The union that represent Canadian prison guards is urging the federal government to rescind a pilot project that brings needle exchanges to prisons. (File)

Canadian prison guards outraged over needle exchange program for inmates

‘This is heading towards condoning drug use behind penitentiary bars,’ union president says

It can come as a surprise to many in the general public to hear that illegal drugs make their way into prisons in Canada.

But what’s outright baffling for prison guards is a federal government decision to introduce a needle exchange program for inmates.

“This is heading towards condoning drug use behind penitentiary bars,” according to Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO) president Jason Godin.

“It’s our job to uphold the law and to get inmates off of drugs rather than give them needles to inject drugs.”

On June 27, the Correctional Service Canada (CSC) rolled out the prison needle exchange program at two jails, Grand Valley Institution for Women in Ontario and Atlantic Institution in New Brunswick.

Godin said the needle exchange is coming to all federal institutions by January 2019.

The government formally announced the program on May 14.

“In keeping with the Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy, the Government of Canada is committed to protecting the health and safety of all Canadians, including federal inmates, through continued access to harm reduction and evidence-based health services,” Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale said in a press release. “We’re focused on ensuring that correctional institutions are secure environments conducive to inmate rehabilitation, staff safety and the protection of the public.”

The logic behind this later statement baffles Godin and his members, who say a prison is not a regular community like others where needle exchanges might work. As for staff safety, Godin can only see that decrease, and he also questions how this could protect the public.

“I think the Canadian public, in our view, has a right to know because 80 per cent of these inmates are going to be coming back to our communities and 80 to 90 per cent committed their crimes while on drugs or alcohol,” he said.

UCCO members have already held rallies against the CSC move to implement the needle exchanges, and they want the government to rescind the “dangerous program within our walls.”

They are asking the public to email their Members of Parliament about the subject.

Godin was asked to comment on the fact that many people are shocked to learn illegal drugs can get behind bars in the first place.

“We have tennis balls, body cavities, bows and arrows fired in,” he said during a phone interview with The Progress from Kingston, Ont. “Drones are the latest phenomena.”

Godin added that his union has been lobbying for full scanning machines at all federal prisons for years, something that exists in every prison in the U.S. and in all 26 provincial institutions in Ontario.

As for the practical, day-to-day question of how guards are supposed to deal with a needle exchange so that federal inmates can use illegal drugs, Godin has no idea.

“This is the question we haven’t been given a straight answer on,” he said. “What do you want us to do now?”

If guards see illegal drugs inside, they are supposed to confiscate them, but what if there is the residue of drugs on a needle in a cell?

“The real question is, what do you want us to do when the needles go missing?”

As for the intended goal of CSC, Godin insists rates of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C have already been on the decline inside prisons, and the money should be better spent on care and treatment.

• RELATED: Opinion: The missing exchange

• RELATED: Community needle sweeps coming for Chilliwack


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Okanagan travel survey deadline approaches

Participants have until Dec. 18

UPDATED: Absolute discharge for mischief charge against Sagmoen

Trial starts at 9:30 a.m. in Vernon Law Courts

Customer appreciation day supports CMHA Vernon

Families Helping Families raised $1,000

Judge rules controversial Lake Country inn will not get business licence

A Court of Appeal judge sided with the district Tuesday

Lake Country residents give letters of support for cannabis store

Council will decide on whether to approve a variance and licence for Compass Cannabis

Omar Khadr wants changes to bail conditions

‘My life is held in suspension’, says the former Guantanamo Bay detainee

Sissons scores OT winner as Predators beat Canucks 4-3

VIDEO: Vancouver battles back to earn single point in Nashville

Lions announce seven members of coaching staff not coming back for 2019

The operational moves come two days after the Lions announced DeVone Claybrooks as the team’s new head coach

Okanagan lawyer honoured by appointment to Queen’s Counsel

Only seven per cent of practising B.C. lawyers are appointed

Letter: Hopping for happiness

Last week, my two kids (10 and 6) set up a hopscotch on the main street.

Missing man last seen in Shuswap

Red Deer RCMP would like public’s help locating elderly man with dementia last observed in Sicamous

Scholarship smooths road ahead for Okanagan College transfer student

27 students from Okanagan College received awards from the Irving K. Barber Society

$12K awarded to atheist family who oppose Christmas, Hanukkah in B.C. classroom

Gary Mangel,May Yasue said holidays, Remembrance Day and Valentine’s Day not appropriate in preschool

Aboriginal poet faces backlash for calling out NHL-themed totem poles

Rebecca Thomas says she received backlash for asking a drugstore chain to remove NHL merchandise

Most Read