After a recent incident in which a group of correctional officers might have been exposed to fentanyl, the Joyceville Institution near Kingston, Ont. was locked down for a major search from Sept. 13 to 19.
Rob Finucan, Ontario regional president for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO), said that the alleged drug exposure had occurred while the guards had been searching cells in the federal prison. During the search, the officers suddenly felt as if they were intoxicated, he explained.
“We’re not sure if it was fentanyl,” said Finucan. “The one guy had recently had a surgery, so had pain medication, and he said it almost felt the same way as when he had the pain medication.” Doctors have often legally prescribed fentanyl as a pain reliever.
The officers underwent immediate medical examinations, “and I think their heart rates were elevated a bit, but nothing serious,” added Finucan. “So they went home, and they all said they’d slept for 12, 13 hours. And then the next day, they were fine.”
Following the incident, Joyceville’s assessment unit was locked down at 1 p.m. on Sept. 13, to enable staff to conduct an “exceptional search,” according to a news release from Correctional Service Canada (CSC). The release added that CSC was committed to preventing contraband in federal correctional facilities.
CSC did not indicate whether the lockdown was connected to the incident, but Finucan later confirmed that it had been.
“The union executive there said, ‘Okay, let’s search,’” he said. “They didn’t, and then finally, after a day and a half of arguing, they agreed to lock it down and search the entire institution.”
Joyceville’s assistant warden of management services did not respond to COHSN’s request for comment. But a second CSC release on Sept. 19 announced that the lockdown had ended and that normal operations at the prison had resumed.
“Correctional Service Canada… is strengthening measures to prevent the entry of contraband into its institutions in order to ensure a safe and secure environment,” the latter release stated. “CSC also works in partnership with the police to take action against those who attempt to have contraband brought into correctional institutions.”
Finucan noted that contraband is the most common way that drugs like fentanyl enter prisons and that there had been exposure incidents in the federal system. “They’ve had to use the naloxone on several officers in the prairie region,” he said, adding that fentanyl had been discovered at the Warkworth Institution near Campbellford, Ont. and that incidents had occurred at the Pittsburgh and Collins Bay facilities in the Kingston area.
UCCO has been lobbying to improve staff protections against drug contamination in federal correctional facilities. “What we want to do is make sure that we have a solid national protocol,” said Finucan. “We’d like to make sure that at every site, the officers have the equipment necessary if there is searching” for fentanyl or other drugs, he said. “The gloves, the goggles, the long-sleeved shirts and all that to protect them.”
Another protective measure that UCCO has recommended is that employees wear hoods in the mail rooms and other vulnerable areas. “And that’s probably the main thing,” said Finucan.
Built in 1959, the Joyceville Institution is located about 20 kilometres northeast of Kingston. It has a rated capacity of 752 inmates, according to its profile on the CSC website.