Guards union says prison needle exchange expansion on hold because of COVID-19

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The union representing Canadian correctional officers says a program making clean needles available to inmates at a number of prisons across the country won’t be expanding to new institutions during the COVID-19 crisis.

Corrections Canada began the program in 2018 allowing inmates who use injection drugs to have access to clean syringes.

It has been rolled out across the country since June 2018 and is offered in at least nine of the 49 federal prisons including Atlantic Institution, Fraser Valley Institution, Edmonton Institution for Women, Joliette Institution and Dorchester Penitentiary. Bowden Institution in central Alberta was recently added to the list.

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“As everything sits right now there’s no new anything. It’s completely stopped as far as the progression of new policies,” said James Bloomfield, Prairies regional president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.

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“For example, at Bowden we have not actually got to the point of an inmate in a cell with a needle yet.”

The Correctional Service of Canada said the Prison Needle Exchange Program is continuing at institutions where it is already running and the hold on expansion is only temporary because of COVID-19.

“We have paused the consultation process temporarily for new implementation of PNEP because this requires extensive consultation and face-to-face meetings,” the department said in a statement. “This is line with guidelines from the Public Health Agency of Canada about social distancing.”

Bloomfield estimates there are probably only about 50 inmates across the country enrolled in the needle exchange program now.

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