We have previously written posts that have cited the far-from-humanitarian practices of prisons in Canada. This includes issues regarding the abuse of solitary confinement, the poor treatment towards the mentally ill, as well as the poor treatment of marginalized sectors like indigenous people. This type of treatment in the prison community does nothing to rehabilitate individuals and prepare them for reintegration into life after prison. Instead, it causes severe mental distress and exacerbates existing health issues.

The BCCLA has released information pertaining to the issue of obtaining proper medical care in prisons. They state that the mentality of prison is not to make it more of a punishment than it already is and standards of health must be held in institutions like these for the safety of inmates. Here is an overview of their argument.

Background: HIV and Hepatitis C Rates

The infection rates of HIV and hepatitis C in federal institutions are far higher than in the rest of the population and are increasing at an incredibly fast rate. A Vancouver study presented information stating that those in incarceration have double the risk of HIV infection particularly among people who use injection drugs and share needles. One in five people are gaining access to needles while in prison.

A 2010 survey by Corrections Service Canada found that 69% of men and women admitted to using drugs within a six-month period and 31% of these men and women were using needles. 67% of men and women also shared a needle with someone who had HIV, hepatitis C or an unknown infection status.

Lack of community care

The lack of care and community support in prisons enables this situation. Addicts and their behaviour are criminalized and their core issues are not addressed. Instead, inmates have their health continually put in harm due to restrictions on helpful programs like “needle exchanges” that reduce the use of sharing needles, overdoses and promote drug treatment initiatives.

BCCLA’s next move

The BCCLA will be intervening in a constitutional challenge brought on by Steven Simons, a former prisoner who was infected with hepatitis C during his imprisonment. This is going to be in conjunction with the Canadian HIV / AIDS Legal Network and other community organizations who plan to hold the Government of Canada accountable for this issue to ensure sterile injection equipment is available to federal prisons.

This argument will be based on the idea that denying access to sterile injection equipment in prisons violates principles of the Charter, as the restriction denies the protection of both the health and safety of prisoners and staff and presents grave negative effects.

This argument will also present that the government is both controlling and denying health care access by doing this, and that a standard has to be established for this necessary health care.