Supervised consumption site in federal prison will be 1st in Canada, says union

Drumheller, Alta. could join the list of locations with supervised drug consumption sites. The union for correctional service officers says the federal prison there will have one of the harm reduction facilities by the end of June.

Harm reduction facility in Drumheller, Alta. penitentiary could open as soon as end of this month

A correctional officer looks on at the Collins Bay Institution in Kingston, Ont., in this May 10, 2016 file photo. Another prison, Drumheller Institution, could be the first federal prison to have a supervised drug consumption site. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

There are just a few supervised consumption sites across Canada, most in hospitals or community health centres, but this month one of the harm reduction facilities could open in an entirely new location — a federal prison.

Jeff Wilkins, president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, says the union has been told by Correctional Service Canada that the facility in the Drumheller penitentiary, in southern Alberta, will open by the end of this month.

That timeline has been confirmed by Correctional Service Canada.

"This is a kind of lesser of two evils approach for us," said Wilkins, who added that the prison currently has a needle exchange program — meaning if inmates are using, it's in the privacy of their cells.

Wilkins said the union has been in talks to end the needle exchange, which it feels puts officers in danger. 

The current system sees clean needles handed out to inmates to prevent sharing. The new facility would be a sterile place for people to consume illegal substances under the supervision of health professionals.

Jeff Wilkins, the national president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, pictured in Ottawa on Wednesday. (Chris Rands/ CBC)

"Not only is it a harm reduction strategy but it's also an overdose prevention strategy too … the correctional officer is the first responder when [inmates] overdose, we're the ones going in the cell, we're the ones to administer CPR or the ones to administer first aid. We're not doctors and we're not nurses," Wilkins said. 

With files from Anis Heydari