ID: 689

Type of submission: Oral

Conference track: Research

Topics: Needle and Syringe Programmes; Prisons and Detention

Presenting author: Sandra Ka Hon Chu

Presenting author biography:

Sandra Ka Hon Chu is the Director of Research and Advocacy at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, where she works on HIV-related human rights issues concerning prisons, harm reduction, sex work, women, and immigration.

On Point: Developing a programmatic framework for prison-based needle and syringe programs in Canadian prisons

Emily van der Meulen, Stéphanie Claivaz-Loranger, Seth Clarke, Annika Ollner, Tara Marie Watson, Sandra Ka Hon Chu

Canada’s prison population is disproportionately comprised of racialized individuals, many from low-income backgrounds with limited formal education. Significant percentages of prisoners also use drugs and have mental health care needs. Against this backdrop, rates of HIV and HCV, which have been fueled by the sharing of drug injection equipment, are respectively 10 and 25 times higher in prison than in the general population.

A multi-phase research study was developed to make recommendations for the implementation of prison-based needle and syringe programs (PNSPs). The study consisted of: (1) a stakeholder meeting of former prisoners, researchers, health care providers and representatives from HIV, Indigenous, harm reduction and prisoners’ rights organizations; (2) site visits to observe three operational Swiss PNSPs; and (3) primary data collection involving former prisoners and community and medical professionals.

Six recommendations emerged from the study:
(1) Access to PNSPs should be easy, confidential and not subject to disciplinary consequences;
(2) Prisoners should have regular access to information, education and support from trained personnel regarding safer drug injection;
(3) Institutions should adopt a hybrid or multi-model approach to distribution;
(4) PNSP implementation and delivery should include ongoing and meaningful consultation with, and education for, relevant stakeholders;
(5) Prisoners should have an active role in PNSP programming; and
(6) The justice system should move toward addressing drug use as a social and health issue.

Late 2015 saw the election of a new federal government that has shown greater openness to harm reduction programs. Our research results have been shared with relevant government officials including the Ministers of Public Safety, Health and Justice. The recommendations will continue to be a resource to complement other PNSP implementation initiatives, including an ongoing lawsuit to compel the Canadian government to introduce PNSPs in federal prisons.