After years of pressure, prison service to usher in needle exchange programs

After years of pressure, prison service to usher in needle exchange programs

OTTAWA — The federal prison service plans to introduce needle exchange programs in a bid to reduce the incidence of infectious diseases among inmates.

The move, which comes after years of pressure from prisoners and health advocates, was quickly denounced by the union representing prison guards.

The Correctional Service says programs will be unfurled in June at Atlantic Institution in New Brunswick and Grand Valley Institution for Women in Ontario. The lessons learned will be applied to a full national roll-out in January.

The initiative will give federal inmates access to clean needles in an effort to limit the transmission of infectious diseases, such as hepatitis C and HIV, the prison service said in its announcement.

Costs of the program will come from existing budgets.

From 2007 to 2017, the prevalence of hepatitis C in prison declined to 7.8 per cent from 31.6 per cent, while HIV dropped to 1.2 per cent from just over two per cent, according to federal statistics.

However, these infections are still far more widespread behind bars than among the general public.

The approach to prevent and control blood-borne and sexually transmitted infections includes screening, testing, education, substance-abuse programs and treatment.

A 2017 Correctional Service memo, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, advised Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale that the idea of a needle program warranted consideration.

It said a program to provide clean drug-injection needles to prisoners could reduce the spread of hepatitis C by 18 per cent a year.

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