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Needle and Syringes – AMC

By John Hargreaves - 27 June 2014 50

jail-gate

When I was Shadow Minister for Corrections and then Minister, I came to believe that the public wanted to send offenders to prison for punishment and not as punishment. It was generally accepted that there would be extra punishments dished out. I didn’t think that way then and I don’t now.

I reckon the deprivation of liberty is the punishment and that whilst we have them inside we need to give the prisoners a reason not to reoffend and not to return.

I noticed the recidivism rate out of Goulburn Jail was up around 65 – 80% dependent on the crime committed in the first place and the dependence on drugs of the offender.

We are still washing through the people who transferred from Goulburn and elsewhere to the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) so any judgment on the programs there in terms of recidivism needs to be qualified. The efficacy of these programs should be judged only for those ACT prisoners for whom incarceration is the first experience. Inmates from the NSW system, completing their sentences are still affected by the draconian system in which they were incarcerated. This is a left over from the past.

One of the things we do reasonably well is address the drug addiction of the “guests” at Hotel AMC. The presence of an independent health centre within its precincts is an effective service as it is not seen as part of the custodial services within the AMC. The therapeutic program is also paying dividends I would think.

I read a piece in the newsletter from the Families and Friends of Drug Law Reform (FFDLR) recently and it told of the tragic death of a young woman in prison. It quoted an ABC 7.30 Report item. This is recommended reading. Check FFDLR website: www.ffdlr.org.au.

The point came out that drugs will always be available in prisons no matter what we do. We are limited to trying to keep them out but addicts are desperate and cunning people. We need to try to get them off their habits and keep them safe while doing it. That’s why a needle and syringe program is badly needed in the AMC.

This program, delivered in the health centre and not by custodial officers, keeps the people safe from blood borne disease such as Hep C, HIV etc. It does not encourage people to take drugs merely keeps them safe and alive while we work with them to get them clean and keep them that way.

What part of trying to keep people safe don’t the opponents of this program get? The general public has access to a needle and syringe program, delivered by Directions ACT. So why are prisoners denied the same access?

In 1788, prisoners were sent to NSW and incarcerated. We did the same until 2004. Came a long way in that 200 years eh? Well not nearly far enough.

I want to restart the conversation and space prevents me from going into too much detail but happy to join in a chat on the matter.

What’s Your opinion?


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50 Responses to
Needle and Syringes – AMC
1
dungfungus 11:12 am
27 Jun 14
#

If you believe that “deprivation of liberty” is the punishment then apply that to you further statement that while the general public have access to a needle & syringe programme but prisoners are denied the same access.
I would have thought that “denying access” was the same as “deprivation of liberty”.
If the supply of drugs to prisoners was stopped then there wouldn’t be any need for needles.
I reckon Scott Morrison could sort this problem out.

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2
Mysteryman 1:24 pm
27 Jun 14
#

“The point came out that drugs will always be available in prisons no matter what we do. We are limited to trying to keep them out but addicts are desperate and cunning people. We need to try to get them off their habits and keep them safe while doing it. That’s why a needle and syringe program is badly needed in the AMC.
This program, delivered in the health centre and not by custodial officers, keeps the people safe from blood borne disease such as Hep C, HIV etc. It does not encourage people to take drugs merely keeps them safe and alive while we work with them to get them clean and keep them that way”

Have you got any evidence of this? I hear this argument regularly from those who think needle exchanges are a good idea, but I’m yet to see any real evidence that supplying needles ultimately results in more inmates being drug-free in the long run. My suspicions are that it makes no difference to the number of users, or the likelihood of being “clean” when released, but I’d be happy to be corrected if the evidence suggested otherwise.

I think the prison system could do with a complete overhaul regarding hiring of officers and ongoing training/checks/auditing of their behaviour. This idea that “drugs will always get it” seems a bit of a cop out. If it’s coming in via guards/officers, then action needs to be taken to make them accountable and punish them. There are many things in this world that will always be, but that doesn’t mean we give up and stop working towards their minimisation.

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3
dungfungus 5:00 pm
27 Jun 14
#

For those of you who demand “informed comment” (by an academic, no less) about how prisoners can become drug free read this: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/federal-politics/how-to-make-jail-drugfree-20120828-24yim.html

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4
bundah 5:21 pm
27 Jun 14
#

The point came out that drugs will always be available in prisons no matter what we do.

It is entirely possible to stop illegal drugs getting into prisons. The problem is that the measures authorities would have to introduce to stop this from occurring would be expensive and draconian so it’ll never happen.

Given those circumstances it’s far easier to introduce a needle and syringe program and it’ll please the human rights advocates.

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5
fabforty 5:27 pm
27 Jun 14
#

The permanent presence of drug sniffer dogs at AMC (for visitors and staff) might go a long way to solving the problem of drugs getting in.

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6
Minz 5:52 pm
27 Jun 14
#

Do you guys know how common Hepatitis C is among IV drug users who are imprisoned? It’s something like 40%. So if you put those people in an environment where a) they get no support to kick the habit, b) they’re not treated (prisoner treatment rates for hepatitis C are generally ridiculously low) and c) the drug is available but not clean needles, what do you think is going to happen? Pretty straight-forward.

Needle exchanges doesn’t help the users become drug-free, but it does help them avoid catching chronic disease as part of their jail sentence. Further, exchange is much more easily implemented than the ideal, a proper drug addition treatment program, which isn’t going to happen any time soon (and would be much more expensive).

Anyway, drug availability in prison isn’t desirable, but it is reality. It’s also something that seems to be about ubiquitous worldwide, so if you have any revolutionary ideas for preventing it that don’t come down to “guards should do better work”, well, I’m sure the world’s authorities would love to hear them. On the other hand, if you don’t, how about looking at reality-based solutions like the one this article advocates? As Mr Hargreaves says, disease isn’t a part of the deal with imprisonment – it’s meant to be denial of liberty, not denial of health.

And if you’re not interested in the humanity side of it, what about the economics? Hepatitis C can cause major illness and death, which we, as taxpayers, need to pay for regardless of where the person is. Needles are a pretty cheap alternative to paying for a liver transplant down the track, or for extensive medical treatment.

Oh, and finally – HIV rates in the jailed population are much higher than in the general population. Everything I’ve written above also goes for HIV. Preventative health is a LOT better, and cheaper, than reactive treatment.

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7
bigfeet 7:19 pm
27 Jun 14
#

When I was Shadow Minister for Corrections and then Minister, I came to believe that the public wanted to send offenders to prison for punishment and not as punishment. It was generally accepted that there would be extra punishments dished out. I didn’t think that way then and I don’t now.

And therein lies the problem. Politicians are elected to represent the public.

Most seem to forget that.

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8
astrojax 7:45 pm
27 Jun 14
#

Mysteryman said :

Have you got any evidence of this? I hear this argument regularly from those who think needle exchanges are a good idea, but I’m yet to see any real evidence that supplying needles ultimately results in more inmates being drug-free in the long run.

the op isn’t arguing that needle exchange programs make the addicts drug-free – only that they limit the potential harm (from blood-borne diseases) while other mechanisms are employed in the cause of reducing drug use. this is a too-common erroneous conflation in opponents to these initiatives. do keep up…

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9
Mysteryman 8:53 pm
27 Jun 14
#

Minz said :

Do you guys know how common Hepatitis C is among IV drug users who are imprisoned? It’s something like 40%. So if you put those people in an environment where a) they get no support to kick the habit, b) they’re not treated (prisoner treatment rates for hepatitis C are generally ridiculously low) and c) the drug is available but not clean needles, what do you think is going to happen? Pretty straight-forward.

