Needle Exchange Programs in Prisons

Needle Exchange Programs in Prisons

an urgent public health issue

The Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users’ League (AIVL), the national organisation representing illicit drug users, is calling on federal and state & territory governments to show urgently needed political leadership on the issue of needle exchange programs (NEP) in Australian prisons.

Ms. Annie Madden, AIVL’s Executive Officer commented, “Every day, large numbers of prisoners are being forced to compromise their health due to the continuing unavailability of legitimate programs for the provision of sterile injecting equipment and the disposal of used equipment in Australian prisons. The result is increasing numbers of people becoming infected with hepatitis C and an array of other preventable physical health issues.”

To encourage further discussion and action on this issue, AIVL is holding a national forum titled: “Making It Happen – Needle Exchange Programs in Australian Prisons” at the ACT Legislative Assembly Building in Canberra on Tuesday 20th May 2008. This event is being held in conjunction with World Hepatitis Day and National Hepatitis Awareness Week 2008 from 19-23 May.

Ms. Madden continued, “Within Australian prisons, hepatitis C rates are extremely high, with 1/3 of all male prisoners and 2/3 of all female prisoners having hepatitis C. With large numbers of people who inject drugs being repeatedly incarcerated for short sentences of less than six months, the prison environment has become an incubator for hepatitis C infection within the general community. Indeed, recent research has shown that having been in prison is now an independent risk factor for contracting hepatitis C.”

Australian governments have recognised that a person’s capacity to access health services should not be compromised by reason of imprisonment and that such services should be to the standard as provided in the community. In practice however, Australia is not meeting this obligation and the result is a serious breach of the health and human rights of prisoners.

Ms. Madden concluded, “Governments have admitted that illicit drugs are available in Australian prisons. Needle exchange programs will not introduce needles & syringes into Australian prisons – they are already there. What these programs will do however, is remove the need for prisoners to share and reuse injecting equipment and significantly improve the occupational health and safety environment for prison staff.

Needle exchange programs are being successfully operated in over 60 prisons across 9 countries. In this National Hepatitis Awareness Week, AIVL calls on Australian governments to take urgent action on needle exchange programs in prisons. The time for talk is over. It is time for Australian governments to take full responsibility for their duty of care to prisoners.”