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An advocacy group is urging governments to help it add housing to let female inmates leave jails before the COVID-19 pandemic moves into Atlantic institutions.

The executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia is asking Correctional Service Canada for daily funding to help rapidly set up housing.

Emma Halpern says in a letter sent to the federal government that a four-bedroom house in Dartmouth is already available for women exiting federal or provincial institutions in the province.

The organization has said it’s crucial for non-violent offenders to be shifted to the community during the pandemic.

That would create more space in jails for social distancing and decrease inmates’ chances of contracting the illness.

Correctional Service Canada wasn’t immediately available for comment, but said in a recent statement that all institutions in the region are “assessing operational decisions around schedules and activities on a regular basis.”

“Sites are working with local public health departments for consultation and advice, and will continue to adjust as the situation evolves.”

Halpern said she’s also contacted the province with a similar proposal, seeking funding to help transition women in provincial jails to housing her group secures.

Sara Tessier, a 45-year-old former inmate at the federal Nova Institution for Women in Truro, said social distancing can be difficult in densely populated institutions, where inmates often share food preparation and living areas.

Tessier, who is on day parole, said it’s “a time to make some changes.

“We need to be depopulating the prisons. We need to be getting low-risk, non-violent offenders out in the communities where they can be with their families or in residential housing in the communities,” Tessier said in an interview from her residence.

“We need to depopulate it so we can at least can control how badly (the virus) spreads.”

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