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|Disease violence: correctional officers call for a Blood Samples Act |
(OTTAWA—September 28, 2011) Imagine if a reality of your job was to have a cupful of excrement, urine, or other bodily fluids thrown in your face. To be bitten, scratched or spit upon. To be stabbed with bloody syringes.
These are common work-related incidents for federal correctional officers. And it’s why the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO-SACC-CSN) is calling for a federal Blood Samples Act, something the Conservative Party of Canada promised to implement more than five years ago.
“We’ve waited long enough,” said Pierre Mallette, national president of UCCO-SACC-CSN. “Our penitentiaries are becoming more crowded and more dangerous. It’s time to act.”
A growing phenomenon among the current offender population concerns attacks on correctional officers and other staff with bodily fluids: feces, urine, semen, blood or saliva. Correctional officers report organic-liquid attacks on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis.
Given the astronomical rates of infectious disease among inmates in federal penitentiaries, these attacks are potentially life-threatening. The prevalence of Hepatitis C in Canadian federal penitentiaries (17%-40%) is estimated to be 20 to 50 times higher than among the general Canadian population (0.8%), while HIV rates are 5 to 40 times higher (1%-8% vs. 0.2%). (Source: Public Health Agency of Canada, April 2006)
“Officers view assaults with disease-infected bodily fluids as nothing less than an assault with a deadly weapon,” noted Pierre Mallette.
For inmates, however, it is clear that attacks with bodily fluids are a consequence-free method of assaulting officers. In some cases, these attacks are used by inmates to force a transfer from a unit that may house a threat or in order to flee a debt from gambling or drugs.
“This kind of assault is no less devastating than an attack with a traditional weapon. This form of attack is certainly an effective way to humiliate and degrade the victim,” said Mallette.
Correctional officers have no way of knowing whether they have been exposed to a life-threatening disease. Victims may participate in a drug-treatment protocol (the Post-Exposure Protocol, or “PEP”), but this usually leads to severe and debilitating side effects and long periods away from the workplace. The damage to family life and relationships is enormous.
Often an inmate may be disease-free, removing the need to participate in drug treatment. But unless the inmate volunteers for a blood test, an unlikely scenario, officers remain in the dark.
For these reasons, UCCO-SACC-CSN strongly urges the Government of Canada to enact a Blood Samples Act, along the lines of legislation already passed by several provincial governments.
The law would require inmates who engage in bodily-fluid attacks or who otherwise contaminate CSC staff to submit to a simple blood test to reveal his or her medical status. By itself, this practice would largely negate the incentive for some inmates to resort to assaults with bodily fluids.
|Blood Samples Act divides officers and inmates |
Written by Adam Carter Friday, 30 September 2011 12:57
The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers is urging the federal government to allow mandatory blood testing for inmates who are throwing excrement and other fluids that could possibly carry disease at officers.
“Our members are living in a world of fear caused by a lack of knowledge, because the person who launches the attack has more rights than the victim,” Lyle Stewart of the Canadian Correctional Officers union told thedailyplanet.com.
Stewart said these kinds of attacks happen weekly in federal institutions all across the country, and something has to be done.“It’s simple human justice. We respect prisoners’ privacy rights, and we’re not trying to eliminate them.
All we want to know is if the victim of one of these attacks has been exposed to a life threatening disease,” Stewart said.“I can’t believe their (prisoners') rights are more important than the person whose job it is to protect all of us,” he said.Stewart said his union has been trying to meet with Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews since he was appointed a year and a half ago, but to no avail.“There’s a blockage somewhere – I don’t know where it is, and I don’t know why it’s happening,” he said.
Stewart said these attacks are happening more often because of double-bunking, caused by new crime laws the Conservative government has enacted.
“Right now, institutions are cracking at the seams. Often times a weaker inmate is preyed upon and will attack a guard as a means to be transferred to a segregation unit because they fear for their life,” Stewart said.
“Attacking a member of the personnel is their way out. Unfortunately, those are human beings they’re attacking, not the institution. They’re people like you and me.
”Suzanne Leclerc, a Correctional Service of Canada spokesperson, told thedailyplanet.com the government can’t meet the needs of the union on this issue.“The CSC cannot release inmate medical files to employees in accordance with the privacy act, and other provincial legislations related to the sharing of personal health information,” Leclerc said.
“We’re very aware that this is a critical situation for our employees. It’s a prison, and a lot of bad things can happen.”
Mooky Cherian, program manager of the Prisoners’ HIV-AIDS Support Action Network, told thedailyplanet.com that prisoners should not be forced to submit to blood tests, even after these attacks.“It could be under the guise of safety, but I think there are a lot of implications for doing that – when you treat people as less than human, that’s really detrimental to a persons self esteem and contributes to the way that people become institutionalized when they’re inside,”
Cherian said.“So when they are released, it’s not really conducive to a successful integration back into society.”Cherian said he thinks someone contracting these diseases from excrement hurled from a cup is very unlikely.“
What is incredibly likely is that if this information is being gathered without their consent, that people are going to experience a lot of discrimination. It is a breach of confidentiality – I think those things need to be weighed out versus the benefits.“