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Overdose death of PG inmate at Agassiz prison sparks debate on correctional needle exchange program

A Prince George inmate who was one of three people charged in connection with a 2016 homicide on Forest Avenue died due to a suspected drug overdose in October according to Corrections Canada.

Kelly Michael Richet had been serving a five-year sentence for manslaughter since March of this year at the Mountain Institution in Agassiz, a medium-security prison.

In July of 2021, the Prince George RCMP arrested Richet along with Cuyler Aubichon and Chris Russell for the death of Robert Lee Milligan.

Richet passing later sparked debate over the implementation of a needle exchange program in federal prisons such as the Mountain Institution in September.

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The move was met with strong opposition from the Union representing Federal Correctional Officers including regional president John Randle.

“Providing access to needles for inmates to inject their illegal drugs alone in their cells does nothing to curb and treat addiction issues. It is dangerous for both inmates and staff. Two officers were exposed to fentanyl this week, with health consequences that could have been deadly without first aid. If the Federal Correctional Service is serious about helping inmates to turn their life around, it must set up an Overdose Prevention Site (OPS). There, inmates would have access not only to clean supplies but more importantly to supervised health care and a pathway to recovery,” said Randle.

“Federal Institutions are supposed to be the place for rehabilitation of inmates before releasing them into our communities,” added Randle.

“But with the Prison Needle Exchange Program, Correctional Service of Canada is giving up on its mandate of releasing inmates in the community as law-abiding citizens and is instead just warehousing inmates and letting communities deal with the addiction issues later.”

About a week later, a second inmate from the same jail passed away from a drug overdose.

In addition, the Correctional Service of Canada issued the following response to MyPGNow.com:

“Like much of Canadian society, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) is experiencing the effects of Canada’s opioids crisis. In recognition that substance use is a health issue, CSC has implemented a range of prevention, treatment, and harm reduction measures to work with incarcerated individuals in response to this need and to help prevent lethal overdoses. CSC began implementing a Prison Needle Exchange Program (PNEP) in June 2018 at Grand Valley Institution and Atlantic Institution to complement existing harm reduction measures available to federal inmates to prevent the sharing of needles, facilitate referrals to health care services and programs, and limit the spread of infectious diseases, such as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)/AIDS and Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) in federal institutions.

To date, PNEP has been implemented at ten locations in nine federal institutions: Grand Valley Institution, Atlantic Institution, Fraser Valley Institution, Edmonton Institution for Women, Nova Institution, Joliette Institution, Joyceville Institution (minimum security), Mission Institution (medium security), and Dorchester Penitentiary (medium and minimum security). Before an individual can participate in the PNEP program, CSC must complete a Threat Risk Assessment (TRA), to confirm that it is suitable to allow the individual to possess a needle, similar to the one currently being used for Epipens and needles for insulin use.

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As of August 2023, there have been no reported injuries or assaults involving staff or incarcerated individuals associated with operating PNEP. Please note that CSC remains committed to making decisions based on evidence. Sites that are selected to host harm reduction services are chosen based on population health needs including data on overdoses at the site, many of which were due to opioids. A decision on the implementation of a Prison Needle Exchange Program or an Overdose Prevention Service at Mountain Institution has not yet been finalized.

CSC remains committed to the further implementation of both the PNEP and OPS across the country in comprehensive consultation with patients, employees and labor partners. 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. To date, we have updated health promotion information for the PNEP and OPS and we have provided training to CSC health staff to increase understanding of substance use and stigma. By implementing multiple targeted initiatives to our incarcerated population to prevent and manage drug use, including opioid use, we have shown that we are committed to the individuals under our care.

Preventing and reducing the number of contraband items and illicit drugs in Correctional Service Canada’s (CSC) institutions remains an ongoing priority. There are a number of tools available that are used to prevent the flow of drugs into our institutions. These include intelligence investigations, searches of offenders, visitors, buildings and cells using non-intrusive search tools. Illicit drugs and weapons are contraband and offenders found to be in possession of drugs and/or weapons will be subject to disciplinary action, and/or criminal charges. Drone technology continues to evolve and requires ongoing monitoring, vigilance, and tools. That is why we continue to research and introduce new technology as it becomes available to better facilitate the detection of contraband.”

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