David Marsden: Drugs don’t belong in prisons

The federal government has a penchant for renaming departments during these enlightened days.

What used to be referred to as Foreign Affairs is now Global Affairs, and the evidence of such revisionism is endless.

Here’s one to consider. We have an agency titled Correctional Service Canada that is providing needles to its inmates so they can use illegal drugs while incarcerated.

It’s a fact that drug addiction often leads well-intended people to commit crimes that they wouldn’t have otherwise contemplated, and to fall into a crowd of acquaintances they would have stayed clear of.

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So once people have been called out for their crimes, and put behind bars to signal society’s objection to their behaviour, and to send a message to others, the agency’s answer is to ensure inmates can safely continue with their worrisome drug use.

It doesn’t make sense.

The union that represents federal correction officers believes that rather than simply handing out needles at facilities such as Bowden Institution in order to prevent the sharing of drug paraphernalia, the agency should offer supervised drug consumption sites.

The union is correct, of course. If the agency cares about the people in its care, it’s not prudent to simply hand out needles to the inmates, uncertain of what drugs are being consumed and in what doses.

“They have to illegally get their drugs into the institution and then they hide or curl up in a corner, so to speak, and inject,” said James Bloomfield, the Prairie president for the correctional officers union.

It is far better to monitor the use of drugs through medical oversight and ensure there is no immediate harm, rather than allowing the inmates to run amok with the potential for overdose, and for dirty needles to be left out, putting correction officers at risk.

There’s also the risk that such a cavalier attitude toward drug use behind the walls could lead inmates who had previously been drug free to become dependent on the substances.

Every inmate, after all, is living under stressful conditions — that’s perhaps the idea — so the prevalence of drugs does them no favours.

Clearly, the so-called correctional service is ridden with hypocrisy.

Just last November, it crowed about seizing $160,000 worth of drugs and tobacco that were on their way to prisoners.

The institution is accepting responsibility for the care of many individuals who are addicted to drugs and then facilitating the use of substances that contributed to them being behind bars.

We cannot accept that Correctional Service Canada is going to try to stop drugs from entering the prison, and then enable their use once inside. We should demand a better outcome.

Questionably, in today’s central Alberta, it’s apparently OK to use illegal drugs with impunity. But when people suffering from addictions find themselves behind bars because of their actions, surely that’s an invitation to make matters better.

Bowden Institution and other prisons should put a greater emphasis on recovery and freeing our neighbours from a scourge that prevents them from living a fulsome life.

It should make greater efforts to ensure drugs aren’t flowing into the prison.

The fact drugs are entering a locked-up facility is unacceptable.

Offering free needles is an admission that administrators are not doing their job.

Until Correctional Service Canada admits that, it is not correcting anything, nor is it of service to anybody. A correctional service makes conditions better, not worse, or the same.

It should change its name to Permissiveness Service Canada.

Unlike changing the name of Foreign Affairs to Global Affairs, which makes no difference whatsoever, at least this swap in title would reflect what’s going on.

David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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