Pubdate: Thu, 18 Nov 2004
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2004 The Toronto Star
Author: Canadian Press
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)


OTTAWA -- The federal prisons ombudsman says Public Safety Minister
Anne McLellan should order the establishment of needle exchange
programs in penitentiaries.

Howard Sapers, officially known as the correctional investigator, said
in his annual report today that the Correctional Service of Canada has
ignored such recommendations for years.

Sapers turned directly to McLellan this year.

He said drug use is rampant in prisons -- in some places
three-quarters of inmates inject drugs -- and clean needle programs
would reduce the spread of diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV.

"It's not a question of whether we condone it or not condone it," he

Since infected inmates eventually get released into the community,
"this is a public health issue."

He said similar programs in other countries have reduced the spread of
disease and shown that giving needles to inmates doesn't mean they'll
be used as weapons against guards.

Conservative MP Kevin Sorenson said the prison system supposedly has a
zero-tolerance policy on drug use, yet is faced with the idea of
providing clean needles.

He said he hopes the government takes into account the concerns of the

"Some corrections officers need gloves to avoid needle sticks while
going through searches," he said.

Sapers commended the Correctional Service on setting up a pilot
program to provide safe tattoos to prisoners. Primitive tattooing
apparatus can also spread disease.

His report also said McLellan should order the correctional service to
appoint a deputy commissioner for aboriginal inmates and to change a
policy that automatically makes prisoners sentenced to life serve
their first two years in maximum security, regardless of the risk they

Finally, Sapers asked McLellan to get the prison system to issue a
formal response to recommendations of a report almost 10 years ago by
Justice Louise Arbour.

She produced the report after a confrontation in Kingston's infamous
prison for women in which male guards forcibly subdued female inmates.

"Canadians expect a system that provides safe, humane custody which is
respectful of human rights and supports the offenders' successful
re-integration into society," Sapers said.

A spokesman for McLellan said the recommendations will be studied and
she will respond in writing later.

The report said there should be a review of the problems facing
aboriginals in prison, especially since they make up an inordinate
percentage of inmates.

"While 41 per cent of non-aboriginal offenders are serving their
sentences on conditional release in the community, only 31 per cent of
aboriginal offenders are on conditional release," the report said.

Sapers said the corrections system has responded to many of his
previous recommendations, but still falls short in some areas.

"Corrections is a difficult and at times thankless business, yet it is
a key element of our criminal justice system," he said.

Sapers also cited a shortage of mental health services in the prison
system as a problem that needs to be addressed.

The report was prepared after his investigators looked at 7,000 inmate
complaints in the last year, a large number from a federal prison
population of only 12,000 people.

Kim Pate of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, a
support group for female prisoners and parolees, said she welcomed
Sapers' recommendations.

She said many women in prison are in dire need of mental health

Sapers also said there are issues surrounding younger inmates and
elderly prisoners, both growing populations behind bars

The system "continues not to recognize the need to provide special
housing programming or other services for young offenders."
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin