Make prisoner health a priority for student advocacy

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Kingston has two sets of bars—in its Hub and in its prisons.  

Queen’s students overlook the latter and it’s a detriment to our community. As reports of poor prisoner health trickle in, it’s our social responsibility as members of the city to advocate for better services and institutional safety. 

Encouragement for student engagement within the city is often marred by an increased focus on the negatives of Homecoming and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.  While still important, this draws attention away from other pressing issues facing our wider community. 

It becomes bracingly clear when we look at the conditions reported over the last month.

In May, the Whig-Standard reported 11 overdoses in Kingston’s Collins Bay Institution, with one prisoner dying in an apparent fentanyl overdose.

“It started in B.C. and we’re seeing certainly the introduction of fentanyl in the institutions, and obviously at Collins Bay there has been a number of them,” Jason Godin, the national president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said to the Whig-Standard.

News soon followed that local prisons were excluded from the first wave of a potentially life-saving needle exchange program, with Kingston’s institutions having to wait until next year for the program to take full effect.

It’s a positive development that the needle exchange program will be implemented, but pressure from our community, students included, should push our elected representatives to make prisoner health a priority. 

Writing a letter or making a call has an impact. Regardless of our representatives’ jurisdiction, we need to put prisoner health on the agenda—including a timely roll-out of improved health measures. 

If we were to prioritize these issues, it would set a precedent for a more active and socially responsible student presence in Kingston. 

Queen’s already reaches out to prisoners through the Law Faculty’s Prison Law Clinic and Queen’s Students for Literacy, two initiatives geared to assist inmates in correctional facilities. While these do not specifically push for better prison health conditions, they are quality programs and should inspire further advocacy.  

It’s valuable to engage in the city most of us call home for the better part of each year—whether it’s going to shows, cleaning up after HoCo, or supporting local businesses. But there’s more to be done. 

The recent rash of overdoses and inadequate services spell out the obvious: local prisoner health is at risk and our community’s response is lacking. 

Queen’s is lucky enough to have a highly engaged student body; it’s time we looked outside it.

Nick is The Journal’s Editor in Chief. He’s a fifth-year Global Development Studies major.

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