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‘Collins Bay Prison in Kingston to Embrace ‘Harm Reduction’ Approach, Allowing Inmate Drug Use’

A prison in Kingston, Ontario, will be the third site in Canada where inmates can consume illicit drugs they sneak into prison, and will receive medical supervision while they get high.

A prison in Kingston, Ontario, will be the third site in Canada where inmates can consume illicit drugs they sneak into prison, and will receive medical supervision while they get high.

The new initiative will be introduced in the near future at the Collins Bay Institution, CBC reported on Sept. 12, making it the third such site in Canada where inmates can use “self-supplied” drugs.
Correctional Service Canada (CSC), the federal department that operates federal prisons, says that it has a number of harm-reduction strategies in place including prison needle exchange programs and the Overdose Prevention Service (OPS), which began on June 24, 2019, with the opening of a drug use service at Alberta’s Drumheller Institution.

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“Planning and consultation” for the Kingston location is underway, according to a statement from CSC, along with renovations to open the site “at the earliest opportunity.”

Earlier this year on July 17, CSC started another OPS at its Springhill Institution in Nova Scotia.

“The OPS is another harm reduction measure available to incarcerated individuals to manage their health needs,” said the CSC, which did not return requests for comment by press time.

“Its objectives are to prevent fatal and non-fatal overdoses of incarcerated individuals who use substances in federal penitentiaries, prevent the sharing of non-sterile needles among incarcerated individuals, limit the transmission of blood-borne infectious diseases and facilitate referrals to other health care services and programs,” said the service.

The CSC maintains there have been no fatal overdoses at the first two prisons with an OPS in place. Figures provided by the CSC indicated there were 23 suspected or actual overdoses at Collins Bay prison during the 2022–23 fiscal year and there have been 17 this year.

Inmates are allowed to use the “consumption rooms” for drug use for 30 minutes or longer “for the purpose of monitoring for signs of an overdose.” The program operates between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., seven days a week.

The CSC selects sites based on “research that showed a higher number of overdoses” at certain prisons, which the service said was largely due to opioids.

The jails allow inmates to “manage the consumption process themselves,” but supply health care staff “to provide health teaching, counselling and emergency response in the event of a medical crisis,” said the CSC.

Inmates are “able to bring and use a quantity of their substance that is suitable for a personal single use,” and will not be disciplined if they use the service, which the CSC says is “considered a harm reduction initiative.”

Inmates who are “caught with illicit drugs outside of the OPS” may face disciplinary measures or criminal charges, said the CSC.

Canadian jails also provide screening and testing services, information on infectious diseases, condoms, methadone, mental health counselling, access to bleach, and a prison needle exchange program in a number of prisons.
Chris Bucholtz, the regional president for Ontario’s Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, told CBC that prison guards face a “moral dilemma.”

“We’re supposed to keep drugs out … yet we’re giving them the place to do it.” He said that the drug use site was supposed to be operational at Collins Bay this month, but the project has stalled with ongoing renovations to ready the site.

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