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July 16, 2008

Needle Exchange for Canadian Prisons?

Canadian health activists want needle-exchange programs implemented in federal prisons in order to stop the rising number of inmates infected with HIV and hepatitis C, according to the Winnipeg Free Press ( 7/15).

Studies of Canadian prisons show that inmates’ HIV prevalence is 10 times that of the general population; their rate of hepatitis C infection is 20 times higher, according to the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

“It’s high and it’s going up,” said Richard Elliot, the executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. “We disproportionately incarcerate drug users who are engaged in high-risk behavior, and we’re putting them in prisons where there’s limited access to addiction treatment.”

Canadian prisons offer condoms and bleach to sterilize makeshift drug equipment in an attempt to reduce the disease. Activists said those measures do not do enough to stem the growing number of infections that come from unsafe tattooing or drug use.

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