rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Needle and syringe programs belong in Canadian prisons: report

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Providing access to sterile injecting equipment to prisoners would reduce the risks of harm associated with injection drug use, including the transmission of HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV), according to a report released Thursday by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

The report said that harm reduction measures aimed at preventing HIV and HCV transmission in prisons are neither new nor groundbreaking in Canada. “Prison systems have implemented, to varying degrees, forms of harm reduction such as condoms, bleach and methadone maintenance treatment,” said the authours.

“However, as of September 2008, no Canadian jurisdiction had established a prison-based needle and syringe program (PNSP), despite significant evidence that PNSPs reduce risk behaviours associated with HIV and HCV transmission, result in other health benefits for prisoners, do not pose health and safety risks to prisoners or prison staff, and do not increase drug use.”

“Implementing needle and syringe programs in federal prisons would ensure that the same access provided to people outside prisons is provided to those in custody,” said Anne Marie DiCenso, Executive Director of Prisoners’ HIV/AIDS Support Action Network (PASAN). “Community groups across the country that are working to make prisons healthier and safer, including by preventing the spread of HIV and HCV, see the on-going need for such programs.  The lack of such programs is a major contributing factor to the extremely high rates of HIV and HCV in Canadian prisons.”

Senior Policy Analyst Sandra Chu, the lead author of Clean Switch: The Case for Prison Needle and Syringe Programs in Canada, said that PNSPs “have operated successfully in over 60 prisons in at least 11 countries around the world since 1992.  Evidence shows no negative consequences such as an increase in drug use or injecting, and no reports of syringes used as weapons in any institution with a PNSP.”

Chu added: “Harm reduction measures aimed at preventing HIV transmission in prisons are not new in Canada and the federal government has acknowledged publicly the value of needle exchange programs that have operated for more than 20 years in communities across Canada. But for some reason it has refused so far to let these services operate in prisons, which is at odds with good public health practice and human rights.”

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.