Federal prison service to introduce needle exchange program

The federal prison service plans to introduce needle exchange programs in a bid to reduce infectious diseases among inmates.

 But the move, which follows years of pressure from prisoners and health advocates, has been denounced by the union representing prison guards.

The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers has raised concerns about syringe needles being used as weapons and accuses the prison service of closing its eyes to drug trafficking in prisons.

The Correctional Service says the program will be rolled out initially at one men's and one women's institution, and the lessons learned will inform a full national roll-out.

The initiative will give federal inmates access to clean needles in an effort to limit the transmission of infectious diseases, such as hepatitis C and HIV, the prison service said in its announcement.

Federal statistics show that from 2007 to 2017, the prevalence of hepatitis C in prison declined to 7.8 per cent from 31.6 per cent, while HIV dropped to 1.2 per cent from just over two per cent, .

However, these diseases are still far more widespread behind bars than among the general public.