Needle exchanges doesn’t help the users become drug-free, but it does help them avoid catching chronic disease as part of their jail sentence. Further, exchange is much more easily implemented than the ideal, a proper drug addition treatment program, which isn’t going to happen any time soon (and would be much more expensive).

Anyway, drug availability in prison isn’t desirable, but it is reality. It’s also something that seems to be about ubiquitous worldwide, so if you have any revolutionary ideas for preventing it that don’t come down to “guards should do better work”, well, I’m sure the world’s authorities would love to hear them. On the other hand, if you don’t, how about looking at reality-based solutions like the one this article advocates? As Mr Hargreaves says, disease isn’t a part of the deal with imprisonment – it’s meant to be denial of liberty, not denial of health.

And if you’re not interested in the humanity side of it, what about the economics? Hepatitis C can cause major illness and death, which we, as taxpayers, need to pay for regardless of where the person is. Needles are a pretty cheap alternative to paying for a liver transplant down the track, or for extensive medical treatment.

Oh, and finally – HIV rates in the jailed population are much higher than in the general population. Everything I’ve written above also goes for HIV. Preventative health is a LOT better, and cheaper, than reactive treatment.

You managed 5 paragraphs and not a single piece of evidence. What you’ve basically said is “they get diseases because they use drugs. We should help them use drugs better”. What I’m suggesting is ideally we should be getting them off drugs. Yep, it’s probably more expensive my way. But I think it’s a far more desirable outcome than releasing prisoners back into the population with ongoing drug habits. That’s not good for them, or us. Especially when they continue committing crimes because of, or in support of, their habit.

And guards/prison staff should be held accountable as routine practice, and punished to the full extent of the law if they are found to be supplying drugs, regardless of the assertion that “drugs will always be in prisons”. Personally, I find the attitude of “it’s too hard, let’s just help them do it” to be a complete cop out.

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10
Postalgeek 9:04 pm
27 Jun 14
#

Not to mention the fact that it would be in the interests of the prison guards, the poor sods at the coal face who are spat upon, bitten, bled on, and generally have to contend with all the fluids of the human body, to see minimisation in the spread of communicable diseases at their work place

In fact, I would’ve thought this would partly be an OS H issue. If a guard contracts Hep or HIV from a inmate who wasn’t infected when they arrived, where does the responsibility lie and what’s the liability?

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11
dungfungus 9:10 pm
27 Jun 14
#

Minz said :

Minz said :

Do you guys know how common Hepatitis C is among IV drug users who are imprisoned? It’s something like 40%. So if you put those people in an environment where a) they get no support to kick the habit, b) they’re not treated (prisoner treatment rates for hepatitis C are generally ridiculously low) and c) the drug is available but not clean needles, what do you think is going to happen? Pretty straight-forward.

Needle exchanges doesn’t help the users become drug-free, but it does help them avoid catching chronic disease as part of their jail sentence. Further, exchange is much more easily implemented than the ideal, a proper drug addition treatment program, which isn’t going to happen any time soon (and would be much more expensive).

Anyway, drug availability in prison isn’t desirable, but it is reality. It’s also something that seems to be about ubiquitous worldwide, so if you have any revolutionary ideas for preventing it that don’t come down to “guards should do better work”, well, I’m sure the world’s authorities would love to hear them. On the other hand, if you don’t, how about looking at reality-based solutions like the one this article advocates? As Mr Hargreaves says, disease isn’t a part of the deal with imprisonment – it’s meant to be denial of liberty, not denial of health.

And if you’re not interested in the humanity side of it, what about the economics? Hepatitis C can cause major illness and death, which we, as taxpayers, need to pay for regardless of where the person is. Needles are a pretty cheap alternative to paying for a liver transplant down the track, or for extensive medical treatment.

Oh, and finally – HIV rates in the jailed population are much higher than in the general population. Everything I’ve written above also goes for HIV. Preventative health is a LOT better, and cheaper, than reactive treatment.

