders, extended parole and implementing alternatives to those awaiting a trial or sentencing.

For those still in custody, correctional institutions have provided inmates with increased access to hygiene and cleaning supplies, have begun screening inmates for COVID-19 before taking them in, have suspended inter-regional transfers and have allowed for video visitation sessions with loved ones.

As of Aug. 10, 360 inmates of federal institutions have tested positive for COVID-19. Two inmates have died from the virus, but the rest have since recovered.