The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) says smuggling drugs into prison is prohibited. But those who succeed will have a designated space to consume them safely.
The Collins Bay Institution in Kingston, Ontario, is set to become the third prison in Canada to operate an "overdose prevention service" (OPS) to avoid illicit overdoses among inmates.
Over the past decade, 46 prisoners have died from fatal overdoses — losing to suicide as the next leading cause of non-natural death.
Canada's official correctional investigator, Ivan Zinger, called safe consumption sites a "human rights issue" — even for inmates.
In his 2022 annual report, Zinger said Canadian prisons are "heavily tilted in favour of drug suppression," urging them to abandon their "war on drugs."
"Absolute drug prohibition does not work in the community, and it will not work in prison," he said.
The Drumheller Institution in Alberta became the first to employ a drug consumption site under medical supervision in June 2019, followed by Nova Scotia's Springhill Institution earlier this year.
According to Corrections, the Collins Bay Institution and other prisons have been fighting an uphill battle against the black market drug supply, but are not permitted to seize contraband drugs if an inmate is on their way to an OPS site.
At the Drumheller site, 52 inmates used the service in its first 16 months, racking up 1,566 visits.
Last year, CSC recorded 99 "drone drops" at Collins Bay, where drones ferried contraband outside the prison walls.
Correctional officers have also trafficked drugs into the prison, leading to the arrest of two employees who smuggled 1,100 grams of meth and 120 grams of fentanyl.
"There are millions to be made inside the prisons," one former inmate of Collins Bay told Postmedia in May. "The demand for drugs and other contraband — mainly drugs — is off the charts. Take fentanyl […] everyone wants it."
In June, the Springhill Institution seized $450,000 worth of crystal meth — the same month the prison opened its safe consumption site.
"That's the moral dilemma, right? Amongst our members and staff, we know they're illegal drugs; we're supposed to keep drugs out of our institutions, yet they're going to be walking to an overdose prevention site inside the walls to consume," said Chris Bucholtz, spokesperson for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.
"Mental health and problematic substance use are first-and-foremost a health issue, and we continue to work to break down stigma while providing effective and appropriate treatments," wrote a CSC spokesperson in a statement to the CBC.
A 2020 CSC report found a 30% increase in non-fatal overdoses between 2018 and 2019, with 110 reported incidents.
"I know my members respond quite often to overdoses inside the walls," added Bucholtz. Only six inmates died from an illicit overdose during that period.
"The courts mandated the CSC to come up with a program to mitigate the spread of disease, and this is their measure to combat that," he said.
At the Drumheller prison, CSC reports they have had no drug fatalities since 2019 after dealing with 16 overdoses in 2018.
Collins Bay had the highest number of overdoses during that period at 21.