Prison needle use should be supervised to ensure safety, guards say

There have been no reported assaults involving needles since the program began in Drumheller

Setting up supervised injection sites at federal institutions is the way to go if the Correctional Service plans to continue making needles available to drug-using inmates, prison guards say.

The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers says one such injection site at Drumheller Institution in Alberta is proving a safer alternative to the service’s needle-exchange program, operating at seven federal prisons.

The Correctional Service considers both initiatives important elements of the effort to limit transmission of hepatitis C and HIV in institutions. It has long tried to keep drugs from entering prisons, but recognizes that contraband finds its way to inmates.

ALSO READ: Health care key to prevent women from returning to prison, study says

The union opposes making needles available to inmates at all, citing the risk of being pricked accidentally or on purpose.

But it says if the prison service wants to continue distributing needles, then the injection site, known as an overdose prevention service, should be the model. It involves giving inmates access to needles so they can use them in a supervised setting with nursing staff.

The needle-exchange program, introduced last year, provides injection kits that eligible inmates can use in their cells.

The prison service does a risk assessment to evaluate security concerns before approving an inmate for the program. To date, there have been 63 applications, of which 10 were rejected, said Veronique Rioux, a Correctional Service spokeswoman.

Correctional officers have seen inmates in the program share needles with others, said Jeff Wilkins, national president of the union.

“When you put the needle in an inmate’s cell and they’re sharing it with Johnny across the range, then obviously that spreads infectious disease,” he said.

In one case, the union says, a needle was discovered in another inmate’s cell. In another case, a needle was missing from a cell.

Safety and security are priorities for the Correctional Service, said Rioux. Appropriate safeguards ensure injection kits are safely stored and accounted for at all times, she said.

Each kit and its contents are visually inspected daily and will be seized if they appear to be altered or any of the contents cannot be unaccounted for, or are seen outside of the kit, Rioux said. Infractions could result in reassessment of an inmate’s eligibility for the program and institutional disciplinary measures.

“Since program implementation, no needles have gone missing,” Rioux said. “When needles have not been stored in the approved location, staff recovered the needle and the participant was removed from the program.”

There have been no reported assaults involving needles since the program began, she added.

The Drumheller prevention site, established in June, has been used more than 300 times by 23 users without incident, according to statistics collected by the union.

“The only really safe option is the overdose prevention site,” Wilkins said.

The union has been told the prison service will introduce more needle-exchange programs before the end of the year at two more institutions — one in British Columbia, the other in New Brunswick — as well as an overdose prevention service at Springhill Institution in Nova Scotia.

Wilkins suspects the cost of providing the prevention services means the prison service sees needle-exchange programs as the preferred model.

“I know that they don’t have the extra money to keep rolling out overdose prevention sites, but that’s something that whatever government is elected is going to have to think about.”

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City of Chilliwack hopes to re-start public consultation

A new survey asks residents if they’re ready to discuss projects not related to COVID-19

UPDATE: Missing girl in Chilliwack’s Promontory neighborhood found

A 13-year-old child was missing from early Monday morning to 4:30 in the afternoon

Missing Richmond man last seen in Chilliwack

Shawn Johnson last seen on June 30 on Main Street

Double homicide investigation leads Vancouver police to Eagle Landing

A VPD forensics unit was in Chilliwack Saturday collecting evidence connected to East Van murders

Abbotsford man wins $1 million in Lotto 6/49 draw

Kenneth Giffen wins prize after deciding to stop in Agassiz gas station after fishing trip

B.C. records 62 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths since Friday

Province has just over 200 active cases

Hotel rooms for B.C. homeless too hasty, NDP government told

Businesses forced out, but crime goes down, minister says

Wage subsidy will be extended until December amid post-COVID reopening: Trudeau

Trudeau said the extension will ‘give greater certainty and support to businesses’

B.C. government prepares for COVID-19 economic recovery efforts

New measures after July consultation, Carole James says

COVID-19 exposure on Vancouver flight

The Air Canada 8421 flight travelled from Kelowna to Vancouver on July 6

VIDEO: Former Abbotsford resident giving away $1,000

Langley native Alex Johnson creates elaborate treasure hunt to give away cash

Tree planters get help with COVID-19 protective measures

Ottawa funds extra transportation, sanitizing for crews

UPDATE: Abbotsford shooting victim was alleged ‘crime boss,’ according to court documents

Jazzy Sran, 43, was believed to have been smuggling cocaine across the border

Trudeau apologizes for not recusing himself from WE decision

He says his and his family’s longtime involvement with the WE organization should have kept him out of the discussions

Most Read