Second Agassiz, B.C. prison inmate dies from overdose in one week

A second inmate has suddenly passed away at an Agassiz, B.C. prison just a week after the last, sparking renewed calls for the removal of a needle program.

According to a union representing correctional officers, the Mountain Institution inmate was found in his cell unresponsive on Nov. 1 and eventually pronounced dead despite first aid efforts. The last inmate died after a fentanyl overdose on Oct. 24.

The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO) believes the Prison Needle Exchange Program (PNEP) — a program that provides injection kits to inmates to prevent the sharing of needles — is placing too many people at risk. The union is calling on the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) to improve addiction recovery and support at institutions rather than “enabling them.”

UCCO Pacific Region President John Randle says this second overdose death highlights the ineffectiveness of the program.

“Two inmates have very recently died of drug overdoses because they were left to use drugs alone in their cells. This second overdose at Mountain highlights the ineffectiveness of the PNEP program and shows that CSC has no intention of releasing inmates drug-free to the community. The tick-box approach by CSC falls on the backs of the public to continue to battle the opioids and crime wave plaguing our communities,” he said in a statement issued Thursday.

However, UCCO National President Jeff Wilkins says that, when it comes to the program, the union’s hands are tied.

“Our hands are tied: a court decision gives inmates the right to access clean needles, but our members believe the solution is not simply providing inmates an injection kit to keep in their cell at the expense of public safety and inmate rehabilitation. A prison needle exchange program would only result in more overdoses,” he explained.

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. There are needle exchange programs in 10 Canadian prisons.

CityNews has reached out to the Correctional Service of Canada for comment on the matter.

With files from The Canadian Press

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