The push for prison-based needle and syringe exchange programs has been happening since at least 1999.

Pushing for prison-based needle and syringe exchange programs has been an ongoing debate in Canada since at least 1999, when the healthcare advisory committee of Correctional Service Canada first reported significant benefits to implementing these needle exchange programs. Seventeen years later, no federal or provincial prison in Canada offers any safe injection initiatives. Now, some 250 organizations across Canada are petitioning both the federal and provincial governments to implement these programs immediately.

“People who inject drugs would have access to sterile injection supplies which would reduce the transmission of HIV, Hepatitis C and other blood born pathogens,” says Shaun Hopkins, manager of needle exchange at Toronto Public Health. “Needle and syringe programs have been introduced in more than 60 prisons around the world,” she says. Spain, Germany and Switzerland are a few of the countries that have already implemented such programs.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The most recent statistics from Correctional Service Canada are close to a decade old, but broadly point to 10 times higher HIV rates and 30 times higher hepatitis C rates in federal prisons compared to the general population. Current harm reduction strategies in federal prisons include methadone treatment, the distribution of condoms to inmates, and providing bleach for disinfecting needles and syringes.

Arielle Piat-Sauvé is a Toronto-based television producer and freelance writer with a focus on social justice issues.