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Amid record drug deaths, UCCO speaks out against prison needle program in Agassiz

Mountain Institution is 1 of 9 in Canada using the program

The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers is speaking out once again against the Prison Needle Exchange Program (PNEP) at Agassiz’s Mountain Institution.

The UCCO’s most recent statement followed the recent release from the Coroners Service of British Columbia regarding the opioid and overdose crisis in the province. Last year was the worst year for fatal drug poisoning in B.C. history, killing 2,511 people. One death occurred at an overdose prevention site.

PNEP has been rolling out across Canada since 2018 and is now in place at nine federal institutions, including Mountain. The program’s goal is to prevent sharing needles and spreading blood-borne disease.

RELATED: 2023 was the worst year for fatal toxic drug poisonings in B.C. history

“The Correctional Service of Canada’s plan to give inmates needles to use illegal drugs alone in their cell only contributes to the overdose crisis British Columbians are facing,” said regional UCCO president John Randle. “Federal Correctional facilities are supposed to help inmates deal with their addiction issues not provide them the means to continue their addiction.”

The UCCO is advocating for overdose prevention sites for federal institutions, which would include medical supervision as well as counselling and other services to help inmates become productive members of society.

“The CSC is doing a disservice to the public and inmates by failing to address the addiction issue which led them to federal incarceration,” Randle stated. “The Parole Board of Canada is not given the information on which inmates utilize needles in prison, thus releasing inmates still struggling with addictions back to the community reducing those inmates’ chances of a successful rehabilitation.”

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The UCCO has previously stated that drug trafficking and overdoses at the medium-security institution have pushed officers to the breaking point. Randle said officers have dealt with multiple drones smuggling drones to inmates every day. In a seizure toward the end of last year, officers confiscated 200 grams of cannabis concentrate and nearly 100 grams of methamphetamine.

Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Brad Vis has also spoken out against PNEP, sponsoring a UCCO-led petition for the program’s cancellation.

– with files from Lauren Collins and Wolfgang Depner