Minz said :

Minz said :

Do you guys know how common Hepatitis C is among IV drug users who are imprisoned? It’s something like 40%. So if you put those people in an environment where a) they get no support to kick the habit, b) they’re not treated (prisoner treatment rates for hepatitis C are generally ridiculously low) and c) the drug is available but not clean needles, what do you think is going to happen? Pretty straight-forward.

Needle exchanges doesn’t help the users become drug-free, but it does help them avoid catching chronic disease as part of their jail sentence. Further, exchange is much more easily implemented than the ideal, a proper drug addition treatment program, which isn’t going to happen any time soon (and would be much more expensive).

Anyway, drug availability in prison isn’t desirable, but it is reality. It’s also something that seems to be about ubiquitous worldwide, so if you have any revolutionary ideas for preventing it that don’t come down to “guards should do better work”, well, I’m sure the world’s authorities would love to hear them. On the other hand, if you don’t, how about looking at reality-based solutions like the one this article advocates? As Mr Hargreaves says, disease isn’t a part of the deal with imprisonment – it’s meant to be denial of liberty, not denial of health.

And if you’re not interested in the humanity side of it, what about the economics? Hepatitis C can cause major illness and death, which we, as taxpayers, need to pay for regardless of where the person is. Needles are a pretty cheap alternative to paying for a liver transplant down the track, or for extensive medical treatment.

Oh, and finally – HIV rates in the jailed population are much higher than in the general population. Everything I’ve written above also goes for HIV. Preventative health is a LOT better, and cheaper, than reactive treatment.

The message I am getting is don’t do crime and don’t take drugs.
How hard is that?

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12
Listers_Cat 10:18 pm
27 Jun 14
#

IMHO people won’t begin to accept these kind or reforms in our prisons until after we adopt more harm reduction approaches in our communities.

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13
Antagonist 10:10 am
28 Jun 14
#

Mysteryman said :

You managed 5 paragraphs and not a single piece of evidence.

Evidence from ALL needle exchange programs in Spain, Switzerland and Germany have all reported increased safety for prison staff. It is not hard to find the evidence yourself using Professor Google. As a starting point, I would suggest “Needle and syringe programs: A review of the evidence” published by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing in 2005. I would link to it for you, but am not that good with technology.

Mysteryman said :

What you’ve basically said is “they get diseases because they use drugs. We should help them use drugs better”. What I’m suggesting is ideally we should be getting them off drugs. Yep, it’s probably more expensive my way. But I think it’s a far more desirable outcome than releasing prisoners back into the population with ongoing drug habits. That’s not good for them, or us. Especially when they continue committing crimes because of, or in support of, their habit.

No. It looks like you have completely missed what was said. Advocates are saying a needle exchange program will help reduce the spread of HIV and Hep C and improve safety for AMC staff, which is supported by evidence from trials in other countries. You are focussed on the separate, but related issue of drug supply/addiction in AMC. Your argument is based on so many erroneous underlying assumptions that I do not know where to start.

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14
James_Ryan 11:05 am
28 Jun 14
#

dungfungus said :

For those of you who demand “informed comment” (by an academic, no less) about how prisoners can become drug free read this: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/federal-politics/how-to-make-jail-drugfree-20120828-24yim.html

Mr Williams was rightfully lambasted for the ill-informed opinion you have linked, and hasn’t ventured near the issue since.

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15
James_Ryan 11:09 am
28 Jun 14
#

Mysteryman said :

You managed 5 paragraphs and not a single piece of evidence.

Spanish authorities have recently evaluated that nation’s 10-year-old prison needle exchange program and found the prevalence of HIV infection fell from 21 per cent in 1999 to 8.5 per cent in 2009, while hepatitis C infection fell from 40 per cent to 26.1 per cent.

See more at: http://www.adf.org.au/policy-advocacy/policytalk-june-2012#sthash.kKP9XbHe.dpuf

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