Advocacy groups say high rates of HIV and hepatitis C among Canadian inmates point to the need for the government to implement needle-exchange programs (NEPs) in federal prisons.
A 2007 Correctional Service Canada survey found an estimated 4.6 percent of prisoners reported having HIV/AIDS, more than two times the 1.6 percent from an earlier survey. CSC also found the estimated rate of hepatitis C among federal prisons was 31 percent, 39 times greater than that found in the general population. Incarcerated women, particularly Aboriginal women, are also disproportionately infected with HIV and hepatitis C, the survey showed.
According to the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network's Sandra Ka Hon Chu, roughly half of prisoners surveyed reported sharing used needles or syringes to inject drugs. HIV specialist Dr. Peter Ford, a former professor at Queen's University, said it is not uncommon for used needles to be shared among 30 or 40 inmates.
Ka Hon Chu said countries that have adopted prison-based NEPs report mostly positive results. In addition to no increase in the use of drugs or injection drugs, "There is actually a decrease in syringes and needles and increasing referrals to drug addiction treatment programs," she said.
However, a CSC spokesperson said the agency "is not considering the introduction of prison-based [NEPs]." "The government has a zero-tolerance for drugs in our institutions. Providing needles for illicit drug use runs counter to that policy. Illicit drugs in federal prisons compromise the safety and security of correctional staff as well as our communities," said Christelle Chartrand.