Disease violence: correctional officers call for a Blood Samples Act

OTTAWA, Sept. 28, 2011 /CNW Telbec/ - 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.


For further information:

Lyle Stewart, CSN communications, 514 796-2066


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