Harm reduction and women in the Canadian national prison system: policy or practice?
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) infections, and mental disorders are diseases that run rampant in Canadian correctional facilities. Prisoners, particularly Aboriginal inmates, bear a disproportionate burden of these diseases as compared to the general Canadian population. The current response by the prison authorities to curb the prevalence of HIV, HCV, and mental illnesses among prisoners is insufficient, despite many interventions already in place. To effectively address this crisis, I recommend bridging the gap between current harm reduction measures in policy and in practice; implementing prison based needle exchange programs; officially permitting tattooing in prisons; building adequate drug interdiction strategies; implementing better addiction treatment services; and implementing evidence-based mental health improvement models for inmates with both severe and milder forms of mental illnesses. In light of the epidemiological reality of prison environments and complex links between viral infections and mental disorders, I additionally recommend implementing an integrated policy facilitating cohesive education, prevention, care, and treatment for these conditions simultaneously. Since Aboriginal inmates are most vulnerable to HIV, HCV, and mental illnesses, I also recommend giving additional attention to Aboriginal-specific culturally sensitive interventions.