Prison Health Now: Needle and Syringe Programs in Canada’s Prisons

May 7, 2015

On April 30, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network co-hosted an ancillary event on this topic at the Annual Canadian Conference on HIV/AIDS Research (CAHR), along with the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN), Native Youth Sexual Health Network, Prisoners with HIV/AIDS Support Action Network (PASAN), and Ryerson University’s Department of Criminology.

There’s a public health emergency in Canada’s federal prison system. In prison, the estimated prevalence rates of HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) are considerably higher than in the general population. Why is this the case?

A key contributing factor is the sharing of equipment to inject drugs, as sterile needles and syringes are currently not made available to prisoners who need them. Specific communities, in particular Indigenous people who are living with the ongoing effects of colonialism and are disproportionately incarcerated in Canada, are particularly affected by this pressing public health and human rights issue. Prison needle and syringe programs (PNSPs) have been successful in addressing the negative public health consequences of injection drug use in prisons in other countries so far, so why does Canada continue to neglect an already vulnerable population – denying them access to harm reduction services?

The goals of this ancillary event were to share practice-based evidence on the current state of federal prisons as well as international data on the proven effectiveness of PNSPs, and to generate feedback with respect to a “sign-on” statement that will be used as an advocacy tool to garner broader support for PNSPs in Canada.

Stéphanie Claivaz-Loranger, Senior Policy Analyst at the Legal Network and Seth Clarke, Federal Community Development Coordinator at PASAN, the event’s panelists, detailed the state of prisoner health in federal prisons and re-emphasized the urgent need for PNSPs. Their case to address this public health emergency was backed up by presenting international evidence and experience from countries that have implemented PNSPs during the past 20 years, as well as the longstanding research and advocacy efforts to obtain them in Canada.

The advocacy sign-on statement will soon be finalized and circulated for endorsement by organizations across the country, where signatories call on the Correctional Service of Canada to immediately implement PNSPs in federal prisons and emphasize that implementation must happen with meaningful consultation with current and former prisoners as well as health, harm reduction, and human rights experts, and with on-going external and independent oversight.

Any organizations that want to learn more about the need for PNSPs in Canada, and/or would like to sign the statement may contact Stéphanie Claivaz-Loranger or Sandra Chu at You can visit for further context and updates. There, you can also read more about our current groundbreaking lawsuit: in September 2012, a former prisoner, community partners, and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network launched a lawsuit against the Government of Canada over its failure to protect prisoners’ right to health and prevent the spread of HIV and HCV in Canadian federal prisons.