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

QUIZ: How much do you know about British Columbia?

On this B.C. Day long weekend, put your knowledge of our province to the test

“How many more years is this going to continue?”: Kitimat resident wants better District response to front yard sinkholes

The sinkholes are caused by an aging storm sewer, which the District says they are working to fix.

In Our Valley: Louise Barbetti

Louise Barbetti has spent her life dedicated to the welfare of the Haisla students and community.

Rio Tinto Kemano T2 project restart plans in the works after temporary COVID-19 shutdown

The project excavation work has been shut down since late March for COVID-19 safety.

REVIEW: Catchpole’s writing style makes engineering more understandable for non-engineers

“A Story of the Engineering of the Kemano-Kitimat Transmission Line” is a fun and intelligent read.

VIDEO: Otter pups learn to swim at B.C. wildlife rescue facility

Watch Critter Care’s Nathan Wagstaffe help seven young otters go for their first dip

Alleged impaired driver sparks small wildfire near Lytton after crash: B.C. RCMP

Good Samaritans prevented the blaze from getting out of control

Travel restrictions inspiring co-operation in border communities

Small border towns are asking for exemption to travel ban

B.C. First Nation adopts ‘digital twinning’ software to better manage territory

Software allows users to visualize what a mountain might look like if the trees on its slopes were logged

All inquiry recommendations implemented after fatal Port Hardy RCMP shooting: Ministry

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. cleared the RCMP officers involved of wrongdoing

Leave your deets when dining: Restaurants taking personal info to trace COVID-19

Health officials say indoor dining presents a higher risk

Raptors kneel for both American and Canadian anthems ahead of tipoff

Majority of players have substituted their names on the backs of their jerseys with racial and social justice messages

Wild’s Mathew Dumba makes anti-racism speech, kneels ahead of Blackhawks vs. Oilers

Matt Dumba, 26, took to center ice to speak on behalf of fellow members of the Hockey Diversity Alliance

Most Read