Lawsuit for clean needles in prisons

Published On September 25, 2012 | By HN Staff | News

Advocates for clean needles and syringes in prisons are suing the federal government for human rights violations

Studies have shown the rate of HIV/AIDS in Canadian prisons can be 10 to 30 times higher than the national average. COURTESY MICHELLE.IRISH – FLICKR

Studies have shown the rate of HIV/AIDS in Canadian prisons can be 10 to 30 times higher than the national average. COURTESY MICHELLE.IRISH – FLICKR

By Claire McCormack

Steven Simons and four AIDS support networks are filing a lawsuit against the government at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on Tuesday.

A former Ontario prison inmate, and HIV/AIDS organizations are telling the federal government to get over its “zero tolerance” policy on drug use and instead provide clean needles to inmates in Canadian prisons.

The suit argues that refusing to provide clean needles and syringes to prisoners is a violation of human rights.

“People don’t surrender their human rights when they enter prison. They surrender their liberty but their right to health is not abolished just because they are a prisoner,” Sandra Ka Hon Chu, senior policy analyst for Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, told Humber News. They are one of the organizations filing the suit.

LISTEN: Sandra Ka Hon Chu is a senior policy analyst with The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network shares her viewpoint with Humber News.

In a press release from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, former prison inmate Steven Simons said, “When I was in prison, I would see people passing one homemade needle around and
sharpening it with matchbooks. The needle would be dirty and held together with hot
glue. I watched people shove a dull needle to try to penetrate their skin, creating craters,
abscesses and disfigurements.”

Chris Cavacuiti, a doctor with St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, works in addiction medicine and HIV care. He told Humber News that from an economic perspective, it makes more sense for the government to provide a needle exchange rather than have to treat individual cases of HIV, Hepatitis C and other problems that can arise.

LISTEN: Dr. Chris Cavacuiti works in addictions and HIV care with St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. Cavacuiti shared his economic standpoint with Humber News.

“The conservative government has made short-sighted penal policy an art form,” Melissa Munn, criminologist and board member for the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, said in an email to Humber News. ” Instead of looking at the long-term consequences of their actions, they rely on knee-jerk reactions. The spread of Hep C and HIV in prison could be dramatically reduced – the fact that the government is not taking initiatives to do so shows a complete disregard of human rights.”

Julie Carmichael, Correctional Services Canada’s director of communications said in an email to Humber News: “Our government is committed to developing a correctional system that actually corrects criminal behaviour. Our government has a zero tolerance policy for drugs in our institutions. That is why we made a commitment during the last election to develop drug free prisons. Drug use among prisoners dramatically reduces their chances of successful rehabilitation. Our government will never consider putting weapons, such as needles, in the hands of potentially violent prisoners.”

Some Canadian prisons provide bleach to inmates for sterilizing injection equipment, which, when used properly can prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

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