By Jim Bronskill / The Canadian Press

OTTAWA -- Setting up supervised injection sites at federal institutions is the way to go if the Correctional Service plans to continue making needles available to drug-using inmates, prison guards say.

The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers says one such injection site at Drumheller Institution in Alberta is proving a safer alternative to the service's needle-exchange program, operating at seven federal prisons.

The Correctional Service considers both initiatives important elements of the effort to limit transmission of hepatitis C and HIV in institutions. It has long tried to keep drugs from entering prisons, but recognizes that contraband finds its way to inmates.

The union opposes making needles available to inmates at all, citing the risk of being pricked accidentally or on purpose.

But it says if the prison service wants to continue distributing needles, then the injection site, known as an overdose prevention service, should be the model. It involves giving inmates access to needles so they can use them in a supervised setting with nursing staff.

The needle-exchange program, introduced last year, provides injection kits that eligible inmates can use in their cells.

The prison service does a risk assessment to evaluate security concerns before approving an inmate for the program. To date, there have been 63 applications, of which 10 were rejected, said Veronique Rioux, a Correctional Service spokeswoman.