Kitchener-Waterloo

Corrections officers protest needle exchange program in federal prisons

Correctional officers at Kitchener’s federal prison say they want the government to ditch a needle exchange program for inmates and instead move forward with supervised consumption sites in prisons.

Union of Canadian Correctional Officers pushes for supervised consumption sites in prisons

Corrections officers at Grand Valley Institution for Women protested the federal prison needle exchange program outside Kitchener South-Hespeler MP Marwan Tabbara's office on Wednesday morning. (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

Correctional officers at Kitchener's federal prison say they want the government to ditch a needle exchange program for inmates and instead move forward with supervised consumption sites in prisons.

About two dozen workers from the Grand Valley Institution for Women rallied outside the office of Kitchener South-Hespeler MP Marwan Tabbara on Wednesday morning to protest the federal prison needle exchange program.

They also delivered hundreds of letters signed by constituents concerned about the impact of the program on correctional officers.

The program was launched in June 2018 at two federal prisons, including Grand Valley, and has since been rolled out at three other prisons across the country.

Currently, Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, The Nova Institution for Women in Truro, N.S., the Atlantic Institution in Renous, N.B., the Fraser Valley Institution for Women in Abbotsford, B.C. and the Edmonton Institution for Women offer prisoner needle exchange programs.

The Correctional Service of Canada says the aim is to prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases and skin infections through inmate needle sharing.

But the union representing correctional officers argues the program puts those working in prisons at risk.

"The needles are in the cells with inmates, right? And so that is a risk to us," said Rob Finucan, the Ontario regional president with the Union of Canadian Correctional officers.

"The officers can get stuck with needles. It can be used as a weapon, so we don't want the needles in the cells at all."

While there have been no major incidents involving needles in cells at Grand Valley, Finucan said correctional officers are concerned it will happen in the future.

They would rather see needles and drug use handled by health care professionals and supervised consumption sites inside prisons, he said.

"We have a lot of officers right now that are responding to overdoses," he said. "If someone takes it in a health care environment, they have a nurse there than can provide naloxone."

The Correctional Service of Canada said in a statement to CBC News it "is currently examining the possibility of implementing an overdose prevention service at one of our institutions in the coming months, as another harm reduction measure."

It added that the safety of the public, staff and inmates in federal prisons remains a priority.

"CSC will continue to have significant discussions with staff, inmates, unions, and stakeholders to ensure a safe working environment and address concerns as we move forward with the national rollout of the PNEP," the statement said.

CBC News also reached out to Kitchener-South Hespeler MP Marwan Tabbara. He was not available for comment.

Rob Finucan, the Ontario regional president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, stands with local chapter president Matt McLaren. (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

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