Advocate group supporting needle exchange trial in prisons concerned over roll out

Next month, Correctional Service of Canada is providing clean needles to drug users in two federal prisons. Critics argue it's a dangerous move but a prisoner support group worries how the pilot project will roll out.

Lack of consultation to implement pilot program troubles prison support organization

In June, two federal prisons will be part of a Correctional Services of Canada needle exchange trial to try to combat HIV and Hep C among prisoners. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

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Starting in June, Correctional Service of Canada will be providing clean needles to drug users in two federal prisons, amid concern from an advocacy group over the lack of consultation on how the pilot program will be implemented.

While PASAN, a community-based prisoner health and harm reduction organization, supports the government initiative, they hope different models to distribute the needle exchange trial will be considered.

The program's goal is to reduce infectious diseases inside penitentiaries. According to a 2014 report by the Correctional Investigator, the rate of HIV infection was 10 times greater than the regular population. The same report also states 80 per cent of federal prisoners have substance abuse issues.

The union representing federal corrections officers does not support the pilot project expected to roll out next month in New Brunswick's Atlantic Institution and the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Ontario. It says a program such as this sets a dangerous precedent and it worries guards and inmates could be put at risk.

A statement to The Current from the office of Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale responded to the issue of safety saying: "The Correctional Service of Canada already has safe needle programs in place, such as epipens for allergic reactions and insulin needles for diabetes. They show CSC can manage needles in a safe and secure manner."

To discuss this issue, The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti spoke with:

  • Janet Rowe, executive director of PASAN, a health and harm reduction organization that supports prisoners and ex-prisoners across Canada.
  • Jason Godin, president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.

This segment was produced by The Current's Kristian Jebsen and Alison Masemann.


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