A TOUGH-ON-DRUGS STANCE IN THE PRISON SYS­TEM HARMS PRIS­ON­ERS

Vicky Mochama

StarMetro Calgary - - BIG OPINIONS -

A new pi­lot pro­gram in two Cana­dian pris­ons is a sign that our pris­ons can change.

The depart­ment re­spon­si­ble for our fed­eral prison sys­tem, Cor­rec­tional Ser­vice Canada, an­nounced this week that it will launch a pi­lot pro­gram for nee­dle ex­changes. A wider pro­gram is set to launch in Jan­uary 2019. Groups like the Cana­dian HIV/AIDS Le­gal Net­work ap­plauded the move. On the other side, the union rep­re­sent­ing cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers decried the pro­gram. They said in a state­ment, “Cor­rec­tional Ser­vice Canada has de­cided to close its eyes to drug traf­fick­ing in our in­sti­tu­tions.”

In fact, it is the op­po­site. A tough-on-drugs stance in the prison sys­tem harms pris­on­ers and any other re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive ef­forts.

A Cor­rec­tional Ser­vice memo ob­tained by The Cana­dian Press in Fe­bru­ary told the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment that “a pro­gram to pro­vide clean drug-in­jec­tion nee­dles to pris­on­ers could re­duce the spread of hep­ati­tis C by 18 per cent a year.” The memo also noted that a safe tat­too­ing pro­gram that ran for two years was viewed pos­i­tively by both in­mates and staff alike. That pro­gram was cut by the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment in 2007.

That gov­ern­ment’s hos­tile ap­proach to drug users led to the creation of Bill C-12, the “Drug-Free Pris­ons” act. At the time, Howard Sapers, then­cor­rec­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tor, de­scribed the pro­posed act as “not about mak­ing fed­eral pris­ons drug-free or treat­ing sub­stance abuse. It is about pun­ish­ing il­licit drug use in prison.”

“THERE IS AN IM­MENSE POWER IM­BAL­ANCE THAT PUTS DRUG USERS AT A MAS­SIVE DIS­AD­VAN­TAGE.”

JOHN RENNISON/THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

A new pi­lot pro­gram in two Cana­dian pris­ons is a sign that our pris­ons can change, writes Vicky Mochama.

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