By Rafferty Baker / CBC News

Only a "handful" of inmates enrolled in the prison needle exchange program in its first 10 months, because Correctional Service Canada (CSC) appears to have designed the program around security considerations rather than health, according to the Correctional Investigator of Canada's annual report.

The report from Ivan Zinger, the ombudsman for federally sentenced offenders, on the country's prison system was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, outlining several concerns with the approach prison officials have taken in regards to the needle exchange program.

Zinger noted that the purpose of prison needle exchanges is reduce harm associated with injection drug use, namely the spread of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, but CSC won't be successful in that goal if inmates don't participate in the program. 

He urged CSC to increase participation by considering best practices for successful prison needle exchanges detailed by the United Nations, which include:

  • Leadership support at the highest level.
  • Steadfast commitment to harm reduction and public health objectives.
  • Clear policy direction and oversight of the program.
  • Participation of staff and prisoners in planning and operational process.

The prison needle exchange program (PNEP) was launched in June 2018 at Atlantic Institution in New Brunswick and Grand Valley Institution for Women in Ontario. It was gradually introduced to other CSC facilities afterwards.