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Women Health. 2004;40(4):57-73.

Harm reduction and women in the Canadian national prison system: policy or practice?

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School of Health and Human Performance, Dalhousie University, 6230 South St, Halifax, NS, B3H 3J5, Canada.


Applying the principles of harm reduction within the context of incarcerated populations raises a number of challenges. Although some access to harm reduction strategies has been promoted in general society, a divide between what is available and what is advocated continues to exist within the prison system. This paper explores the perceptions and lived experiences of a sample of nationally incarcerated women in Canada regarding their perceptions and experiences in accessing HIV and Hepatitis C prevention, care, treatment and support. In-depth interviews were conducted with 156 women in Canadian national prisons. Q.S.R. Nudist was used to assist with data management. A constant comparison method was used to derive categories, patterns, and themes. Emergent themes highlighted a gap between access to harm reduction in policy and in practice. Despite the implementation of some harm reduction techniques, women in Canadian prisons reported variable access to both education and methods of reducing HIV/HCV transmission. Concerns were also raised about pre-and post-test counseling for HIV/HCV testing. Best practices are suggested for implementing harm reduction strategies within prisons for women in Canada.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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