05/09/2014 04:48 EDT | Updated 07/09/2014 05:59 EDT

Prisons want more power to strip search prisoners in anti-drug move

OTTAWA - The federal prison service wants to make it easier to search inmates and visitors in an effort to keep drugs out of penitentiaries.

Regulations proposed Friday would lower the threshold for triggering a search, including strip searches of prisoners — the latest federal move in an ongoing attempt to reduce drug use behind bars.

NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison denounced the approach as a waste of time and resources that need to go to treatment programs.

"Until you actually do effective addiction treatment in prison, people will be infinitely creative about getting drugs into prison," Garrison said in an interview.

Federal authorities "have been very stubborn in their insistence that interdiction is the way to solve the problem," he added.

The Correctional Service of Canada says hundreds of people pass in and out of prisons every day, creating opportunities for contraband smugglers.

"Garbage trucks make pickups. Food supplies are delivered. Canada Post and courier services deliver mail, court records, books, and packages," says a notice outlining the proposed changes.

"Inmates being gradually released leave for a few hours or days on temporary passes or supervised work crews, and come back."

The Correctional Service says the presence of drugs in penitentiaries undermines its mission by creating an underground economy lined to organized crime, which often increases violence. It also contributes to the spread of infectious diseases and endangers successful rehabilitation, the prison service says.

Authorities are already using drug detector dogs, electronic screening technologies and various types of searches.

Regulatory amendments would give the prison service authority to impose new restrictions on inmate visits and conduct additional searches of prisoners, staff and visitors.

They would also empower officials to designate a specific part of a prison as a "secure area."

Inmates could be subjected to what is known as a routine strip search — a visual inspection of the naked body and a search of all clothing — when they are leaving a secure area of a penitentiary.

The regulations would also make it easier for prison authorities to insist that there be a physical barrier between an inmate and a visitor, or to deny a visit altogether on grounds that drugs may be smuggled during the encounter.

Consultations on the proposed changes were held in summer 2012.

"Inmates were generally not supportive of the additional searches that may now take place when entering or leaving a secure area," says the notice published Friday. "They questioned what specific areas would be defined as secure areas."

Prisoners also expressed worries about visits being ruined or denied. Garrison says the unpleasant prospect of being searched could make visitors opt to stay home.

"It disrupts maintaining family ties that are so important to successful reintegration into the community."

Visitors also raised concerns during the consultation, though staff, unions, contractors and volunteers were supportive of the proposed changes.

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