Jason Godin. Whig-Standard file photo.
No Kingston-area facilities will be among the first two institutions in Canada to have a needle exchange program, Correctional Service Canada announced Monday.
The correctional service named the Atlantic Institution in Renous, N.B., a maximum-security facility for men, and the Grand Valley Institution for women in Kitchener as the first two facilities in which the program will be introduced.
The Prison Needle Exchange Program is expected to be rolled out to all institutions across the country early next year, Stephanie Stevenson, CSC senior communications adviser, said in an email.
In a news release, CSC said the program is the initial stage of an approach to strengthen its ongoing efforts to prevent and manage infectious disease in federal penitentiaries and in the community.
“The best practices learned at these institutions will inform a full national rollout,” the release said.
It also said the program will give federal inmates access to clean needles in an effort to limit the transmission of infectious diseases, such as hepatitis C and HIV-AIDS.
CSC will use a model similar to the one currently used for EpiPens and diabetic insulin in federal correctional institutions. These programs have proven to be safe and effective, the release said. The cost of the program will be absorbed within existing budgets.
The decision doesn’t sit well with the national guards union.
A news release from the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO) said the program is being introduced without additional safety measures or additional training for correctional service officers.
“This program represents a dangerous turning point,” union president Jason Godin said in a statement. “Correctional Service Canada has decided to close its eyes to drug trafficking in our institutions. It has chosen to encourage criminal activity inside the walls instead of investing in the care and treatment of inmates who are drug addicts or carriers of infectious disease.”
The union represents 7,400 correctional officers at institutions across Canada.
Godin also said the program contradicts the mission of CSC to “contribute to public safety by actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens.”
“We are also wondering what’s happening with CSC’s zero-tolerance policy on drugs?” Godin wrote.
The union is also concerned with a rash of overdoses lately in prisons, mostly due to the fentanyl crisis, and believes the establishment of the program poses a threat for correctional officers and will put the lives of many inmates at risk.
Despite the union’s concerns, CSC said that the safety and security of staff, the public and inmates are of utmost importance when making decisions about programs and policy.
The Whig-Standard acquired an internal memo from acting CSC commissioner Anne Kelly about the program.
“As you may know,” she wrote, “CSC has worked hard to limit the transmission of infectious diseases in our penitentiaries.
“The PNEP will strengthen our ongoing efforts to address infectious diseases in our penitentiaries and communities and enhance public safety.”
Author: Ian MacAlpine