Injecting compassion for drug addicts in prison

published on September 14, 2015 by Theresa-Anne Clark Harter in The Peak

Moral superiority should not dictate whether an inmate lives or dies

Injustices within prisons are disturbing, though not often thought of. The rights of those who bend or break the laws forced upon them are often forcefully disregarded, and inmates’ physical and emotional health is not a priority. Correctional Services Canada’s value statement conveys a message of fairness, encouragement and rehabilitation opposed to the punitive mindset, which appears to be the reality.

In popular discourse on the topic, ideological knee jerk reactions seem to prevail. Though looking at the case of Insite, a safe injection site here in the Lower Mainland, Dr. Thomas Kerr, director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the British Columbia Centre for Excellence (BC-CfE) in HIV/AIDS, and Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the BC-CfE, discuss in The Vancouver Sun the success of Insite, noting that “sadly, ideological debate about harm reduction continues, despite widespread agreement among health authorities [. . .] that such programs are essential to the fight against [. . .] drug-related harms.”

It’s clear that drug addicts should not only receive fair and humane treatment in prison, but also that it would actually be of benefit to follow harm reduction inside Canada’s prisons. However, the hysteria and moral panic created by conservatives and knee jerk reactionaries is difficult to counter.

As Kerr and Montaner also note that the discourse on prison injustice is still being likened to past debates about cigarette smoking and global warming. Critics continue to bombard offenses against scientists while misrepresenting research along the way.

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