November 29, 2022 — Today, researchers at the HIV Legal Network and Toronto Metropolitan University have released Points of Perspective, the very first national independent study of Canada’s “Prison Needle Exchange Program” (PNEP). It is based on interviews with people formerly incarcerated in federal prisons across the country and provides an overview of the PNEP as it currently exists – notably in only nine federal institutions as of 2022, despite the longstanding promise of and commitment to a nationwide rollout.
This PNEP is the first of its kind in North America, though more successful prison syringe distribution programs have existed for some time in other jurisdictions around the world. Despite ample empirical evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of such programs, the federal Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) refused for decades to implement this essential prison harm reduction measure. After years of inaction, in 2012 the HIV Legal Network (formerly the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network) along with Steve Simons, a man with experience of incarceration in a federal prison, and three HIV organizations — PASAN, CATIE, and CAAN — launched a constitutional challenge to compel CSC to provide people in prison with access to sterile injection equipment. It was during the course of this litigation that CSC quietly announced in May 2018 their intention to commence a program to provide sterile injection equipment to people in Canadian federal prisons.
But as the Correctional Investigator recently concluded, the current program in Canada “based on low participation rates, exists more in name than practice.” The program — which does not follow existing, operational models for needle distribution in prisons anywhere in the world — need not operate this way. This is where Points of Perspective comes in, exploring key barriers to access, including issues related to confidentiality and surveillance, the threat of punishment, and lack of knowledge or misinformation about the program. This groundbreaking report also makes recommendations based on the expertise of the research participants. At a time when policymakers claim to be invested in the health of people who use drugs, Points of Perspective brings to the fore concrete changes the CSC can and must adopt to ensure this program is working as intended.
As World AIDS Day (December 1) fast approaches, it is critical that the Government of Canada reflect upon the needs of people in prison in this country, who experience much higher rates of HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) infection due in part to inadequate healthcare behind bars – healthcare that is not equivalent to what is available within the larger community. These needless infections represent a violation of human rights, and have significant costs on many fronts, in terms of both individual health and public resources.
You can read Points of Perspective here:
POINTS OF PERSPECTIVE: RESEARCH REPORT ON THE FEDERAL PRISON NEEDLE EXCHANGE PROGRAM IN CANADA – HIV Legal Network and Toronto Metropolitan University
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About the HIV Legal Network:
The HIV Legal Network (www.hivlegalnetwork.ca) promotes the human rights of people living with HIV or AIDS and other populations disproportionately affected by HIV, punitive laws and policies, and criminalization, in Canada and internationally. We do this through research and analysis, litigation and other advocacy, public education, and community mobilization.
Janet Butler-McPhee, Co-Executive Director
HIV Legal Network
Telephone: +1 647-295-0861