Pubdate: Tue, 23 Aug 2016
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Page: S1
Copyright: 2016 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Andrea Woo
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Advocates Say Clean Paraphernalia for Inmates Will Curb Blood-Borne 
Illness Rates in Prison, but Correctional Staff Say They're Unsafe

The availability of illicit drugs in B.C. prisons underscores the 
need for needle exchanges to curb the transmission of blood-borne 
illnesses behind bars, civil liberties advocates say, but 
correctional staff are strongly opposed to the idea, arguing that the 
increased availability of clean needles could do more harm than good.

Marijuana is the most commonly seized intoxicant from federal prisons 
in British Columbia, with 225 seizures from eight sites between 
January, 2010, and June of this year, according to records obtained 
by The Globe and Mail under freedom of information legislation.

Next follows seizures of 137 "unknown" intoxicants, then 133 seizures 
of heroin.

The most commonly seized drug paraphernalia was syringes, with 177 
seizures from the eight sites.

The difficulty of obtaining needles in prison leads users to share 
them, putting themselves at risk of blood-borne illnesses, prisoners 
advocates say.

A Correctional Service Canada survey of inmates in federal 
penitentiaries, released in 2010, found 34 per cent of men and 25 per 
cent women admitted to using non-injection drugs in the previous six 
months in prison, while 17 per cent of men and 14 per cent of women 
admitting using injection drugs.

Laura Track, a lawyer with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association 
(BCCLA), says the group's position is that drug users in prison have 
a legal right to sterile supplies.

"People should not be given a death sentence simply because they're 
in prison and don't have the same community harm reduction supplies 
that exist outside of prison," she said.

"That is a well-established legal principle. This sounds to many 
people like a really radical proposition but, in fact, it is clear in 
the law that prisoners have the right to the same quality of health 
care as is available outside prison."

Drugs and drug paraphernalia are most often smuggled into prisons in 
the body cavities of prisoners and their visitors, prison officials say.

Correctional officers are not authorized to order cavity searches.

Prison officials have also seen drugs be stuffed into tennis balls 
and thrown over prison walls and, in recent years, dropped off by drones.

Jason Godin, national president of the Union of Canadian Correctional 
Officers, has been working in corrections for 25 years and says the 
availability of drugs behind bars has "always been a major problem."

He is also troubled by the relatively recent emergence of illicit 
fentanyl in street drugs - staff have had a few exposures to it in 
British Columbia, he says - but maintains that needle exchanges are 
not the answer.

"In a prison setting, [a needle exchange] is dangerous and virtually 
impossible to control," he said.

"Certainly, that's one thing that we're completely opposed to. We've 
had incidents where inmates have been able to get their hands on a 
needle and have attacked correctional officers."

Dean Purdy, a spokesman for the B.C. Government and Service 
Employees' Union, which represents correctional staff at provincial 
prisons, feels similarly.

"Having needles inside and readily available to inmates is a concern 
for us, because of being exposed to the dangers that go with that," 
he said. "We try to keep any drugs and contraband outside of the 
jail. Safety is number one and we don't want to see anything like 
that inside of the jails."

Some prison systems, including the federal Correctional Service 
Canada, will make available bleach for inmates to disinfect injecting 
equipment. However, the Canadian HIV/ AIDS legal network noted in a 
2015 policy brief that some prisoners are reticent to engage in any 
activity that increases the risk of alerting prison staff to their 
drug use. As well, prisoners may not spend long enough cleaning their 
needles to effectively disinfect them, the policy brief stated.

The BCCLA will be intervening in a constitutional challenge brought 
by Steven Simons, a former prisoner who contracted Hepatitis C while 
imprisoned, set to go to trial next year.

Mr. Simons says Correctional Service Canada's failure to make sterile 
injection equipment available violates prisoners' constitutional rights.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom