ACT jail not best for needle program
The ACT Labor government is contemplating a trial at the Alexander Maconochie Centre, about 20 minutes from Canberra, despite steadfast opposition from prison officer members of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU).
Hepatitis Australia chief executive Helen Tyrell told the 2011 Australasian HIV/AIDSConference & 2011 Sexual Health Conference in Canberra on Tuesday there was not a jail in the world that could declare itself drug free.
Ms Tyrell said prisons were a high-risk environment for hepatitis C, with one in three males and two in three females of the 30,000 inmates incarcerated being infected with the virus, which is spread from blood to blood contact.
"Prisoners return to the community and plainly prison health is a public health issue," she said.
Syringes should be given to prisoners because authorities had a duty of care, Ms Tyrell said.
"Someone at some point will commence litigation and sue the authorities for failure of their duty of care," she said.
But Liberal MP Jeremy Hanson said authorities could not have an effective zero-drug policy and at the same time issue prisoners with needles.
"The best duty of care we can have is to remove drugs and needles from jails," he told the conference.
"The drug advocates, or drug liberalisation advocates, want to see this program rolled out in the ACT because every other jurisdiction is watching and they are using the ACT jail as a catalyst.
"The reality is the ACT jail is probably the worst jail in Australia for introducing a needle syringe program."
The ACT jail was complex because it ranged from minimum to maximum security and had both a male and female population, Mr Hanson said.
It was right for corrections officers to not support the introduction of such a program into prisons because they were concerned about their safety and enabling drug use in the prison population, he said.
A review commissioned by the ACT government found stopping the spread of blood-borne diseases in prisons could not happen without supporting quasi-legislation of drug use, Mr Hanson said.
Greens MP Amanda Bresnan said removing needles was the solution to the level of hepatitis C in prisons.
"We don't know how many needles are in the prison but we know they are being shared," she added.
The issue was a highly politicised one but overseas programs had shown there was no incidence of needles being used as weapons in prisons where needle programs were in place, Ms Bresnan said.http://bit.ly/ojfc0D