Prison officer union against needle exchange after B.C. inmate overdose death

AGASSIZ, B.C. — The union representing prison officers says its members are concerned about the safety of staff and inmates over a needle exchange program proposed by the Correctional Service.

It says this comes after an inmate at the medium-security Mountain Institution in Agassiz, B.C., died Tuesday from what is believed to be a fentanyl overdose.

The union says the Correctional Service of Canada announced last month that a prison needle exchange program would be implemented at the medium-security prison.

John Randle, the regional president for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, says providing access to needles for inmates to inject their illegal drugs alone in their cells does nothing to curb or treat addictions, and the union is instead advocating for overdose prevention sites in prisons.

He says a needle exchange also poses a risk for officers, noting that two officers were exposed to fentanyl while responding to Tuesday’s overdose and one of them had to be given an overdose reversing drug.

The Correctional Service of Canada says in a statement that there are needle exchange programs in 10 Canadian prisons and it is committed to implementing the program across the country, while it also has two supervised consumption sites in Alberta and Nova Scotia.

It didn’t reply to a request for comment on a news release it sent on Friday, saying Kelly Michael Richet, an inmate from Mountain Institution, died Tuesday while in custody.

The release says Richet began serving a five-year sentence for manslaughter on March 23.

Randle confirmed in an interview that Richet was the man who died of an overdose on Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2023.

The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said Corrections sent a news release about the death Oct. 20.

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